Magazine Online    The Authority On African-American Conventions, Incentives, & Leisure Travel
Issue: December 2009/ January 2010
CVB Heads Annual Report
By: Gloria M. Herbert

Hospitality industry movers and shakers across the nation are giving forth a collect sigh of relief as two thousand and nine, one of the most financially challenging years in recent memory, draws to a close. However difficult the past year may have been, astute marketers have remained cautiously optimistic and proactive, making the necessary adjustments to keep their destination marketing efforts ahead of the curve.
  As we do each year, we put several questions to some of the top CVB heads in the industry, hoping to gain some insight into the strategies for coping and even flourishing during this trying economic downturn. Below are the three questions posed to each of the CVB heads, followed by their responses in their own words.

1. This has been a tumultuous year with the banking failures, the swine flu crisis and the rising unemployment rates. Has any of this impacted the meetings/tourism industry in your destination?

2. What are some of the steps you have taken to bolster the confidence of meeting planners, travel agents and individual travelers that this is indeed a good time to travel?

3. What makes your destination is especially visitor friendly and cost effective for travelers during such economically challenging times?

ANTHONY DIFILIPPO, PRESIDENT& CEO, NORFOLK CVB

Fortunately, Norfolk has not encountered the major reductions in occupancy that many destinations have seen. However, the booking window has shrunk precipitously. Uncertainty about budgets and long range plans for their respective organizations has resulted in many meeting professionals taking longer to make future commitments.

Norfolk remains a great value and planners, agents and individual travelers continue to recognize this. The implementation of several value-added programs for both planners and individual travelers has continued to reinforce Norfolk’s position as a friendly, affordable waterfront city.

Norfolk’s downtown area is so easy to maneuver. Whether it’s on foot, bike or a Seaway, visitors of all ages have shopping, attractions and dining, just steps away. Our waterfront city has a vibrant, urban appeal, yet only minutes from a variety of waterways including the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. If you enjoy the water, what better place to explore it! History, recreation, attractions, culture...we have it all!

For those wanting to venture out further and tour our region, Norfolk is also the ideal location to be based out of. Many of the region’s highlights are within 30-45 minutes of downtown Norfolk. All of these amenities make Norfolk a consistently visitor-friendly and cost-effective destination for all travelers.

LARRY ALEXANDER, PRESIDNET & CEO, DETROIT METRO CVB

Detroit has felt the same pain that many other destinations, but to a lesser degree in many cases. Many local corporations and organizations including the automotive companies and unions are bringing meetings back to Detroit that they historically have held in other cities. Additionally, the growth of the defense market and clean technology has brought new business to the region as Michigan expands and diversifies its economy at a record pace.

Our hospitality partners are cooperating more than ever to bring business to the region. An example is that the downtown hotels are currently offering a 25% discount off the master bill for new group business in 2010, booked by December 31.

Detroit is, as many other second tier cities are, enjoying a boost by groups that are opting out of some first tier destinations for reasons ranging from economics to perception. The true cost effectiveness of second tier destinations such as Detroit is now really being valued and in many cases required. Detroit also serves as the second largest hub for the world’s largest airline, Delta. Detroit enjoys over 1,200 airline arrivals and departures every day. Additionally, Detroit has some of the most beautiful hotels in the country including five new hotels downtown. The new MGM Grand Hotel, the restored and historic Westin Book Cadillac, Doubletree Fort Shelby, Motor City Hotel and Casino and Greektown Casino Hotel. These hotels offer first class accommodations and extensive spa facilities in price ranges far less than first tier cities with comparable facilities.

ELLIOTT FERGUSON, PRESIDENT & CEO, DESTINATION DC

All destinations have certainly seen a decline in business but we haven’t been impacted as much as others with cancellations; but we have seen planners continue the trend of mitigating their attrition liabilities by reducing blocks and signing contracts much later in the process. Our numbers are strong with attendance and major citywide conventions continue to buck the trend by setting or breaking attendance records when meeting in DC. Most recently, we hosted American Academy of Pediatrics, which broke their record with more than 7,000 registered professionals.

