Magazine Online    The Authority On African-American Conventions, Incentives, & Leisure Travel
Issue: December 2008/January 2009
CVB Heads Annual Report
By: Norman Mayers

Two thousand and eight has been quite a year. Despite the euphoric high that accompanied the election of America's first African-American president, the year also saw gas prices reach an all-time high, unemployment levels climb to unprecedented levels, and the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression fueled by an astronomical number of home foreclosures. The slowing economy has affected everyone, but maybe most significantly, the travel industry. Thanksgiving, usually the busiest travel day of the year, was marked by empty airports as most Americans opted to stay home. While the meetings industry may not be as hard hit as the tourism sector, we wanted to find out what some of the top CVB heads had to say on the issue. Each was asked the following questions and what follows are their responses in their own words.

  1. How do you anticipate that the Wall Street "meltdown" will impact the meetings/tourism industry in your destination?
  2. Will you change the way you do business to compensate for this current crisis, and if so, how?
  3. There seems to be two main approaches to dealing with the current financial crisis. Some destinations and other travel related entities are hunkering down, cutting costs to the bare minimum and waiting for things to improve. Others see this as an opportunity to increase their promotional/sales efforts to capture market share from those who choose to wait out the crisis. Which of these two philosophies will you follow, or do you plan to embrace an entirely different approach?

TOM NOONAN, PRESIDENT & CEO, BALTIMORE AREA CVA

We have found that many meeting planners are continuing to make long-term convention commitments and new bookings are still being made. However, we do anticipate lower attendance at some conventions as well as a drop in the total number of nights that attendees will spend in Baltimore for a meeting. It's apparent that everyone is feeling the strain of the national economy and looking for ways to continue business as usual while making some financial adjustments.

BACVA is looking at every opportunity to book short-term meetings and conventions. We have superior packaging options that enable us to position Baltimore as a destination with the best value for clients booking short-term business. From a meetings destination standpoint, BACVA is supplementing this current business cycle with its "Meet Local" initiative, which encourages local executives to keep their meetings in Baltimore and bring new meetings to Baltimore. It's a win-win for everyone - Baltimore gains new business and the executive saves money by hosting their meeting locally.

BACVA looks at the current environment as an opportunity to shine as a meeting destination. We continue to bring in national and international meeting planners so they can see for themselves how much Baltimore has grown and changed as a city. We've also recently hosted a number of industry events that have focused new attention on Baltimore with influential meeting planners and association executives - Tradeshow Week's Fastest 50 celebration in November, ASAE's Diversity Summit in December, ASAE's Medical Symposium this coming spring, and the Center for Business Intelligence (CBI) conference in March 2009. Baltimore will be the host city for Americas Incentive, Business Travel and Meetings Exhibition (AIBTM) June 29-July 1, 2010. This is the first North American tradeshow of its kind and it will put Baltimore on the map as an international convention city.

By definition, BACVA is a sales and marketing organization and we will make financial adjustments as necessary. However, our current bookings paired with programs leveraging our sales and marketing dollars - our Three-City-Partnership with Fort Worth and Sacramento that enables us to have three sales representatives for the price of one - have fortified our efforts and, therefore, I am confident BACVA will weather this economic crisis.


LARRY ALEXANDER, PRESIDENT & CEO, DETROIT CVB

The Detroit region is tremendously impacted by the national financial crisis because the domestic auto industry has been severely and negatively impacted by the drying up of credit markets and the pull-back in consumer spending. Detroit's traditional inbound business travel is dramatically down for the last quarter of 2008 and the hotel community is predicting at least a 10% lower occupancy in 2009. Neighboring Ontario's shoppers have been a good travel market for Detroit. However, just in October the Canadian dollar, which had been nearly at par with the USD, dropped dramatically, giving our Canadian visitors much less buying power. We predict that this will impact cross-border trips, causing fewer trips from Ontario to Michigan. As American consumers pull back on spending and vacations are one of the top candidates for family budget-cutting, we anticipate overall less business for Detroit's hospitality providers. We are studying the economic situations in our drive-in markets in Ohio and Illinois to be able to predict what summer 2009 will mean for us.

The DMCVB has already made and implemented plans in response to the crisis. Our income is derived from hotel occupancy and, with occupancy down now and predicted lower for 2009, we have made prudent cuts. We reduced staff by 10% in November, cutting from areas other than sales and marketing. We have moved more promotional dollars into areas that we believe have the capability to bring more 2009 room nights. These include focusing on our burgeoning film industry (the result of 2008 State legislation that creates the highest film incentive in the nation) and niche markets such as holiday travelers.

The DMCVB is doing a little of both - hunkering down, tightening our belts on spending and staffing, while being a little more generous with promotional spending on our most promising markets, such as for our Film Detroit operation that works with film industry to place rooms and venues for productions in Michigan.


DAVID DUBOIS, CMP, CAE, PRESIDENT & CEO, FORT WORTH CVB

The current economic situation is concerning for the meetings and tourism industry. Fort Worth was recently named the number 2 value-friendly destination in the United States by Hotwire.com for the second year in a row. Our affordability, new and renovated hotel and attractions offerings, and recently renovated Convention Center continue to enhance our position as a premier destination even in a more stringent economic climate.

In order to compensate for the economic downturn, we have to be smarter as we become more aggressive in how we sell and market Fort Worth. Currently, we are reevaluating which market segments will be the most likely to continue to book meetings. For example, we have become more aggressive in our regional sales effort and are striving to book more regional and state meetings and conventions that will take place through 2010.



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