Feature / 4 years Ago

Bureau reps step up big for planners and events

by Zachary Chouteau

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    San Antonio

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    Park City, Utah

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    Ted File

Most planners have recognized local CVBs as crucial resources and partners when it comes to forging successful affairs. With their endless reservoir of area knowledge and insights—not to mention their resources and supplier connections—these connectors can often serve as the tipping point between a good event and a great one.

Here’s kudos to some up-and-coming and seasoned CVBers who work with groups in various ways to make their events shine even brighter.

San Antonio Stalwart
Have you ever been to 16 hotels in one day? Sarah Linley, associate director of destination services for the San Antonio CVB (SACVB) recently saw that many with a site-seeking client, who was so impressed she wrote an effusive note of praise to SACVB Executive Director Casandra Matej from the airport awaiting her plane home.

“Destination services managers have the unique pleasure of working with clients months, sometimes years, in advance of their meeting, through the event with follow-up afterward,” Matej says. “Sarah works to build the relationship so that as issues arrive, even if it is outside her scope of responsibility, they are comfortable in reaching out to her to be their advocate or get advice. Sarah also understands it is relationships with our partners that make the difference.”

Among the little things Matej has done for planner clients is putting together nourishing snack packs and even San Antonio-focused Jeopardy-style quizzes for drives home from closer locales such as Austin.

Park City Powerhouse
Few in the industry know Park City, Utah, better than Carolyn Creek-McCallister, who has called the scenic mountain town home for 21 years and serves as the CVB’s meetings and conventions national sales manager.

Carolyn works with planners to fully understand every detail of success required for their function, and then pinpoints the ideal venues within Park City that will be a great fit. She sends out the leads for them and oversees property responses to ensure that all is delivered to planners in a timely fashion.

“When Carolyn hosts the meeting planner on their complimentary site visit, it’s easy to see that she is part of the local community that has recently been named ‘The Friendliest City in America,’” says Linda Jager, the PCCVB’s director of communications.

“Park City offers a plethora of opportunities for our groups—from unique off-site venues to eclectic restaurant and dining choices and a lively entertainment component,” says Creek-McCallister. “Finding the right lodging product coupled with any off-site and recreational components for the group’s needs makes for great conversations with my meeting planner clients.”

Cleveland Rock Star
Amanda Bonvechio, meetings and programs manager for Destination Cleveland, loves showing newcomers to the Ohio city its true colors, and touts preparation as one key to success when working with groups and events.

“I have found that one of the best strategies for working with meeting planners is to anticipate their needs prior to getting together for the first time,” says Bonvechio. “It’s important to do your homework: research the history of the meeting being planned, look at the meeting’s previous website and past agendas, and get a feel for what the meeting is all about. This helps paint the overall picture of how the host city’s attributes will not only meet their needs but also help create a successful experience for attendees.”

While Cleveland has certainly gained great prominence as a meetings metro with a long-running renaissance hallmarked by the Rock Hall of Fame, it can still be dogged a bit by its ancient past as a humdrum industrial town. And Amanda savors “rocking” those misperceptions for visitors.

“Sometimes meeting planners have misconceptions of Cleveland or are simply unfamiliar with the city,” she says. “I love being able to show them that not only can Cleveland meet their expectations, but it can far exceed them.”

San Diego’s Secret Weapon
Ted File, the San Diego Tourism Authority’s director of site inspections and conference services, makes the warm and sunny locale even more welcoming for planners on a site visit.

“Ted is no doubt our secret weapon for San Diego,” says Margie Sitton, SDTA’s senior vice president of sales and services. “Planners often want to ‘steal’ Ted to help them with site inspections at other destinations. We’re so fortunate that he belongs to San Diego, and I couldn’t personally be any happier to have him on our team. Ted is the best at what he does!”

When a potential client arrives in San Diego to visit hotels and venues, they are met at the airport by Ted, who instantly becomes their destination consultant and confidant, Sitton says, adding that planners trusting Ted and confiding in him with key details helps him ensure they’re looking at just the right possible properties. 

“He also guides planners into a deep-dive conversation with the hotel or venue to ensure that the service needs of the planner are met completely,” she adds. “When Ted took over leadership of the site management team, he completely transformed the site inspection process, ramping up definite meeting bookings from 53 to 85 percent.”

Santa Fe Standout
David Carr is a fifth-generation Santa Fean who has made a huge impact in 16 months as the Santa Fe CVB’s director of sales.

