When the economy is strong, so too is the meeting dollar. Destinations are continually forced to evolve their marketing strategies to compete for business, as second- and even third-tier cities add more attractive options.
One way they’re doing so is through incentive deals. B Resort & Spa in Orlando’s Disney Springs Resort Area, for example, offered complimentary VIP upgrades, a 10 percent discount on banquet F&B and audiovisual, and a free one-hour reception for planners who booked within a certain time frame this spring. Marriott Syracuse Downtown in New York has a “Pick Your Perk” deal with suite upgrades, event planner points, a complimentary welcome reception and more.
Another trend is rebates. Visit Tampa Bay has done an incentive where a certain dollar amount per room night booked is added back to the master account. Experience Kissimmee (Florida) gives planners a chance to earn up to $4,100 per meeting based on a rebate program. “It Pays to Meet in Kissimmee” is influenced by total room nights and increases with multiyear contracts.
Kissimmee’s offer gives planners a chance to be creative with how they use those additional funds, without boxing them into certain discounts. “One suggestion is for the planners to use this incentive money toward transportation to an off-site location, such as an evening at Disney Springs,” says Experience Kissimmee Director of Sales Michelle Moore, CMP. As a destination known for high value, according to Moore, these incentive deals help attract planners to book.
Destination Cleveland takes a slightly different approach, putting incentive opportunities in the planners’ hands from the beginning (though the CVB does offer some prepackaged incentives for shorter booking windows). That’s in part thanks to Senior Vice President of Convention Sales and Services Mike Burns, CMP, a 35-year industry vet.
“I’ve found that when destinations listen to what a customer wants from both a cost perspective and an experience perspective, that makes the difference in whether [they] win or lose business,” says Burns.
The Cleveland CVB’s approach is to ask a lot of questions up front to discover what a customer is looking for in a destination, and then figure out how they’re going to stand out to that group.
To help win the bid for North American Breweries’ 2017 National Sales Conference, Burns’ team created a special incentive: an off-site event at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. With help from a third-party planner, the group booked Cleveland and will be in town in early November.
But offering deals to planners doesn’t have to break a CVB’s budget either. One low-effort, high-value idea Cleveland employs is staging local entertainment (like a brass band or jazz musicians) downtown during large-group traffic times. “It’s easy to do and creates a fun experience,” says Burns. They’ve also placed volunteer human wayfinders to help guide guests as they head to their hotels, restaurants or the convention center.
“I think the key is understanding what your assets are in the community and how you can match those up accordingly,” says Burns.