Magazine Online    The Authority On African-American Conventions, Incentives, & Leisure Travel
Issue: March/April 2011
CVB Heads Annual Report
By: Gloria M. Herbert

With the buzz these days that the travel/meetings/hospitality arena is on the rebound, what better time than to seek the sage advice of seasoned movers and shakers to give their take on the state of our industry? As we do each year, we put several questions to some of the top CVB heads in the industry in an effort to share their knowledge with those seeking solutions to the daunting challenges faced by many destination reps and planners. Below are the three questions, followed by their answers in their own words.
  1. Many industry observers claim that business has improved slightly during 2010 and anticipate it will return to pre-recession levels by late 2011 or early 2012. What is your assessment of the industry’s recovery?
  2. How, if at all, will you adjust and fine tune your marketing message as you reach out to potential business, meeting and leisure travelers who may feel tentative about booking business during such uncertain times in 2011?
  3. What makes your destination especially visitor friendly and cost effective for travelers during these economically challenging times?

In Baltimore we’ve already started to see signs of a recovery in terms of hotel occupancy and rate so I would agree with that assessment. We should be back to close where we were in terms of business travel, corporate, pharmaceutical business and association business will continue to rebound in the coming years. The United States is posed for recovery this year and into early 2012.

Our best marketing message is the fact that we are hosting the launch of Reed Travel’s AIBTM in June. We are encouraging meeting planners to sign up to be a hosted buyer where their travel and lodging will be paid for in exchange for them meeting with exhibitors at AIBTM. It’s our opportunity to have 3,000 meeting planners here in Baltimore to see first-hand how much Baltimore has changed as a meetings destination. Planners will be able to discover the changes taking place throughout the city from the new green roof at the Convention Center to the free hybrid shuttle buses now running through downtown. We’ve had a number of new hotels open downtown and AIBTM will allow us to showcase the walkable waterfront convention package that Baltimore offers to planners.

Baltimore has the great advantage of being at the cross-roads of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states, a region of 50 million people, giving planners an edge in attracting attendees. Located off I-95, at a convenient stop on Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor and 15 minutes from Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, Baltimore is well situated to make it easy and affordable for attendees to get here.

Our shining jewel, the Inner Harbor, is lined with attractions, restaurants, shopping, hotels and the Baltimore Visitor Center. It’s all within a quick walk – or as we say, just “two feet away” – from the Baltimore Convention Center making shuttles not necessary, saving planners money.
Although nearly everything to do and see is within easy walking distance, or as we said, "two feet away," attendees can also explore our many one-of-a-kind neighborhoods, museums and attractions via the fast, free and green Charm City Circulator hybrid buses.

Corporate transient business was down significantly 3rd Qtr 2009 thru 2nd Qtr 2010. Beginning with 3rd Qtr 2010, we saw increased demand and finished the year strong. Also of note on the supply side, our new room inventory increased by approximately 15% in greater Baton Rouge area.

Based on the markets that we address as a DMO, Group Tours, Leisure and Meetings have steadily increased over recent years, so our marketing message will remain constant. Baton Rouge has always served as an affordable regional destination. We have consistently marketed ourselves regionally as a drive-in destination featuring a variety of attractions, the State Capitol and two major universities. In addition to the diverse cultural offerings, Baton Rouge has continued to grow as a shopping and culinary destination.

We are experiencing a strong increase in bookings due to the uptick in the economy. We believe that 2011 will be a great year in regard to the last few years with stronger occupancy and higher average daily rate in our hotels.

However, there are still a lot of groups booking in a shorter window, which we’ve seen going into the last quarter, and many with shorter meeting dates and smaller peak room nights. Even site visits for meeting planners, especially on the corporate side, have been shorter, whereas in the past, the planners would come in for a few days to get a sense of the destination and what it offers, but are now flying or driving in and out in one day.

Visit Jacksonville went through a rebranding for the destination in spring 2010 following meeting planner and consumer focus group discussions. The new campaign, Immerse Yourself Here, uses water as the main pull and our Florida destination. In our branding strategy to meeting planners and leisure visitors, we highlight our riverfront downtown and beaches as well as activities that meeting planners especially know will drive attendance, such as golf and dining, and our value messaging.

Our sales and services team makes it effortless for the meeting planner to plan their event in our city by working with all the partners necessary to secure room blocks, venue space, after-hour activities, etc. In addition, we offer great incentives for meeting planners including cash rebates at participating hotels with our “Cash for Contracts” program and deals on venue space, food and beverage, etc. at many hotels during our value season, which runs from July to December.

