Why CVBs and DMOs Are Planners' Perfect Partners

Destination marketing organizations, aka convention and visitor bureaus, are a planner's best friend. Many bureaus go out of their way to find the right venue, speaker or attraction for groups of every stripe. The following are examples of how DMO professionals have pitched in to make meetings in their destinations linger long and lovingly in the memories of attendees.


Immersive experiences in a destination are a hot trend, which is why the American Planning Association (for professionals involved in community development) decided that the more than 6,000 attendees of last year's conference in New York should take the city's vaunted mass-transportation system to get around town, instead of using shuttle buses. APA found NYC & Company, the Big Apple's DMO, an ideal partner with which to make it happen.

The bureau not only helped APA purchase some 5,000 seven-day Metro-Cards, good for unlimited use during the week on New York's subways and buses, they also assisted with creating a website with travel directions and message boards for attendees to use in the months leading up to the conference.

APA says its attendees ultimately took an estimated 48,000 subway trips to all five boroughs during the conference week, truly immersing themselves in one of the most exciting cities on earth. And they enjoyed all of that travel without adding emissions from shuttle buses or taxis.

"NYC & Company encourages sustainable thinking, from venue selection to delegate transfers," notes Fred Dixon, president and CEO of the CVB. "APA is a great example of how using public transportation allows delegates to sustainably navigate one of the most interconnected cities in the world."

Postscript: In a nice charitable touch, APA donated all unused MetroCards to NeXT Stop Project, an organization that collects cards with low balances, combines them, then donates full-fare cards to its community partners.


The Washington, D.C.--based American Geophysical Union will host its 2018 fall meeting this month in its hometown, primarily at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center and the Marriott Marquis Washington DC. The group, estimated to include 25,000 earth and space scientists, will attend events all over the city, posing an interesting assignment for its partner in planning, Destination DC.

The meeting "has given us the opportunity to expand Washington, D.C., into a campus that perfectly fits the AGU's global science community," says Elliott L. Ferguson II, Destination DC president and CEO. "We are helping AGU maximize the city and redefine what their event can achieve."

elliott ferguson destination dc
Elliott L. Ferguson II of Destination DC says that the American Geophysical Union's meeting "has given us the opportunity to expand Washington, D.C., into a campus that perfectly fits their global science community,"

To that end, the bureau is helping AGU to meet its mission to provide an opportunity for earth and space scientists in the D.C. region to connect with the larger global science-policy community. For example, aware that AGU's meeting is one of the few that allow children into meetings and onto the exhibit floor (the association provides high-quality subsidized care for children via the on-site Camp AGU), Destination DC has helped the association partner with an extensive number of Smithsonian museums to offer family-friendly options throughout the city.

Among other efforts, the bureau is hosting an after-hours "AGU Night at the Museums" for attendees and their families, in partnership with institutions such as the National Museum of Natural History.

"Our partners at Destination DC have helped us consider so many new ideas and how to implement them," says Lauren Parr, vice president, meetings, for AGU. "It's not often that you can call your city partners and say, 'Hey, we'd really like to find a place to make lava, could you help us?'"The upshot? "We will have a live lava demonstration, both at the convention center and at a local school in December," Parr says. "For this and many other reasons, we're confident that the 2018 fall meeting in D.C. will be one of our best events."


MegaFest, a self-proclaimed "faith, film and family multiday experience," was held at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center and surrounding downtown Dallas last summer. As event architect and visionary, Bishop T.D. Jakes kept inclusion top of mind in every aspect of the conference. This mission was shared by Phillip Jones, president and CEO of VisitDallas.

Jones assisted in organizing the opening event, held at Klyde Warren Park, and he even helped secure the premier sponsor for the conference, PepsiCo. He also proved sensitive to the needs of different ethnic and religious groups attending MegaFest; in fact, Jones was instrumental in creating a diversity and inclusion department within VisitDallas five years ago, headed by chief diversity and inclusion officer Cheryl Richards.

megafest visitdalls
VisitDallas was a crucial partner in last year's multiday MegaFest in Dallas.

VisitDallas was one of the first DMOs to create such a department, which specializes in bringing diverse groups and conferences to the city, as well as marketing the city as a multicultural destination and providing customized experiences for such groups.

