Destinations International to Launch CVB Booking-Agreement Guidelines

The organization’s Large Market Roundtable is developing a toolkit to help all CVBs protect themselves when big events are cancelled.

In Indianapolis, the CVB has been using agreements with cancellation clauses for seven years.
In Indianapolis, the CVB has been using agreements with cancellation clauses for seven years. Photo Credit:Alexey Stiop for Adobe Stock

Destinations International, with input from its Large Market Roundtable, is developing booking-agreement guidelines to protect destinations when a large, citywide convention cancels. DI plans to unveil a member toolkit on the topic in 2022. 

During a panel held at IMEX America this week in Las Vegas, Dustin Arnheim, senior vice president of sales and customer experience for Visit Baltimore; Maria Grasso, senior vice president, convention division, for the Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau; Daren Kingi, senior vice president of sales for Visit Indy; and Melissa A. Riley, vice president of convention sales and services for Destination DC — members of the Large Market Roundtable, which is part of the organization’s Convention Sales and Services Committee — discussed the need for all CVBs to replace tacit, or “handshake” agreements that have been prevalent in the industry with some form of legal agreement, similar to contracts used by hotels, to protect their communities from losses when a group pulls out of their destination.

“When a destination is secured, or moving forward to the planning phase, and a conference ends up pulling out, it's a mega loss for the community that has more than a three-day impact,” said Riley, who serves as chair of the roundtable. “You're looking at social services that are funded by some of the tax revenue, you're looking at jobs, you're looking at a far-reaching stretch that we don't even understand the full capacity of. And so when that loss comes, it can't be replaced very easily. We needed to create a partnership with our events' strategist community to really create something mutually agreeable moving forward.”

Grasso shared that Philadelphia had its big “aha moment” in 2019, when the host of a big citywide convention merged with another organizations and subsequently told the CVB it could no longer meet in the city. “We had a lot of agreements in place, but sadly didn't have any cancellation clauses in them, so you can imagine how devastating it was to the convention center, the hotel community, and the 70,000 hospitality workers that live and work in our region.” She said the incident was the catalyst “for us to take a look at our letter of agreement and figure out the changes that we need to make moving forward. We are in the elementary stages of adopting [formal booking agreements].”

Visit Indy has been using formal booking agreements for seven years, according to Kingi. At first, a few customers complained, he said, but there has been little pushback from planners in the past few years. Arnheim, who previously worked for Visit Indy, explained how he’s successfully implementing the best practices for booking agreements at Visit Baltimore, using lessons learned from his former bureau. 

A one-size-fits-all booking agreement is not the goal of the DI guidelines, Riley explained. Rather, the toolkit will allow bureaus to develop contracts with the language and legal parameters that work for their own needs and communities.