How CVBs Are Welcoming Back Events

These five convention and visitor bureaus have found creative ways to entice groups.

Puerto Rico Convention Center - 4
Discover Puerto Rico, ready for meetings, is reaching out to planners to let them know.

Updated Oct. 20, 2021

After the devastating losses of the past 18 months, convention and visitor bureaus have one goal in mind: bringing events — and the much-needed dollars they generate — back to their communities. The following five CVBs share their strategies here, which range from engaging local planners to expanding global operations, in their quest to bring group business back.

Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau 

To address the concern of exposing attendees to Covid-19 at in-person events, the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau turned to the city's medical and scientific community. They named Dr. David Nash as chief health advisor to act as a resource for event professionals planning in-person events in 2021. Along with PHL Life Sciences Executive Director Bonnie Grant, Dr. Nash created a 20-member subcommittee of the PHL Life Sciences Board, called the PHL Health Advisors. Representing fields like public health, infectious disease, medical research and mental health, the health advisors provide the latest information on how to safely host an event during the pandemic.

Maria Grasso Philadelphia CVB
Maria Grasso, senior vice president, convention division of the PHLCVB

"We realized the enormity and rapid pace of the information that was coming out and how hard much of it was to decipher," says Maria Grasso, senior vice president, convention division of the PHLCVB. "We felt the need to partner with someone in the local health-care industry who could serve as an external voice to our customers." 

Dr. Nash has been hosting a webinar series, "Your Covid-19 Questions Answered with PHL Health Experts," with local vaccine expert Dr. Leonard Friedland. "Working with Dr. Nash and Dr. Friedland allowed us to really break down what the urgent concerns were and also answer questions pertaining to our industry," Grasso says.

The PHLCVB has applied the doctors' advice to events at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, including the Natural Products Expo East, their largest event since the onset of the pandemic. The convention center has also invested more than $25 million in upgrades, including advanced plasma air purification technology, replacing HVAC air filters with higher efficiency MERV-14 filters and a UV light sanitization escalator handrail.

Discover Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico’s tourism and meetings business had barely recovered from the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria when the pandemic hit.

To keep the island in planners’ sights, even when events could not take place, Discover Puerto Rico, the island’s convention and visitors bureau, stayed in touch with its meetings clients, sending coffee and keeping them informed of the latest developments.

The CVB also held a series of roundtables with meeting planners to gauge what their needs were.

"We wanted to know what they were hearing from their clients, as well, so that we could tailor our outreach to them effectively without being tone deaf," says Ed Carey, chief sales officer for Discover Puerto Rico.

As a result, the CVB created a new marketing toolkit with customizable templates for postcards, social media posts, e-blasts and videos, to build attendee excitement before events.

The CVB is also enticing groups with its shiny new attraction: the new Distrito T-Mobile, a five-acre entertainment facility next to the Puerto Rico Convention Center.

Puerto Rico happily began to see an uptick in bookings in mid-January. "We suffered dramatically, but we’re seeing a comeback of meetings and events," notes Carey.

Destination DC

Over the course of the pandemic, Washington, D.C., lost $631 million in cancellations from 64 large-scale events. Destination DC, the city’s CVB, wants planners to know the nation’s capital is open again and is "Still Connected," via the campaign by that name that highlights three strengths of the destination.

Elliott Ferguson DC
Elliott Ferguson, president and CEO of Destination DC

Connected Capital, the first arm of the campaign, gives groups access to local experts from a host of industries, including technology, biotech/pharma, transportation, sustainability and advocacy. Connected Community helps events to be more eco-friendly by linking planners with sustainable hotels, venues, transportation, organizations and more. Connected Campus, encourages planners to use nontraditional spaces for events in D.C.’s convention center district, including art galleries, pubs and churches.

"[We're taking] a holistic approach tied to the fact that we reopened, and that there are a lot of different things happening in the city."
Elliott Ferguson

"It’s really a holistic approach tied to the fact that we reopened, and that there are a lot of different things that are happening in the city," says Elliott Ferguson, president and CEO of Destination DC.