For leisure visitors, Visit Jacksonville has worked diligently with partner hotels, attractions, restaurants and transportation companies to put together value-oriented packages that are more attractive on the wallet for a vacation, but also make it a lot easier to plan. Packages can be customized based on price point and preference through our website,

Jacksonville is a Florida destination that offers great weather, beaches and attractions, but can be experienced at many different price points for the meeting planner, attendee and leisure visitor. We stress value in our messaging since visitors can get find great pricing, but also offer a depth in the diversity of the destination product from venue space to waterway activities, dining options, attractions and hotel rooms for all budgets.

Although business is improving, I believe that the jobless recovery will continue to impact the size and numbers of meetings and conventions. In Georgia, we are preparing for additional statewide budget cuts in both education and state government, which may hamper Macon’s convention business, since 37% of bookings were from mostly government and education groups.

While I am optimistic that business will take a turn for the better in 2011, I anticipate that it could be as long as 2013 before there is a full recovery.

In Macon, our focus will be on increasing awareness of our destination as one of the largest metropolitan areas in Georgia. We believe that the accessibility of our location to all sections of Georgia and to Florida, Alabama and South Carolina make us a great destination for meetings and tourism in the Southeast. The musical heritage, historic architecture, arts and cultural attractions, southern charm and cuisine are all assets we can offer to visitors. The accessibility, affordability and diverse attractions in Macon are news we need to spread far and wide.

We operate two Visitor Information Centers, one off of 1-75 South and the other in Downtown Macon, to provide visitors with destination information, coupons and discounts to local and regional attractions. The VICs are both pet-friendly and child-friendly and guided by expert information specialists. We have recently launched a “Play for $30 a Day” promotion to assist leisure travelers in planning for an exciting, yet economical, visit to Macon.


Several factors helped insulate Greater Miami and the Beaches from the worst of the recession. Miami takes great pride in the diversity of its people and its unique distinction as a vibrant, tropical cosmopolitan community. As a global destination, the area’s appeal is far-reaching. Increased domestic and international airlift in 2010 continued to enhance Miami’s accessibility. The vast variety and quantity of hotel product at various price points, abundant attractions — including beaches and year-round warm weather — make Miami a destination of choice for business and leisure travelers.

Major events in early 2010, such as the NFL Pro Bowl and Super Bowl, were followed by a year of meetings, conventions and popular signature events, many reporting record attendance. The destination welcomed back the American Black Film Festival, as well as National Minority Supplier Development Council — all contributing to the destination’s success in 2010.

The Black Hospitality Initiative of Greater Miami (formerly the Visitor Industry Council) expanded its mission and strategic plan in 2010. In addition to providing scholarships to African-Americans and Blacks of African descent pursuing hospitality industry careers, the organization expanded advocacy in the areas of entrepreneurship and leadership, as well as assistance with talent development and career coaching. In 2011, the Black Hospitality Initiative will celebrate its 20th anniversary with several events, including the highly anticipated Hospitality Open Golf Tournament (H.O.T.) Challenge and Silent Auction to be held at Doral Golf Resort and Spa on May 6, 2011.

As 2011 begins, Greater Miami and the Beaches is poised for growth. A recent survey of hotels indicates an uptick in corporate and group business and overall optimism for increased activity in 2011.

We are optimistic about the forecast for Orlando’s meetings industry. We expect business travel to our destination to increase 2.3 percent in 2011, and even more in 2012 – 4.8 percent. We have seen other indicators here that point to a successful bounce back including consistently rising tourist tax collections and increases in group bookings in 2010 compared with 2009. Despite the recession, Orlando has moved forward by investing more than $4 billion into new infrastructure including new four-star hotels and the new Amway Center, home of the Orlando Magic NBA team. This growth has primed our destination for the increase in group business that we are now seeing.

We want meeting professionals and decision makers to know that booking a meeting in Orlando is a sound investment. Because of our low-cost accessibility and wide appeal, more meeting professionals intend to hold a meeting here over any other destination. In addition, 83 percent of meeting professionals say they have better attendance in Orlando than anywhere else. This is due in part to our new convention marketing executive whose sole job is to help market meetings and attract more attendees.

We have been recognized time and again as one of the most affordable convention destinations in the U.S. Whether you’re an exhibitor, attendee or show organizer, you’ll find Orlando is a great value. In addition to low discriminatory travel taxes and flexible work rules at the convention center, Orlando is easily accessible since airfare to the destination is among the lowest in the nation. And with the second largest hotel inventory in the U.S, including many new and recently renovated properties, everyone can afford to visit Orlando.