"In just five short years, I could not be prouder of all that our diversity and inclusion department has accomplished," says Jones. "It was an honor to work alongside such a distinguished client as MegaFest and welcome thousands of visitors from all around the world to our city. But that's just the tip of the iceberg."


Choose Chicago prides itself on being a one-stop resource for planning meetings and events in the Windy City. Executive Vice President Marc Anderson proudly points to a new initiative called "1933: Connecting You to the Next Century of Progress" (referring to the 1933 Chicago World's Fair, subtitled "A Century of Progress"). This service connects planners with the bureau's partner organizations to help with their events, with a special focus on groups from the medical, technology, manufacturing, and food-and-beverage industries.

We are able to effectively call on partner organizations to help clients attract new attendees, exhibitors and sponsors, as well as encourage and assist clients in creative innovative education tracks and more.
Marc Anderson, Choose Chicago

Anderson notes that, "1933 helps us strategize with clients to better understand their needs early on in their planning process. Thus we are able to effectively call on partner organizations to help clients attract new attendees, exhibitors and sponsors, as well as encourage and assist clients in creating innovative education tracks and more."

Case in point: The Association of Manufacturing Technology's biennial International Manufacturing Technology Show, held this past September at McCormick Place, called on Choose Chicago to help create a 30-minute podcast in collaboration with locally based UI Labs. The production, recorded at the convention center, featured Jason Lesniewicz, director of cultural tourism for the bureau, offering advice on sites, bites and activities for the nearly 130,000 IMTS registrants.


Those who visit Raleigh, N.C., during the International Bluegrass Music Association's World of Bluegrass, which takes place each fall, will find not only a city transformed by music, but a festival and a convention transformed by a city. The event, which began as a weekend conference and was held in Nashville through 2012, has blossomed into a cultural phenomenon running over five days, the largest urban bluegrass festival in the world, drawing a crowd of more than 220,000 annually.

This gathering includes a three-day business conference, a music-awards show and a two-day bluegrass fan fest. It all takes place in Raleigh's downtown convention campus, comprising the Raleigh Convention Center, the Red Hat Amphitheater and the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, with overnight rooms provided in adjacent hotels and myriad nighttime performances popping up all around town.

Given the immensely immersive presence of the IBMA WOB (the event's official acronym) in the city, it's no wonder that organizers have relied on Visit Raleigh for help in growing the event. In first setting out to achieve this goal, the bureau formed a committee of area marketing experts and community leaders charged with coming up with ways to reach new audiences and engage the local community. One result was a new yearly event called Shout & Shine: A Celebration of Diversity in Bluegrass, created with a focus on diverse artists, musicians and other professionals devoted to the music. Another successful addition to the agenda was the Wide Open Bluegrass street festival, which has grown to more than 100 artists performing across eight stages over two days.

"IBMA WOB is a perfect fit for the Raleigh area, partly because North Carolina itself has a rich bluegrass music history and partly because Raleigh's destination brand experience is centered on its lively and imaginative visual and performing arts scene," notes Dennis Edwards, president and CEO of Visit Raleigh.

Edwards' bureau also has promoted the event's innovative partnership with the NC Whole Hog Barbecue State Championships, which brings the state's deeply rooted barbecue tradition and international bluegrass together in flavorful harmony. Visit Raleigh even helped create the World of Bluegrass Official Visitors App, which places conference information side-by-side on the same user platform with festival information. This provides a single resource for visitors of both events and cross-promotes to each audience as well.

Visit Raleigh has also helped in making the IBMA WOB user-friendly for people with physical challenges. There are now wheelchair-accessible viewing areas, on-site scooter and wheelchair rentals, sighted guides and other resources designed with special needs in mind.

This successful partnership between World of Bluegrass and Visit Raleigh led IBMA to announce earlier this year a three-year extension of their contract to keep the event in Raleigh through 2021. As IBMA Executive Director Paul Schiminger sums it up: "Through our amazing partnership with the city, we find new ways to celebrate bluegrass music we didn't know were possible.


The Washington State Convention Center arch was awash in orange as it served as the epicenter for the 140th International Trademark Association's annual meeting held this year in Seattle, May 19--23. Lighting up the city's skyline in the association's trademark color was just one of the many ways Visit Seattle helped service the group.