We are doing more sales calls with hotel partners and the convention center to show our clients the commitment of our entire hospitality community. It’s important during these times to employ relationship management more than anything else – it ensures the clients that you are with them in good times and bad. We also redeployed our sales team to be more focused geographically, which aligns better with the hotel model. This gives greater market penetration and again allows for stronger relationship development. We are continuing our international efforts through travel agent FAM tours, tour operator promotions, and strong media placements to get the most out of our marketing dollars.

Our destination is truly unique compared to our counterparts around the country. Our main attractions along the National Mall remain FREE to the public. In fact we’ve even developed a list of 100 FREE or Almost Free things to do in Washington, DC. You can find that at Washington.org. One of the best things about Washington, DC is that it’s a culturally diverse city with vibrant neighborhoods, many of which have self-guided walking tours with the history of each neighborhood. Another great thing about DC is the fact that we are located near three major airports and a major Amtrak hub so it makes us easily accessible from just about anywhere in the U.S.

GARY SAIN, PRESIDENT & CEO, ORLANDO/ORANGE COUNTY CVB

Yes, the economic challenges our nation faced this year certainly affected every M&C destination in the county and Orlando was no exception. We had a number of cancellations earlier in the year, especially in the financial sector. Attrition has also played a role due to the economy. However, since we are the nation’s top medical destination for meetings, conventions and tradeshows, this particular sector was relatively solid and in some cases, we saw attendance growth. The corporate market for the most part has been deeply hampered by corporate travel cutbacks. We hope as the economy and consumer confidence improve in 2010 and beyond, we will see improvements within all segments of our business. 

There is, in fact, no better time to travel. This is true both from a leisure and a meetings standpoint. As the economy improves, so will the decline in promotions, special offers and deals. The key message to meeting planners and leisure travelers in 2010 is to take advantage of the terrific cost savings being offered now for they may not be around for much longer. Orlando in particular offers great programs for travel agents, meeting planners and leisure travelers. The best way to become informed is to go to www.visitorlando.com or www.orlandomeet-ing.com. Our new meetings site, www.orlandomeeting.com, has many tools for meeting planners to be successful in their event planning.  

Orlando was built on affordability. It’s part of our DNA. Value has always been the mantra for our destination in the eyes of the meeting planner and the leisure traveler. The infrastructure Orlando offers is impressive from a purely a numbers game: 115,000 hotel/resort guest rooms to meet any price point or need from budget to luxury, standard hotel to condo hotel, large mega hotel/convention offerings to world class resorts. What may be equally or more important is our ability to deliver on our brand promise – hospitality is a key pillar of who we are. We are the #1 industry in Central Florida employing some 400,000 pp. We take the business of welcoming and servicing our visitors very seriously.

GREG ORTALE, PRESIDENT & CEO, GREATER HOUSTON CVB

Certain types of meetings held in Houston have been affected more than others. For example, education groups have been hit hard because budgets have been cut across the board. However, the Society of Geophysicists met their attendance expectations, and Halloween Party and Expo exceeded their attendance goals. It just depends on the nature of the group. We have been aggressive in partnering with our clients to help them maximize attendance. We think that may also have helped.

We’ve recently launched a program called “You are Here. Why Isn’t Your Meeting?” to encourage local corporations and local members of national associations to consider Houston for their meetings and conventions. To sweeten the pot, we’ve partnered with the Hotel Lodging Association of Greater Houston and 24 hotels to offer a $5 per room night donation to the charity of the organization’s choice. Charities and nonprofits have been hit as hard or harder than the hospitality industry – the nation’s 400 largest charities expect giving to decline by a median of 9 percent this year – and this is a true win/win situation.

Houston has always been a good value. A meal at our award-winning restaurants is $5 less than the national average. Our average daily rate is consistently lower than other cities our size. We even have the least expensive CityPass of the 11 cities in North America that are part of the CityPass program.

Our convention package has become tighter in recent years, allowing meeting planners to save money on shuttles and other transportation. The package is also much more attractive, with a 12-acre park serving as the “front yard” of the convention center and a brand-new entertainment complex three blocks away. Houston is on an upswing, and now is the time to see what we’re all about.

