Meeting Destination Selection: 10 Questions To Ask Your CVB

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Convention and Visitors Bureaus (CVBs) can be incredibly helpful in site selection and support in making your event happen in their destination. Their unrivaled knowledge of the area can point you in directions you may not have thought of, saving you time and money.

This is a sponsored post by Meetings + Conventions Calgary. More information about Event Manager Blog’s sponsored posts.

But in order for the relationship to be as effective as possible, you need to know what questions to ask. The right questions can magically open new doors for you and make your event one of your best ever.

Pose These 10 Questions to the CVB for Your Best Event Yet

What should you ask the CVB and why? In our experience, there are ten crucial questions that will help you build the type of partnership that will lead you to unparalleled success. They are:

1. What sets your destination apart?

This is a broad, open-ended question that gives the CVB a chance to wow you. It is also an opportunity for them to discuss their unique value as a destination.

What makes this a good question:

If the CVB doesn’t understand what makes them unique, you can assume they won’t be of any help in creating a memorable event. You’ll benefit in a greater way if you provide them with details about your audience demographic as an influencer to the question. Who wants to listen to twenty minutes of what sets them apart if it’s not relevant to your audience’s needs and interests. Give them some parameters for a more targeted and applicable answer.

2. How can we make the most of the destination?

Again, knowing about your audience and meeting goals will help the CVB understand what’s most important to you. If you don’t provide this, you may receive a generic pitch and that’s not helpful to you or the destination.

What to listen for:

Again, this is a chance for the destination to stand out. Listen for very specific, yet original, ideas. For instance, an average CVB will talk to you about all the outdoor activities available.

But guess what?

Nearly every destination in the world offers outdoor activities. They’ve become very trendy. Most cities have bike paths and such. Listen for a CVB that can give you explicit examples of how they incorporate outdoor space and activities in inventive ways. This could include collaboration with local festivals like Meetings + Conventions Calgary offers with Beakerhead, an amazing five-day, city-wide spectacle, aimed at creating a playground for arts and sciences to come together.

Examples of events enriching events:

The International Play Association (IPA) Triennial World Conference occurred at the same time as Beakerhead in 2017. The organizing team took advantage of that energy to build local play into its conference programming. Beakerhead and Vivo ambassadors (Vivo is a not-for-profit, charitable organization committed to healthy living and community building in Calgary), worked with IPA to activate an outdoor session on Stephen Avenue, a pedestrian mall adjacent to the Calgary TELUS Convention Centre.

Another example of how local events can increase the energy of visiting groups occurred with the Calgary Teachers Conference. They worked with Beakerhead’s year-round programming team to add experiences into their trade show. This included creating a human gyroscope!

Calgary Gyroscope

That’s the sort of experience that enriches your event and really amps it up!

3. What USPs can we incorporate into the event?

If the CVB hasn’t spoken to its unique offerings, this question will get them there.

Moving past the humdrum:

Even when you ask about unique opportunities, some destinations simply don’t look at their locations that way. They’re busy trying to create cookie-cutter experiences because they’re easier and don’t take much creativity. You may have to ask more probing questions with your audience in mind.

If you don’t want a cookie-cutter event, you need to find a destination that can offer a myriad of unique cultural and traditional events your group can be a part of. In Calgary, strong examples include the traditional White Hat Ceremony, a symbol of Western hospitality, Calgary Stampede pancake breakfasts and customized programming in Calgary’s convention district. A CVB that welcomes event attendees as part of their culture and community rather than viewing them as visitors is a great start to creating a memorable experience for your guest.

white hat ceremony
Attendees at IEEE ICASSP became honorary Calgarians with a White Hat Ceremony at the Calgary Stampede.

4. Are there local experts we should be tapping into?

One of the reasons people attend events is an interest in increasing knowledge and meeting new people. This question gets to the heart of both. Not to mention, makes the event planners job easier. Finding local experts can add richness and depth to your event and it also provides a unique cultural perspective that you wouldn’t get elsewhere. Events shouldn’t be held in a vacuum. Local experts provide different perspectives and knowledge sharing opportunities for your guests.

What you want to know:

A strong CVB is plugged into the community. For every niche event and industry, they’ll be able to suggest a group of interest or find someone who can.

At Meetings + Conventions Calgary, there is a Champion program to connect the academic and industry expertise in the city to incoming conventions. Tapping into this can create enriching, unique experiences for meeting planners and local experts. This type of mutual satisfaction is part of what makes a Calgary conference memorable and meaningful.

5. What support can they offer when your event is in the city?

Sure, an event planner can go it alone but it helps to have someone with an intricate knowledge of the city, its culture, and its people who can make the necessary introductions and facilitate the planning process.

What level of help can you expect:

Some CVBs become partners in the planning. They’ll ask for your goals and strive to understand your audience. Without this knowledge, a CVB won’t be able to provide you with top-notch assistance. Look for a group that asks these types of questions.

