Wish You Were Here
Magazine Online    The Authority On African-American Conventions, Incentives, & Leisure Travel
Issue: December 2007/January 2008
CVB Heads Annual Report
By: Norman Mayers

BY NORMAN MAYERS

In 2007 America saw the price of oil rise to record highs and the cost of travel skyrocket along with it. But people are still hosting meetings and conventions, in this climate of rising costs and global warming. Black Meetings & Tourism once again rounds up some of the country’s top CVB presidents and asks them about the changes in today’s meetings industry. What follows is the 2007 edition of our annual CVB Heads Speak Out where the following questions were addressed.

  • What is the single most significant trend you see developing in the meetings/tourism industry?
  • How has this affected the way you do business at your bureau?
  • What are some of the new exciting developments happening in your city that our readers should know about?
  • Destinations throughout the Caribbean have recently decided to initiate an aggressive initiative to seriously target the African-American meetings and leisure travel market, something this region has not done in past years.  With the growing competition coming from attractive offshore destinations, what steps will you take to maintain your competitive edge with this market segment?


SPURGEON RICHARDSON, PRESIDENT & CEO, ATLANTA CVB



The most significant trend continues to be building attendance around the destination.  It is the job of ACVB to promote everything Atlanta has to offer so that meeting goers and leisure travelers will be aware of the diversity of activities available while staying in the city.

ACVB has embraced new media and social marketing. Our Web site is the go-to source for information for both meeting planners and tourists.  Our latest endeavor, the ATL Insider, provides a forum for Atlanta resident bloggers to post their thoughts about everything from restaurants to sports venues. Getting the inside scoop about our city with the ease of the Web site allows our visitors to have a seamless guest experience. We have also renewed our focus on the regional visitor.  In 2008, ACVB will spearhead one of the most comprehensive regional marketing campaigns Atlanta has enjoyed in several years. Through partnerships with local attractions, Brand Atlanta and the Georgia Department of Economic Development, Atlanta will have a very visible presence in seven cities such as Birmingham, Savannah and Greenville with television and radio advertising supported by an aggressive public relations campaign to tell the story of our changing destination.

Downtown Atlanta is experiencing a Renaissance.  World-class hotel brands are adding properties convenient to the Georgia World Congress Center and most new developments will feature incredible meeting space.  Midtown will soon feature the Midtown Mile, with shopping, dining and residences lining Peachtree Street.  Buckhead is being reinvented by the Streets of Buckhead project and will feature luxury shopping and boutique hotels. Additionally, Atlanta is rapidly becoming the culinary capital of the Southeast.  International celebrity chefs have planned new projects, many of which will be housed in hotels.  Whether you prefer to dine at an upscale sports bar or a grand French bistro, Atlanta has something for every taste.

Atlanta is a great place for both the meeting and tourism markets.  No other city can boast the rich cultural heritage Atlanta has with the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site and Sweet Auburn Historic District. Atlanta is proud of being the home of two Nobel Peace Prize winners, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Jimmy Carter.  The city continues to embrace its history and looks to its future, as ground will be broken for the Center for Civil and Human Rights in June 2008. Additionally, Atlanta is attractive to visitors because of its world-class facilities like the Georgia Aquarium (the world’s largest), the New World of Coca Cola and beautiful green space in multiple city parks.  Atlanta is one of the best choices for meeting planners, with Hartsfield-Jackson airport being Delta Air Lines’ hub and with many choices for meeting space. The Georgia World Congress Center is currently pursuing its LEED certification, something that will be appealing to the eco-conscious conventioneer.   By constantly adding new product and improving existing facilities, Atlanta will continue to be viewed as one of the world’s top meeting destinations.

BOB LANDER, PRESIDENT & CEO, AUSTIN CVB



On any given day, depending on the needs of the group, we compete with a tremendously diverse group of cities.  Cities that offer a diverse, authentic experience are increasingly showing up on meeting planners’ radars, and those that will be more successful in the future will be attractive to the interests of a wide variety of attendees.  Younger members of the work force are proving somewhat resistant to becoming active in the appropriate industry associations.  We will work with association executives and convention planners to develop breakthrough programming and provide a destination experience that is appealing to all ages. The reputation of a city such as Austin helps in attracting younger, creative, involved attendees.

Downtown development continues at a break-neck pace.  Cranes dot our skyline and residential urban living is the order of the day.  In five years we will double our downtown population and change the scope of the services and entertainment options available to both residents and visitors.  New live music venues, hip locally-owned retail, the largest Whole Foods operation in the world and nearly 100 existing clubs and restaurants within walking distance of the Austin Convention Center will make Austin’s one of the most exciting downtowns in the US.

Leisure options abound and targeting the African-American market in any destination is smart.  We will continue to work on product development to attract more people of color to Austin.

TOM NOONAN, PRESIDENT & CEO, BALTIMORE AREA CVA



Convention and visitors bureaus are really diversifying and reaching out to previously untapped markets for conventions and meetings including the GLBT, Hispanic and other ethnic groups where there are opportunities to grow that business base. To do so, bureaus are finding themselves stretching their sales and marketing budgets to do more outreach.