Carr has implemented new policies and procedures, incorporated new technology, and has been more proactive in prospecting and attending industry tradeshows, which are producing significant positive results, including a 51 percent increase in confirmed room bookings.

“What I like most about working with groups and planners is breaking the myths that Santa Fe is always hot, that it’s a desert, that’s it’s an Old West town,” Carr says. “Time and again we get to meet with and host people whose expectations are completely exceeded by the gorgeous weather, the dynamic culture, the unforgettable food and the incredible people of Santa Fe.”

Carr’s tip for planners with Santa Fe in mind is to consider March though mid-May and October and November.

“The nights might be a little cool but the days are sunny and warm, with an abundance of natural beauty,” he says. “You’ll also enjoy some of the best deals of the year during those times.”

Columbus Kudos
When it comes to discovering Columbus, Kalee Barnhardt’s efforts include helping government groups and those with up to 550 peak nights have a seamless experience. The CVB’s convention sales manager loves hosting site visits as well, and told us about a new program she’s been part of that delivers a serious taste of the city to planners too tied-up to make the initial trip.

“One thing I have come to understand is that meeting planners are incredibly busy and may not have the time to travel to Columbus,” she explains. “For this reason we have curated a successful program through a partnership with Designer Shoe Warehouse (DSW), a Fortune 500 company headquartered in Columbus, to host planners at their stores across the country in an event that easily fits within their schedules. During these events, we introduce clients to our city in a fun, nontraditional environment that ties into our walkable convention package. In fact, we have received RFPs right on-site because clients are so impressed with all that Columbus has to offer.”

Big Easy Breakthrough
Tara Letort is touted by her New Orleans CVB colleagues and others as a rising star in the meetings industry. As the bureau’s director of group PR, she was the only recipient of this year’s Forty Under 40 Award from USAE and Association Forum of Chicagoland, from a destination marketing organization, or CVB.

The pioneering 14-year veteran is the first director-level PR professional at a CVB dedicated solely to conventions and events coming to the city. Her expertise includes customized marketing plans as well as social media and public relations strategies, and since the position was created in 2007 she has led the charge in creating and utilizing cutting-edge strategies and tactics to drive attendance and help visiting organizations exceed their goals.

While some of these services were once considered “added value,” she has taken them to a level of professionalism that is now considered standard.

Anaheim All-Star
Jessica Rienecker, a 31-year-old meeting sales director, western region with Visit Anaheim, is always on the go with her work, though her colleagues say she always finds time to be still. With a passion for wellness, she’s not only incorporated yoga and meditation into her own agenda, but in many other aspects of the industry.

She is working with CalSAE’s 2016 ELEVATE Conference to instill added morning wellness offerings, established breathing exercises for use during her local MPI Board retreat in May 2015 and taught yoga as a breakout session at MPI’s SoCal EdCon in April 2015.

Beyond wellness, she creatively embraces social media to spur new leads, grow connections and boost the bottom line. Rienecker also puts together relevant content on a frequent basis to remain an expert partner to planners and sustain long-term win-win relationships. Recently, Jessica led a presentation at DMA West in September 2015 on the significance of social media for selling and is speaking at the December 2015 retreat of a local Conference Direct team on why Anaheim is a top destination for meetings.

Shining In South Walton
Carley McMillian, lead sales coordinator with Visit South Walton, is all about shining a spotlight on the sandy stretch of Florida as a destination for meetings and events. A lifelong citizen of Walton County, Carley has a passion for the area that is unparalleled, and combined with her distinct qualifications, she is a perfect fit for her job.

The savvy sales coordinator has gained kudos that include the 2014 Award of Distinction and a Judge’s Award from the Florida Public Relations Association, in addition to a 2014 ADDY Award from the American Advertising Federation, all based upon the “Meet You in South Walton” brochure, for which she assisted with the conceptualization and execution.

“If time permits, I encourage meeting attendees to bring comfortable shoes to experience the many outdoor activities South Walton offers, like the four state parks, the Timpoochee Trail, kayaking and stand-up paddle-boarding,” she says. “Also, I let planners know South Walton is a family-friendly destination. Attendees can turn their meeting or conference into a memorable family vacation that the whole group can stick around and enjoy.”

Leverage Your Relationship with DMOs, CVBs and Tourism Offices
Wednesday, November, 18, 2015, 1:00 p.m. EST

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