Meetings

Location, Location, Location: Destination Drives Current and Future Attendance

By / Feb 13, 2015 (iStock/Thinkstock)

A new study shows that a destination factors heavily into an attendee’s decision to go to a meeting—and cities are stepping up their game to woo attendees.

What do most people say is a must-have when it comes to buying or renting a home? A good location—and a new study says the same is true for meetings and conventions.

Bottom line, [people] attend on someone else’s dime and return on their own dime, which is significant.

According to the report, “The Decision to Attend Study – Phase One,” 82 percent of the more than 7,000 current and potential meeting attendees surveyed said that the destination definitely factors into their decision to go to a meeting.

The joint research effort—conducted by the International Association of Exhibitions and Events, the Professional Convention Management Association, and The EXPERIENCE Institute—also produced other stats that show how valuable attendees are to locations. For example:

  • More than 50 percent of attendees said they’re likely to extend their stay or turn their trip into a vacation, fueling additional room nights.
  • Nearly 50 percent said they will bring someone with them (friend, family, companion), multiplying their spending.
  • Seventy-five percent will get out and about to visit restaurants and attractions in the destination.
  • If the first experiences is positive, 84 percent will return to attend the same meeting at the destination, while more than 75 percent will return to attend a different conference.
  • More than 75 percent also said if the destination experience is positive, they will consider returning for leisure travel. (Compare that to a negative experience: Only 4 percent are likely to return for leisure travel in that case.)

These findings emphasize that destinations need “to view the attendee with a ‘leisure traveler’ lens,” says the report. “Bottom line, they attend on someone else’s dime and return on their own dime, which is significant.”

Bringing Them Back

Many destinations are recognizing that the role they play in an attendee’s meeting experience extends beyond the convention center walls and other traditional venue spaces. In fact, many are beginning to see the power they hold in luring these same people back for future meetings or vacations.

As part of that effort, many have developed or take part in programs and other services that educate and inform restaurant workers, taxi drivers, and other business owners on what these visitors mean for the local economy.

For instance, the Certified Tourism Ambassador program offers a nationwide certification for workers and volunteers “that mobilizes a destination’s frontline to turn every visitor encounter into a positive experience.”

To date, more than 10,000 workers and volunteers have earned the CTA designation, following a six-month process customized for each destination. Participants build on their knowledge of the local region, enhance their skills in serving customers, increase their awareness of information resources, and discover the power of tourism and its effect on the local economy. The Dallas CVB, Kansas City CVB, and Experience Grand Rapids are three of the many destination marketing organizations that have made participation in the program a priority.

This week, the Flint and Genesee Convention & Visitors Bureau announced it would be the fifth major city in Michigan to offer the CTA program, beginning this fall.

“Our hospitality businesses will certainly benefit from Certified Tourism Ambassadors, but it’s much more big-picture than that,” said CVB Director Cheryl DeFrain. “These ambassadors will have vast knowledge of Flint and Genesee, they’ll know how to answer questions, and they’ll provide excellent customer service.”

Another example is the Fayetteville Area CVB’s Fayetteville College of Patriotic Arts and Sciences, which is “dedicated to educating Cumberland County frontline hospitality employees to enable better service to the community’s visitors.” It includes a free online education center that offers four classes that participants can complete at their own pace: Using the CVB to Your Advantage, Selling the Destination, Using Marketing/Public Relations to Your Advantage, and Understanding the Community Brand.

Along those same lines, the Canton Stark County Convention and Visitors’ Bureau has its STAR Frontline Training Program. STAR, which stands for Stark Tourism Ambassador Recognition, aims to educate frontline staff, volunteers, docents and new employees in the hospitality industry; strengthen and encourage partnerships among local venues; and drive traffic to locally owned businesses and tourism destinations in Stark County.

What’s clear through all these programs is that destinations are making the effort to better inform workers in order to deliver on attendee and visitor expectations. What else do you think destinations should be doing to woo attendees? Please share in the comments.

Samantha Whitehorne

Samantha Whitehorne is editorial director of Associations Now. More »

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