The early signs of recovery give us reason for optimism — but that optimism has to be tempered with a measure of caution. Group business may gradually climb back to pre-recession levels, but spending will rise at a slower rate. In that way, this recovery will somewhat mirror the industry’s post-9/11 recovery, albeit with a more gradual climb out of the bottom, as the recession affected all industries.

Another challenge arose this past September, when the GSA cut per diem rates for government employees and recommended that federal agencies substitute teleconferencing and webcasts for face-to-face meetings whenever possible. Suppliers will likely follow suit, and that can’t be good for our industry. Economic times change, but one thing remains a constant: Destinations with appeal will maximize a meeting’s attendance. And Greater Phoenix is a destination with appeal. So the message we want to communicate to potential customers is this: Buy us now when rates are low.

It’s also important for us spread the word about the value of the new downtown Phoenix meeting experience and our $1 billion worth of new meeting product. Phoenix’s urban core underwent a metamorphosis before the recession, and that’s good news for meeting planners who, while looking for competitive rates, still want to provide a memorable and sophisticated experience for attendees. The Phoenix Convention Center is fresh from an expansion, light rail trains have changed the way pedestrians get around downtown, and a $900 million restaurant and shopping complex called CityScape has just opened a block from the convention center to give meeting attendees more to do in terms of entertainment. All this is in addition to two new downtown hotels — the 1,000-room Sheraton Downtown Phoenix debuted two years ago, and the Westin Downtown Phoenix is opening in March.

It’s easy and inexpensive to get here. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, the average round-trip airfare to and from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport has been below the national average for the past 14 years. The fact that Sky Harbor is a hub for two low-fare carriers, US Airways and Southwest, has historically been a major advantage for our destination, and it will remain so in today’s market. Phoenix still has nearly 500 daily departures and frequent flights to top destinations — in fact, US Airways just added 3,300 new flights for 2011 — and the continued competition between the two low-cost carriers should help keep fare increases down.

Then, of course, with 60,000 hotel rooms, there are our low hotel rates. We’ve made it easy for meeting planners to find those rates online at

Clearly the economic downturn had a significant impact on our meetings industry. Ironically, what many planners told us however was that to a large degree, the climate made their meetings even more critical in terms of both the importance to have the event (much needed revenue) and perhaps more than ever to have a host city that helped mitigate financial risk. Perhaps there has not been a more important time in the past decade to validate the importance of the role host cities and organizations such as convention & visitors bureaus/destination management organizations can play in addressing and assisting in this regard.

What is also a well-established motto in these times – those who are with you in difficult times will be with you when times get better. Many organizations faced that lesson head on as well. Toronto has enjoyed great partnerships and I am quite pleased to see that this list has been steadily growing as we have expanded our service and support to planners, associations and organizations. Toronto’s appeal, proximity and ease of access to and from so many key feeder cities in North America (over 60% of the US population is less than 90 minutes or less by air or car) have all played a key role in helping groups who meet here have record or near-record attendance. Especially during challenging times this is important.

What is perhaps more important is a growing reputation for making the extra effort to listen to our clients and help tailor a meeting that meets or exceeds not only their expectations but tackles their concerns up front and head on.

Indications are that we are on an upswing; regional data shows that hotel revenue for the last six months of 2010 have been positive. In addition, groups are starting to see increases in the number of attendees rather than the decreases they had been seeing.  Individuals and groups are still booking more short term. Also, meeting planners who generally book 2nd tier cities are now looking at 1st tier destinations – 2nd tier cities are now competing with the largest destinations.

We are targeting those efforts that have produced the greatest results. In addition, we are doing more “face to face” marketing and sales and looking for those “niche” markets we can grow.  Product development is one of the key elements to future business. Virginia Beach has developed a Town Center area complete with lodging, dining, retail and entertainment. We are currently in the planning stage of exciting development, such as an Entertainment Center and a new Convention Center Headquarters Hotel. Until that happens, we are “packaging” what we have to provide great experiential adventures to our visitors.

We are a drive market, as well as a Southwest Airlines hub; with value rates from September thru May and temperate weather. Centrally located on the east coast we are within a day’s drive of two-thirds of America’s population. With excellent weather in the spring and summer months our value season months are great months for the meeting and convention industry as well as the leisure traveler.