BACVA is working to creatively find new ways to increase our budget through partnerships and strategic alliances like the three-city convention sales partnership we have in place with Fort Worth and Sacramento that allows all three cities to expand their sales efforts by sharing salespeople and offering potential incentives and geographic rotation options to meeting planners who are located in markets that were not as readily available in the past. 

Baltimore is experiencing tremendous growth with an estimated $11 billion in new and planned development. Baltimore area hotels have committed millions of dollars to renovate and upgrade their properties and there are approximately 2,000 new hotel rooms coming online in the next five years. In August of 2008, Baltimore will welcome the Hilton Baltimore Convention Center Hotel, which will be connected to Baltimore Convention Center with 757 rooms and its own meeting space. Baltimore’s culinary scene is also shifting gears as more independently owned restaurants are opening across town offering new, innovative dining options for meeting planners and attendees in eclectic and historic neighborhoods that surround the waterfront.

BACVA is working to increase resources that are applied towards this market in a number of ways. We have a dedicated salesperson that is aggressively pursuing to the African-American meetings and leisure travel market. We have also formed a task force made up of local leaders in the community who are helping reach out to this market.  We’re calling upon our partners in the community to encourage their groups and professional associations to host meetings in Baltimore. And we’ve dedicated a significant amount of advertising and marketing resources to reaching this key audience of meeting planners and leisure visitors.

RIC LUBER, PRESIDENT & CEO, MIDLANDS AUTHORITY FOR CONVENTIONS, SPORTS & TOURISM (COLUMBIA, SC)



These days, most meeting planners are looking for quality affordable cities and destinations.  With the economy being the way that it is, first tier cities have become very expensive.  The high-end markets have become so high end that ordinary organizations are finding it hard to keep up with costs associated with traveling to these destinations.  For those reasons today’s meeting planner is looking for quality affordable cities and destinations.

We’ve expanded our market.  We have begun to go after those organizations who may have chosen a first tier city and pitched to them that we are in a central southeast location, affordable with a lot to offer the meeting planner and attendees.

Some of the new exciting developments include Hyatt Place, formerly the AmeriSuites; Courtyard Columbia Downtown At USC located in the heart of downtown Columbia and the USC campus, which features 189 rooms, 16 suites, restaurant, high speed Internet in rooms, and 4,788 sq. ft. of meeting space; and the Hilton Columbia Center, which is located directly across from the convention center and features a total of 4,999 sq. ft. of meeting/exhibit space.

Looking at an offshore destination may be attractive, however it’s expensive.  Not only that, but also participation from attendees can be challenging.  We will maintain our competitive edge by being affordable and guaranteeing more participation from the attendees.

PAUL ASTLEFORD, PRESIDENT & CEO, EXPERIENCE COLUMBUS



Despite crossover, choosing just one significant trend in the meetings/tourism industry is challenging, so I would like to approach these two categories individually.  First let’s take a look at meetings.  They are trending away from booking more than five years in advance and toward a much shorter time frame, which means that individual reservations have already been made, therefore reducing the number of committable rooms available in the Greater Columbus area.  To counter this, Experience Columbus is working in tandem with our hotel community to identify committable, short-term dates and proactively pursuing the meetings with timing needs that fit into this schedule. 

On the tourism side, travel consumers are increasingly more sophisticated.  They are also seasoned travelers who want to do more than stand on the sidelines as observers, but instead want enjoyable, authentic experiences.  In response to this trend Experience Columbus has created a tourism product designed to engage and delight the visitor through hands-on participation. Whether it is hiding with a runaway slave on the Underground Railroad or going back stage to meet the musicians who play for the Columbus Jazz Orchestra, groups and individuals are experiencing Columbus in new and exciting ways.

Plans are underway to build a new, full-service convention hotel adjacent to the Greater Columbus Convention Center, in addition to renovation projects at a variety of area hotels. American Electric Power, the City of Columbus and the Columbus Downtown Development Corporation have committed to $20 million to begin transforming downtown’s Scioto Riverfront into a beautiful park - the Scioto Mile, featuring a 14-foot pedestrian pathway, a fountain with special effect lighting, along with a permanent band shell and a glass-enclosed cafe overlooking Bicentennial Park. The Lincoln Theatre Reopening in the King-Lincoln District is slated for late 2008 after an $11 million restoration. The theater opened in 1928 and catered specifically to African-American patrons and performers. Among the jazz greats playing there were Count Basie, and Duke Ellington. When it reopens, the Lincoln will be home to numerous performing arts groups, and world-renowned actor, singer, director, choreographer and dancer Maurice Hines will serve as artistic director in residence.

When it comes to attracting the African-American market, one of the big advantages that Greater Columbus has to offer is the diversity of our community.  To illustrate this point, in March 2007, Columbus hosted the National Society of Black Engineers National Convention with 10,000 attendees.  The diversity and leadership of the Columbus community was a big part of why they chose our city.

Many individuals in key decision-making positions in Columbus are African-American. An outstanding example is our City of Columbus Mayor Michael B. Coleman, but there are more, including City of Columbus Executive Director of Community Relations James L. Stowe, Experience Columbus Chairman of the Board Frederick L. Ransier III, and many city and state legislators. 


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