Here’s a scenario familiar to all meeting planners. It’s time to begin planning the organization’s next meeting and three or four destinations have been suggested as possible locations. Now comes the time-consuming task that planners have of gathering information about each location, comparing the pros and cons, issuing RFPs (requests for proposals) and finally selecting the site that is the best fit.
The very first – and most important – step when a planner contacts you will save them hours of research and give them the true insider information that would be difficult to gather on their own.
Here are the 15 key questions that you as a destination sales professional should answer to drive your meeting planner's site selection process forward.
1. Does your destination have hotels that can support the meeting requirements?
Pretty basic, but it's the one that will determine if the discussion continues. If the planner needs 900 sleeping rooms, 20 meeting rooms, a ballroom to seat 1200 banquet style under one roof, there’s no use going any further if the largest hotel in your town has only 750 sleeping rooms and 15 meeting rooms...and no reason to push the discussion.
2. What services do you provide to meeting planners before, during and after the RFP?
Yes, there are many free services that all CVBs provide, such as information about the destination, distribution of an RFP, and assistance with attendance promotion once the meeting is confirmed. However, the extent and level of services varies from destination to destination depending upon the level of funding which is usually proportionate to the size of the destination. Additionally, some free services may require that your lead was generated through the CVB. Make sure the meeting planner understands the ins and outs of your CVB, and encourage them that if they have limited staff and resources, choosing a destination that partners with you throughout the site investigation, bidding, and marketing process can be a tremendous help -- regardless of what site they choose.
3. What are your destination’s business cycle, need times, and preferred arrival/departure pattern?
If a planner can be flexible with dates, explain exactly what that will mean to the city. Share about the peaks and valleys of your destination business cycle so they have an overview of their busiest and slowest times. Show that if they are able to book dates in a period or pattern that helps the city, they’ll most likely leverage a much better deal.
4. Can you send out a RFP to specific hotels?
The days are gone when all CVBs are required to send all leads to all hotels, so verify that only the hotels that planners want to consider will be contacted on their behalf.
5. What is your relationship with the convention center?
If a customer is planning on using the city’s convention facility, educate them about the nature of its partnership with the CVB. Does the CVB control the facility’s space, how is it managed and is it privately or publicly owned? “The more information planners know, the more equipped they are to negotiate,” says Craig Davis, president & CEO, VisitPittsburgh. “If the CVB controls revenue production of the convention center, there may be greater room for negotiation.”
6. What’s new in town?
First tier cities are constantly adding new hotels, night life options, and attractions, and many second and third tier cities have been adding new, quality amenities to better compete with first tier destinations. If a planner has never experienced the destination or hasn’t visited in a while, make sure they don’t rely on preconceived ideas of what you offer meeting attendees.
7. How safe is your destination?
Besides sharing about the safety of the city overall, ask about the areas surrounding the hotels, convention facility, and places that the attendees are likely to visit and provide relevant details. In the case of a natural or man-made disaster, explain how the city government, the CVB, the hotels, and the convention center have emergency preparedness plans in place.
8. How accessible are public transportation and taxis?
Is it easy for visitors to get around town without having to rent a car? What mode of transportation is recommended?
9. What will be happening in the destination during my event?
Make sure the planner is aware of any municipal events (festivals, marathons, etc) or development projects that could potentially impact their event as well as their attendees’ ability to get in, around and out of the city while they are there. “If someone coming in over the same time as the Democratic Convention or a G2 Summit, they may want to rethink your dates or destination because it may not be the best place for them to be,” says Patricia Zollman, senior director of global accounts at HelmsBriscoe. “Construction and renovation projects can also dynamically affect a program.”
10. What other meetings or events will be taking place in the hotels and/or convention center at the same time as theirs?
A meeting planenr probably doesn’t want a marching band event next door to their board meeting, so make sure they are aware of who will be sharing the hotel blocks, meeting spaces and/or convention facility as well as who will be moving in and out during your event. In other words, are there any dates or places to avoid?
11. How flexible are your hotels and convention center?
Many properties and facilities are willing to work with planners to earn their business, so find out what is or isn’t negotiable for them. “Look at your wish list and decide which things are deal breakers and which things you can forgo,” suggests Zollman. “ For instance, you might have a scenario where a hotel doesn’t have a lot of the upgraded rooms you would like, but they can offer you other amenities and considerations instead.” From your perspective as a DMO sales professional, you have valuable insight into the priorities of all parties, so use that to the destination's advantage.
12. Do you offer FAM trips or customized site visits?
Let planners know if there are upcoming CVB-sponsored trips that allow them to experience a destination with a group of interested meeting planners. Also, educate planners about the potential for a customized site visit: Is complimentary or discounted airfare offered? Will the CVB schedule appointments, lodging, and transportation around town?
13. Can you offer creative options and ideas?
Today’s meeting attendees are looking for new experiences. One way to provide that is by incorporating the local flavor – cuisine, history, culture — into the meeting. Serve up any creative activities or experiences that work well in the destination and could provide a more unique experience for the attendees.
14. Can you recommend local service and product providers?
Put planners in touch with the best support companies for their particular meeting and be especially transparent if you are or are not required to alert all service providers in the destination.
15. Will you provide references?
Encourage planenrs to speak to other groups that have held similar-sized meetings in your destination so they can talk about their experiences and get their feedback. “Definitely get references from other events,” says Donella Evoniuk, senior director of conference services for the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE). “Ask the planners what the destination’s strong points are and what areas may need more attention. Inquire how the CVB works with the hotel community — you want to know that in the event of a problem the CVB will have your back.”