The CVB is already seeing results: This fall, the capital will host the Association of the United States Army, the Association for Financial Professionals and the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. And at press time, Destination DC is anticipating 20 citywide conventions for 2022.

Visit Orlando

While more than 100 events have taken place at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando since it reopened in July 2020, that number is just half the annual number the city hosted in a similar period prior to the pandemic.

To bring more group business back, the destination is "focused on showcasing our expertise and leadership role in creating healthy and safe meetings," says Casandra Matej, president and CEO of Visit Orlando, who joined the CVB this past February.

Matej Visit Orlando
Casandra Matej, president and CEO of Visit Orlando

To that end, Visit Orlando and the OCCC have partnered with Orlando Health to create a medical concierge program to assist planners in organizing safe events and to provide on-site medical services for all gatherings held at the center.

Visit Orlando has created marketing content for planners to share with their attendees, informing them of all the safety protocols, including the news that the convention center has achieved the Global Biorisk Advisory Council’s STAR accreditation on outbreak prevention, response and recovery, making it one of the largest venues in the country to receive the certification.

The CVB has decided it is time to resume its presence at industry events, such as ASAE and IMEX, and is heading out to share the latest developments and to meet with planners face-to-face.

NYC & Company

In a typical year, the Big Apple draws 6 million delegates to events of all sizes. From the earliest days of the pandemic, those numbers nosedived as meetings cancelled and New York struggled to regain its footing amidst lockdowns and surges.

Heywood NYC & Company
Chris Heywood, executive vice president of global communications for NYC & Company

To jump-start the return of group business, NYC & Company, the city’s CVB, looked to local planners with the "Commit to the Comeback: Meet Local NYC," campaign, which launched last spring.

A new campaign targeting group business, "It’s Time to Make It NYC," launches early this month as an extension of the "It’s Time for New York City" tourism-recovery program, which began in June. The meetings arm showcases attractions, such as Broadway and venues, including the newly expanded Javits Center, which reopened in July.

Another part of the CVB’s strategy is to reboot events by focusing on stringent health protocols.

"If a planner is really looking for a destination committed to safety, and really looking to put in precautions, that's New York City."
Chris Heywood

"If a meeting planner is really looking for a destination that is committed to safety, and really looking to put in precautions that are going to ensure the success of a meeting, that’s New York City," notes Chris Heywood, executive vice president of global communications for NYC & Company.

Proof of vaccination or a negative Covid-19 test is now a requirement for events with more than 5,000 attendees. The city also strongly recommends that everyone wear face masks in indoor public settings, but that is only required for those who are unvaccinated. 

Singapore Tourism Board

Singapore Events Covid
Pre-event testing and and contact tracing are required for events in Singapore.

Before the pandemic, the meetings and events industry supported more than 34,000 jobs in Singapore, generating revenue of about $2.8 billion.

"Business travelers [including delegates] are important to our long-term, yield-driven, tourism-growth strategy, as they spend almost double that of leisure travelers to Singapore," says Rachel Loh, the Singapore Tourism Board’s senior vice president of Americas.

In its mission to bring meetings back, Singapore Tourism Board is expanding its global footprint. The CVB has opened new offices in San Francisco and Brussels to engage with a larger base of global organizations and to secure more high-quality business events.

Another way the destination is distinguishing itself is by setting a precedent for event safety.

More than a year ago, the STB launched its Safe Business Events framework, which includes pre-event testing and contact tracing. Since then, the country has held more than 90 business events, hosting a total of nearly 13,500 attendees with no incidences of Covid-19 transmission.

In June, the STB partnered with the Professional Convention Management Association and UFI, the global association of the exhibition industry, to publish "Reimagining Business Events — Through Covid-19 and Beyond." "[The white paper] takes stock of how each sector within the tourism industry has responded to the pandemic, while consolidating ideas from around the globe to help business-event organizers rethink the way they operate," Loh says.