At a time when traveling to many destinations has become difficult or impossible for meeting groups, convention and visitors bureaus are more important than ever. That was among the themes emphasized during Interact – The New CVB, Northstar Meetings Group's latest in its series of digital targeted hosted-buyer gatherings designed to connect planners and suppliers.
Bringing together about 50 CVB and planner participants, the virtual event offered networking opportunities, one-on-one appointments and education sessions that explored how the role of CVBs has shifted in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic — and how they can assist event planners to overcome current challenges.
CVBs Can Drive Better Practices
The event kicked off with insights from Don Welsh, president and CEO of Destinations International, who called into the event for a conversation with David Blansfield, executive vice president and group publisher of Northstar Meetings Group. Welsh emphasized that "the role and value of a CVB has never been greater," as destinations are going to need to figure out ways to bring meetings and travelers back and to play a more active role in working with them to hold their events safely. He described "being the bridge" between planners and the hotel community, helping to source and making it easier for planners to rebook — and even helping planners get a seat at the table with local elected officials.
But Welsh also acknowledged that the pandemic and its economic toll underscore the need for CVBs to broaden their funding models. With many organizations drawing 100 percent of their revenue from taxes on hotels, restaurants and other attractions — a source that has all but dried up thanks to COVID-19 — it's clear that has become "sort of a broken business model." He said his team is exploring alternative revenue structures in order to protect these organizations.
Welsh is currently in the midst of a three-week road trip, having visited 15 cities so far, and he said the experience has made him realize the need for greater consistency when it comes to implementing and enforcing clear health and safety practices. Destination management organizations can help drive improvement, he said.
"When you go state to state or even city to city and see that certain ordinances aren't being complied with, that's where I think we've got a great opportunity," Welsh said. Even though hotels, restaurants and attractions are steadily reopening, they'll still need to reassure customers with their actions. "People are not going to be forced to travel — they are going to travel at their own comfort level," Welsh pointed out.
Providing a Lifeline
In the second session of the day, two event planners shared their experience postponing events and planning for future meetings, with CVBs helping at every step to make the process as smooth as possible.
"We've been dealing with a lot of postponements and cancellations," said Marianne Matta, director of operations for ECG Events. "Thankfully, we didn't have to cancel too many events. It's been a lot of postponing from March to June and then to October and now into 2021. We've very lucky to have great partners that are helping us with that."
In times of uncertainty, a destination's CVB can be a lifeline for meeting planners, providing critical information on safety guidelines, updated hotel capacities, virtual site visits and more. Many have also been sending weekly updates to planners, as well as refreshing their destination guides for COVID-19.
"They've been very responsive to me, and I hope that continues after COVID-19 because we need them during the good times and the bad," said Matta. "The destination guide is the first thing I look at for everything from restaurants and lodging, to entertainment and transportation — I use it all. That is my bible and it's very important to have that updated."
Oscar Nobre of McVeigh Global Meetings and Events agreed, noting that CVBs have been "instrumental" in event planning amid the pandemic. For international events, he has leaned on city partners to stay updated on quarantine restrictions and ever-changing flight patterns that would impact attendee travel. Meanwhile, domestic CVBs, such as San Francisco Travel, have helped Nobre renegotiate with hotels and identify venues that are better suited for his groups based on social-distancing capacities.
"We had an event back in June that was going to San Francisco and right off the bat in late March, the CVB started communicating and providing links to the local government website that showed what's happening there, what their protocols are and where we can have groups," said Nobre, senior project manager of meetings and events at McVeigh. "When group restrictions were reduced to 100, they automatically started helping us to negotiate with the hotel to move our group. They were a big help and have been very proactive in providing information."
The next event in Northstar's Interact Summer Series, Interact Beach Destinations & Resorts, will take place on Aug. 11. That will be followed by Interact International on Aug. 18.