Changing With the Times

Tyson Compton, president of the Cabell-Huntington Convention and Visitors Bureau, wanted to see some greater traffic of groups coming to the county on the west side of West Virginia. His team had made an aggressive effort of reaching out to meetings groups in neighboring counties and farther-flung areas, but it seemed like there was one potential area of business they had not tapped: the locals. 

"We realized that the local community was pretty far removed from its CVB," says Compton. "A lot of people didn't know where we were and what we did." 

So Compton and his team made the decision to not only put greater efforts into reaching out to the businesses and associations in their own backyard, but revamped the entire organization. They moved offices to the center of downtown, hired some new team members, and began attending more Rotary meetings and other local networking events. Partnering with the CVBs of nearby Morgantown and Charleston, Cabell-Huntington participated in a three-day press blitz through New York City to promote the area and its offerings. 

The efforts have paid off, with new local clients, including the Preservation Alliance of West Virginia and West Virginia Cemetery and Funeral Association holding their meetings in Cabell. Whether being able to use the area's famed Camden Park amusement park, or incorporating Huntington's beloved Hillbilly Hot Dogs (featured on cover subject Guy Fieri's Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives), the area's offerings proved to be attractive for locals. 

"As we started to educate people about Huntington, how it's been growing in the last few years with big development downtown, people who lived here wanted to show it off and partner with us in bringing their groups here," says Compton. 

The Cabell-Huntington CVB's success at rethinking its approach is similar to what a number of other CVBs and DMOs are starting to do. With third-party planners, as well as a wealth of online resources making it easier for planners to devise their own programs, CVBs and DMOs are getting more creative in offering value to meetings groups, making their destination stand out in a crowded marketplace. 

Digging Into Digital
For several years now, the Austin Convention & Visitors Bureau (ACVB) has seen a high demand from attendees for online microsites dedicated specifically to an individual event. The CVB supplies the photos and information about attractions, the planner or client provides the details about the meeting. 

About a year and a half ago, the ACVB got a new request from a group planning the first Austin meeting for the Society of Gynecologic Oncology: A mobile app. 

"They wanted to put a lot on their mobile site," says Linda Atkins, director of convention services for ACVB. "We provided the template and format, with a restaurant list and attraction information, and they supplemented it with their meeting information."
Since this first app, Atkins has seen a growing demand for this offering, including one they recently put together for a group coming in the fall. 

Another CVB strategy takes the form of rebranding. At the beginning of August, the Jefferson County CVB announced plans to revise the county's image. While marketing efforts have focused heavily on the area's historic sites and casino, the CVB's CEO is aiming to expand the messaging to include other aspects of the region. 

Working with consulting firm Paramore Consulting Inc., the CVB will be deepening its digital and social media marketing, overhauling its website, and tracking search-engine results and keywords. 

Knowing that planners and attendees have gotten used to having destination information at their fingertips, many CVBs have taken steps to enhance their digital offerings. Visit Glendale, the CVB for Glendale, AZ, recently launched a destination blog in an attempt to attract more meetings groups. 

Another way that CVBs and DMOs are staying relevant for clients is by partnering with other destinations. This summer, CVBs for five counties in West Virginia - Hardy, Grant, Pendleton, Hampshire, and Mineral - collaborated on a promotion aimed at attracting motorcycle tours. Called "Ride the High Five," the campaign included a specially designed brochure featuring photos, themes, and wording devised together by the five counties. The brochure was distributed at welcome centers throughout the state. 

CVBs and DMOs for destinations near major cities are finding similar benefits to partnering with their larger counterparts. John Basil, CEO of Discover St. Louis Park, a DMO for the suburb of Minneapolis, describes this kind of mutually beneficial relationship as "co-opetition" (combining "cooperation" and "competition"). 

"DMOs realize that working together cooperatively to bring as many travelers into the area as possible is good for everyone and good for the economy as a whole," says Basil. "But the things a suburb outside Minneapolis has - being close to downtown but outside of downtown - are distinct." 

A similar approach has been adopted by the Meadowlands Liberty CVB in New Jersey. While it boasts ecotourism offerings connected to the Hackensack River, as well as venues like the 20,000-seat IZOD Center and more than 80,000-capacity MetLife Stadium, it sits in the shadow of that perennial meetings mecca, New York City. 

"It's tough trying to compete with the greatest city in the world, so we choose not to compete," says Jim Kirkos, president and CEO of Meadowlands Liberty CVB. "There is an experience on the New Jersey side of the Hudson that you can't get on Broadway and Times Square - it's a different experience and you can combine it." 

Marketing Focused
The shift to digital has created challenges for some destination marketers as well. With so much information at a meetings planner's fingertips, do they still need to rely on a CVB or DMO to tell them what's available? With this in mind, many of these organizations have also taken steps to showcase that they can offer a "one-stop shop" for groups visiting their destination. 

Basil gives the example of an Orthodox Christian group of about 700 attendees that recently visited, and part of their event was a regional basketball tournament. Discover St. Louis Park was able to line up the hotel rooms, basketball courts, and more.
"If they had just gone online to Expedia, they would not have been able to connect those dots," says Basil. 

Atkins agrees. Despite the CVB's web-savvy offerings, she finds that groups are still most interested in speaking with a local expert on new offerings such as the 1,012-room JW Marriott, slated to open in March 2015, and the Circuit of the Americas racetrack, which hosted the Formula 1 U.S. Grand Prix for the first time last year. 

"With everything available online, we still spend a lot of time providing direct support," she says.