Meetings + Conventions Calgary provides event servicing. For instance, painting the town with welcome pageantry and signage. When Rendez-vous Canada met in Calgary in 2016, locals and visiting attendees alike all knew someone important was in town. Upon landing at the Calgary International Airport, attendees were greeted by digital welcome signage (along with Calgary’s famous white hat greeters, a group of volunteers dedicated to welcoming visitors to Calgary). From there, where-ever attendees went in Calgary, from their hotels to conference venues to Stephen Avenue (Calgary’s restaurant and entertainment district) there was pageantry celebrating the conference in Calgary.

6. Do you offer hosted and funded site visits?

A strong CVB does more than just answer questions. They’re a partner in the selection process as it applies to their destination.

What should you listen for:

Event planners and meeting organizers should look for a CVB that offers some type of organized visit. Otherwise, the CVB is removed slightly from the selection process.

For example, Calgary offers personalized site visits for meeting planners considering the destination for their next conference. Tours are customized to the planner’s needs and interests. They show off the premier hotel and meeting venues and provide a taste of networking hot spots and unique offsite venues. The team takes care of all the details to introduce a collaboration of hotels, conference centers, and offsite venues catered to your event goals.

7. What’s new with the city?

You may have planned an event at the destination you’re considering before but many cities are currently undergoing revitalization and a few years makes a big difference in their offerings. Cities are constantly changing and developing reputations in different areas. When selecting a destination, it’s important to find one that matches the needs and interests of your audience.

What you need to know:

Think about your event attendees and what will amplify their meeting experience. For instance, Calgary has an exciting craft beer scene that incorporates a farm to table element, or more appropriately a grain to glass. Unlike other craft beer locales, Alberta boasts ideal growing conditions and produces some of the world’s best barley. Breweries across North America (like Lagunitas) source this key ingredient from Calgary’s backyard. Not only are there a lot of tasting options but meeting attendees love brewery tours as well. Furthermore, the Master Brewers Conference has selected Calgary as the location for its 2019 event!

Also, ask the CVB about upcoming conference facilities. While they may not have your ideal space at the time you’re inquiring, it could be completed in the next few months and your group could be one of the first to enjoy it. CVBs are plugged into the community in a way that allows them to know all the ongoing construction and refurb projects.

A few exciting new venues have popped up in Calgary, such as Studio Bell: National Music Centre, a new hot spot in Calgary’s East Village (blocks from the Convention Centers). It features four floors of Canadian music history and over 160,000 sq ft of unique event space for groups up to 1,800.

Calgary Studio Bell

Next door, there’s also the Calgary Central Library, a community hub slated to open in fall 2018. The library includes a 340-seat auditorium at street level with over 30 meeting rooms of various sizes that can accommodate as few as five and up to 80 people.

8. What’s your relationship with the city convention center?

This varies from city to city. Some CVBs are referral partners, others have a financial connection to it. Understanding this relationship can also help you navigate the politics behind the partnership. Remember not all CVBs will send your RFP out to every CVB member.

Know where you stand:

It’s important you’re clear on exactly how involved they get in the selection process. Will they merely help you with search or work as an advocate for you with the places of your choice? Once a selection has been made, what role will they play, if any?

9. What services do you offer that can help us save money?

The CVB may have access to cost-saving ideas regarding navigating the infrastructure of the area, like transportation connections to/from airports and other general logistics such as public transportation discounts.

Don’t be afraid to ask about discounts and opportunities to save money:

Some of these discounts may vary based on the size of your meeting and the number of attendees you’re proposing to bring to the city. Still, it never hurts to inquire about possible discounts and incentives.

The CVB can also provide you a list of local services that can save you money when shipping the products, especially for things like marketing materials.

Calgary has extensive event servicing offers with complimentary support to help build attendance at your Calgary event including:

  • custom destination microsites
  • access to delegate restaurant deals
  • packaged pre-and-post excursions
  • promotional postcards
  • a Calgary representative available for attendance building at the year’s prior conference

10.  Will you put me in touch with past conference or event planners who have hosted in your city?

Good CVBs should have a long list of organizations they’ve worked with. Try to select a past group that has a similar audience to yours or is of similar size. It’s best to compare on equal ground.

What you can do if they deny your request:

If they refuse to put you in touch with them (yikes, that’s a big red flag!), you can Google the name of the city and conference or meeting. This will likely bring up a list of event sites and you can inquire about the past experience directly with the group. Just make sure you ask if they went through the CVB. Some event planners choose to do things the hard way.

In Conclusion

Some event planners have mistakenly assumed that the CVB is akin to a local internet search and that all the information at the CVB’s disposal is the same that can be gained in a quick search. That is not the case. CVBs are often home to a myriad of local “secrets” that can save you time and money.

CVBs can assist event planners from around the world to create a personalized experience designed just for their audience. Working as an extension of the event planning team, they help organize the local details of the event, uncovering cost-saving and efficiency secrets.