JOE TERZI, PRESIDENT & CEO, SAN DIEGO CVB

San Diego has certainly been impacted by the current economy, but it is by no means a doom and gloom scenario. During the summer, our transient occupancy posted flat to positive growth with an increase in market share against our western region competitive set. This is due to our desirability as one of the nation’s top vacation destinations, with our beautiful beaches, world-class family attractions and diverse things to see and do, along with our increased marketing efforts to keep San Diego top of mind.

Unfortunately, our group business continues to face challenges, which we’re addressing with new and innovative programs to bolster our sales efforts and the confidence of meeting clients to book San Diego. These include our upgraded iLead program and new site inspection process that are receiving accolades from meeting planners around the country. We’re also launching“Keep It Local” San Diego meetings initiative and an aggressive 2010 San Diego (Sun)damental Savings and Service Offer that will include considerable savings and unique services when clients book a San Diego hotel for a meeting held through March 2011.

Today’s tough economy just fuels our Bureau and local tourism community to be more creative and innovative in our efforts; it also tasks us to better communicate the great value that visitors and meeting groups can experience in San Diego, from our many free offerings to the priceless service we provide. Lastly, it strengthens us to keep up our optimistic spirit, one of our destination’s best attributes.

MELVIN TENNANT, PRESIDENT & CEO, MEET MINNEAPOLIS, OFFICIAL VISITORS AND CONVENTION ASSOCIATION

Like everyone in the hospitality industry we have experienced the effects of the economic downturn. We are on track with our goals for booking meetings and conventions this year and see an increase in bookings for 2010 and 2011. Minneapolis is blessed with a number of Fortune 500 corporations and other businesses that plan a number of meetings. We have used this time of economic uncertainty to do much more “backyard marketing” and ensure that when the economy rebounds, our local corporations have their “hometown” top of mind when planning a meeting.

Minneapolis is an international gateway with daily non-stop flights to and from London, Tokyo, Paris and Amsterdam. Combined with the strength of the dollar in those countries, we have seen stronger international travel numbers than we did in early 2009.

For meeting planners we launched the successful promotional campaign “Meet in Minneapolis” last year. It is a program that offers discounts and incentives on meeting space and services. Its original intent was to attract local short-term business, but we have also offered this program nationally on a selected basis.

In addition, Meet Minneapolis has aligned our sales force to target markets vs. territory – specifically sports. Minneapolis has a strong fan base locally and regionally and with the opening of the Twins Target Field opening in 2010, we see a tremendous opportunity to draw meetings and conventions, as well as leisure travelers to Minneapolis. We continue to promote Minneapolis to leisure travelers through quarterly promotions. We work closely with our hotel partners and local events and attractions to offer enticing packages that show Minneapolis is an affordable and attractive place to visit.

Meeting planners and consumers are more value conscious than ever. And we work closely with our hospitality partners to provide added value. Climate-controlled skyways keep people connected to shopping, restaurants and nightlife and our arts and culture scene and nightlife rival that of other cities.

As a destination Minneapolis is safe, easy to get to and easy to navigate. Forbes.com recently named Minneapolis as one of the top 10 safest cities. The Delta merger flies 400 domestic and international into Minneapolis per day. The city of Minneapolis has 27 hotels and 6800 rooms that provide options for meeting planners and leisure travelers.

And outdoor baseball returns in 2010. Target Field is just one more reason to meet or visit Minneapolis.

TOM MULDOON, PRESIDENT, PHILADELPHIA CVB

Located within 40 percent of the U.S. population, Philadelphia expects to end the year with 68 percent hotel occupancy rate. This is four percent lower than 2008, yet better than most major U.S. cities.

In addition, Philadelphia continues to see growth internationally. Through August Philadelphia showed the second-highest growing number of international arrivals at the airport; 8 percent growth year-to-date, only Orlando is higher.

The Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau (PCVB), in collaboration with the Pennsyl-vania Convention Center Auth-ority (PCCA), is unveiling a new marketing campaign for Philadelphia’s convention market in December. “Philadelphia: The Complete Package” was created by meeting planners for meeting planners. It is every meeting planner’s dream – the best meeting destination, with the best service, all wrapped up in one package.

In addition, the PCVB remains focused on its Bring It Home campaign, which encourages local businesses and business leaders to bring or keep a meeting in Philadelphia. In 2009, a $130,000 investment in this campaign generated $5 million in business.

Further looking ahead, the Pennsylvania Convention Center (PCC) will reach new heights with its current expansion project; the only major convention center expansion project in the nation. When completed in March 2011, the Convention Center will grow by 60 percent, allowing for new major tradeshows or two conventions to be held simultaneously. A second entrance will result in the development of North Broad Street and the Convention Center District, leading to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (PAFA) and a new Cherry Street Plaza connection to Museum Row on the Parkway.

DAVID DUBOISE, PRESIDENT & CEO OF THE FORT WORTH CVB

Fort Worth has been impacted, but not nearly as much as other destinations around the country. We are fortunate that in our 2008-2009 fiscal year we booked a record-breaking 278,000 definite meeting room nights. One of the biggest reasons for this is the transformation of the city’s accommodations in its
pedestrian-friendly and safe downtown. The number of guest rooms has doubled thanks to new and renovated hotels, which allow us to host larger meetings than ever before.

The recently opened Omni Fort Worth Hotel is the new convention center headquarters facility. This luxury property features 614 rooms and nearly 68,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. The 294-room Hilton Fort Worth and 504-room Renaissance Worthington Hotel have both completed extensive renovations. The Embassy Suites Hotel Fort Worth-Downtown offers 156 two-room suites along with meeting spaces that are ideal for smaller events. Now open less than a block from the convention center, the Sheraton Fort Worth Hotel and Spa offers 430 guest rooms and 22,000 sq. Ft. of meeting space.

In addition to new hotel rooms, Fort Worth has added 1,500 new restaurant seats downtown. Recently opened restaurants include Shula’s 347 Grill (Sheraton); Ruth’s Chris Steak House (Hilton); The Vault (The Tower); Bob’s Steak &Chop House (Omni) and Grace (Carter & Burgess building). These enhancements to our current product offering along with our outstanding attractions continue to enhance Fort Worth’s reputation as one of the premier meeting destinations in the nation.

Now more than ever, meeting professionals are facing unique challenges given the current economic climate. In an effort to support them, the Fort Worth Convention & Visitors Bureau and the City’s hospitality partners are offering the “Fort Worth Meal Deal.” Fort Worth shares the cost of a meal function and passes the savings back to qualifying groups. Meeting professionals can also save up to 60 percent on zone fares to Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport through a special partnership with American Airlines Group & Meeting Travel Department.

Fort Worth also has an outstanding array of affordable attractions, which often offer discounted group rates or special incentives to meeting planners. For individual travelers, Fort Worth’s many free or low cost attractions including the Fort Worth Herd, the world’s only daily cattle drive; free museums; the Fort Worth Water Gardens; the Heritage Trails markers and many others offer great options for very little or no cost.

Fort Worth attracts over 5.5 million visitors per year, and we think that is in part due to how affordable it is to stay here. In fact, we were recently named the #4 value friendly destination by Hotwire.com. Our outstanding hotels, attractions, entertainment options, restaurants, and other amenities continue to enhance Fort Worth’s reputation as one of the top destinations in the nation.

Additionally, visitors feel extremely welcome in our city. To enhance this positive aspect of visiting Fort Worth, we are participating in the Dallas Fort Worth Area Ambassadors Program. The main focus of the program is offering training to become a Certified Tourism Ambassador. The goal of the CTA program is to increase guest service levels and the economic impact of tourism in the North Texas region.

Three other CVB presidents – Wanda Collier-Wilson (Jackson, MS CVB), William Talbert (Greater Miami CVB), and Steve Moore (Greater Phoenix CVB) were unable to respond to our questions prior to press deadline. Hopefully they will be able to participate next year.

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