Recently, the Northstar Meetings Group picked the brains of Bob Hayes and Jim Burba, co-founders of The Burba Hotel Network, a division of the Northstar Travel Group, for their thoughts on how to make a meeting stand out from the pack. Here's what they had to offer.
CSR Makes Attendees Feel Good
Some organizations believe that incorporating a strong corporate social responsibility element into a meeting will attract attendees by making them feel good. BHN, a company that produces eight major hotel investment conferences in cities including Hong Kong, Delhi, Miami, and London, says this is one of its core strategies. All BHN events have a charitable component and Hayes and Burba, say this adds to the appeal. Over the past 12 years, more than $9 million has been donated to hotel industry research programs, scholarship funds, and to charitable groups in the geographic areas the events are held.
"Sometimes the contributions are in the name of our company, sometimes in the name of the conference," says Hayes. "We are proud of what our small company has been able to do in a big way."
The largest beneficiary of BHN events has been the American Hotel & Lodging Educational Foundation. Contributions have funded scholarships for more than 700 students across the U.S. and Lodging Management Programs (LMP) in more than 500 schools in the U.S. and overseas. In addition, more than 50 hospitality research projects have been funded.
Create a Theme
BHN works very hard to come up with a theme or feeling they can use to market the event to potential delegates and sponsors. "We take into account the venue, economy, and general sentiment of the previous year's delegates. We survey sponsors and previous attendees to see how they are feeling about the future, since we start planning about 10 months out," explains Hayes.
For a conference in Los Angeles, BHN used the Microsoft Theater numerous times for plenary sessions. This theater is next door to the Staples Center, home of the Lakers basketball team. "The general sentiment of the hotel investment community at the time the planning started was that the business was starting to come back. We came up with the theme 'Rebound!' and used basketball images for our marketing materials. We always think about what happens if the sentiment changes between the time we start and the beginning of the event. So the exclamation point in Rebound! could have easily been converted to a question mark. We've had to use this technique a few times in the past."
When creating a theme, BHN stays true to one of its key business principles: accentuate the positive. "We are firm believers that there are positives in everything and we do our best to promote the positives and opportunities. Idealistic, perhaps, but we consider ourselves thought leaders who focus on positive thoughts, and we want our attendees to do the same. We don't ignore the negative, we just don't accentuate it," says Hayes.
Catchy Names Draw Attention
When branding a conference, a catchy name can help. "We try to pick names for our events that lend themselves to acronyms that make sense. In our business, the names of our conferences get very cumbersome. Take the Americas Lodging Investment Summit, the leading and largest hotel investment conference in the world. Burba and Hayes chose this name because the acronym is ALIS, pronounced like the name, Alice. The acronym for its Central America & Tourism Hotel Investment Exchange is CATHIE. "Our industry is a little male dominated and we're trying to change some perceptions," says Hayes.