INTA's five-day event was among the top-five largest conferences in Seattle this year and produced an estimated $20 million in economic impact to the city's restaurants and bars, hotels, and retail and cultural locations. The association also set an attendance record for the event, drawing more than 10,900 registered intellectual-property professionals, brand owners and lawyers from 150 countries.

Nearly 285 affiliated events took place in Seattle during the conference, and Visit Seattle helped manage various stages of their development, including sending monthly updates to local partners and highlighting progress on a custom microsite that drew some 9,000 page views in the weeks leading up to the meeting.

"Working together as a collaborative team with INTA's needs in mind, we explored and utilized our strong community and partner network throughout the city to provide tailored, cultural experiences that met the organization's needs," notes Katy Willis, director of convention services for Visit Seattle.

On May 22, as a special conference event, Seattle's famous music scene was on full display for attendees and local residents alike, when 20 live performances took place throughout the Pike-Pine Street corridor in downtown. Local musicians performed in shifts at a variety of outdoor locations, from local parks to restaurant verandas. Making it all happen was Visit Seattle in partnership with the Seattle Music Commission and Gigs4U, an organization dedicated to helping local musicians obtain paid jobs. The program proved so successful, it likely will be used as a template for the future.

While in town, INTA also looked for opportunities for its members to make a lasting impact in the local community. Visit Seattle convention services helped find worthy causes that represented the mission and values of the association. For example, as part of the registration process, attendees could donate to the Pike Place Market Foundation, which provides grants for housing, health care, healthy food, child care and community support. During the conference, members could make on-site donations of gently worn professional women's clothing to Dress for Success Seattle, whose mission is to empower women to achieve economic independence by providing a network of support, professional attire and development tools.

"We were proud to be the host city for INTA's annual meeting, and I think it showed by the way our city leaders, residents and businesses embraced their membership during their stay," says Tom Norwalk, president and CEO of Visit Seattle. "Entrepreneurship and innovation thrive here, and the city served as a rich backdrop for building and shaping ideas on global trademark policy for the future."


Cele Fogarty, vice president of meetings and member experience for the American Society of Nephrology, was quick to book Philadelphia for her organization's 2023 conference, thanks to the help she received from the Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau when the group last met in the city in 2014.

"A lot of cities tell you that they are service-oriented, but Philadelphia actually does it," says Fogarty. "Not only are they very client-focused, but they can make miracles happen. For instance, one time I wanted the mayor there, so they got the mayor there. They really do perform."

Every year, the ASN, which focuses on advocacy and research of kidney disease, organizes its conference to attract more than 13,000 kidney professionals from around the globe to exchange knowledge, learn the latest scientific and medical advances, and listen to engaging and provocative exchanges between leading experts in the field. Philadelphia is a good fit for the group, as it is home to the second-largest university population in the U.S. and can offer health-care experts, community leaders and more.

A lot of cities tell you that they are service-oriented, but Philadelphia actually does it. Not only are they very client-focused, but they can make miracles happen. For instance, one time I wanted the mayor there, so they got the mayor there. They really do perform.
Cele Fogarty of the American Society of Nephrology

"For ASN's 'Kidney Week,' the expectation was to diversify the audience and increase the scope of the convention in subsequent years," says Julie Coker Graham, president and CEO of the PHLCVB. "We did this by leveraging our assets as a city with extraordinary talent in the health-care and biotechnology industries. The PHLCVB is always working to serve as a connector between our customers and our community, and in this case, our convention services team made sure ASN had access to local resources in order to enhance programming and create an engaging learning experience."


When organizers of ICAST, which bills itself as the largest sportfishing trade show in the world with more than 15,000 attendees and 600+ exhibitors, needed a watery locale in proximity to the Orange County Convention Center for its July show, they asked Visit Orlando for help. The bureau told them to look no further than the center itself, which has a pond outside its main building.

"We work closely with our clients to address their challenges and together find unique solutions," says George Aguel, president and CEO of Visit Orlando. "The transformation of the pond for ICAST is a perfect example of that partnership, as they came to us looking for ways to avoid shuttling attendees off-site to a nearby lake. It went from a wild idea in a brainstorm meeting to an exciting new feature that saved the show money and created a true showstopper for attendees."

Indeed, the pond became an extension of the exhibit hall where ICAST regularly hosted demos for kayaking, fishing and other outdoor events. Score another point for a DMO.