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Convention and Visitors Bureaus

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Thanks to Visit Fairfax for sharing their form that includes questions they ask if you call them asking for their reunion planning assistance. This is basic information that most CVBs will want to know when you get in touch for the first time. It helps them provide the best possible personalized service for your reunion. Be prepared to answer these questions.


Convention and Visitors Bureaus have much to offer
by Megan Moyer

As you plan your next reunion, whether it’s in your city or elsewhere, take advantage of the local convention and visitors bureau (CVB). Sometimes known as a convention and visitor center or commission (CVC) or association (CVA), these agencies exist to promote and help you enjoy their city.

Contact CVBs while you are still deciding where to hold your reunion. They can provide information to help make your decision. Then take advantage of the many services CVBs offer.

Many reunions benefit from local CVB assistance. Whether you are planning a reunion for the first time or are just running short on time, CVBs can provide extra resources, ideas and, in some cases, extra hands reunion planners need.

CVBs offer various services depending on their size and your group’s size. The majority of CVBs will provide these complimentary services.

  • assistance gathering proposals for accommodations and venues
  • familiarization tours (FAMs) and site inspections
  • promotional literature for distribution to members in advance or upon arrival
  • help locating services such as transportation, recreation and picnic facilities
  • suggested tour itineraries.

Ask what is complimentary and what the bureau charges for. In most cases, if there are charges, they are minimal. Jeff Malan, services coordinator at the Lincoln, Nebraska, CVB notes, "We are a non-profit, non-government agency, funded solely by a two percent lodging tax. Our services are free depending on the number of sleeping rooms a group uses at local lodging. If a group doesn’t use enough sleeping rooms to cover the value of services requested, we charge for the difference."

Most CVBs have literature to help you start planning. St. Louis, Missouri, Convention and Visitors Commission offers Reunion Planning Kits. The Buffalo, New York, CVB publishes a 14-page military reunion guide that includes planning and search tips for activity and entertainment suggestions, resources, a checklist and calendar.

Are you wondering what a convention and visitors bureau (CVB) can do for your reunion? Learn more at "What conventions and visitors bureaus can do for you." Then, contact the CVB in your city or away because they are there to help and most of their services are free.



Proposal gathering

Use CVBs to do the legwork gathering information to learn about reunion facilities like amenities, airport transportation, meeting space and complimentary services or special deals. Your proposal will need to include expected arrival and departure dates, number of sleeping rooms needed, and any budget limitations. The Montgomery, Maryland, CVB facilitates proposal gathering for accommodations and other venues.

Amanda Behrman, group services coordinator at the Greater Woodfield CVB in Illinois, worked with Renee Taylor, the Jackson-Simmons Family Reunion planner two years in a row. Behrman sent proposals to area hotels that could accommodate the group’s needs which saved Renee the time of calling sold out, too small or too expensive properties.

Lisa Betley, senior sales manager at Jacksonville CVB faxes bids to hotels meeting reunion specifications and either has proposals sent directly to planners or combines all the bids into one document for the planner’s review.

Promotional literature and freebies

Every CVB provides enough free visitor guides and area attraction maps and literature to share with everyone attending the reunion.

Freebies depend on the bureau and your group’s size. The Savannah, Georgia, CVB provided recent military FAM attendees with goodie bags that included disposable cameras. The Louisville and Jefferson County, Kentucky, CVB provides maps and slides for newsletters and offers pins and bags at cost. Kansas City, Missouri, CVB provides maps, visitors guides, brochures, plastic handled bags and printed material to send with your invitations. Alburquerque CVB provides registration help, literature, promotional videos and slides and local media contact.

After making reservations, the St. Louis CVC provides a Welcome Packet for each booked room. Renee Eichelberger of the tourism sales department customizes kits so a family or group receives information members are most interested in.

Locating services/securing venues
CVBs can be a reunion planner’s right hand when it comes to finding and securing the right venue. Ann Lansey, Baltimore, Maryland, is hosting 200 members at the Gaines-Lansey Family Reunion in July 2002. With the Baltimore Area CVA’s help, she hopes to secure the Baltimore Zoo as their location. Chosen for its history, beautiful pavilion and many activities and exhibits, Ann is confident it will be fun for all family members. She is also securing a tour guide to lead a customized Afro-centric city tour including Bethel AME Church and the family bank, Ideal Federal Savings Bank.

CVBs are a great resource when searching for services such as local transportation. Jeff Malan, Lincoln/Lancaster County CVB services coordinator, helped the USS Yosemite reunion obtain motor coach transportation the afternoon before the group was scheduled to travel to the Strategic Air Command Museum, 25 miles away. Another bus company charter had fallen through and the planner was near desperation. Malan found a replacement motor coach available at the same departure time.

Suggesting tour itineraries
Most CVBs will suggest tour itineraries for reunions or for spouses. Jeff Malan helped a family reunion hire a tour guide to conduct a customized Lincoln driving tour. He arranged a meeting of the local reunion organizer and prospective guide to devise the tour route and content. Malan also made transportation arrangements for a trip to a remote family cemetery 50 miles away.

Going above and beyond
CVB staff members’ knowledge of their city, sites and activities is key, but their personalized service is the greatest benefit. Leslie Straughan, tourism sales manager at New Orleans, Louisiana, CVB searches the convention calendar to help family reunions select a date and find the best rates.

Once they’ve selected a date or range of dates, Straughn sends the reunion’s information to hotels, restaurants and tours. Companies forward rates, menus and details to the planner. Straughan follows up to answer questions, learn where the reunion is booked and set-up delivery of visitor guides, maps and coupon books. She also provides a detailed, customized New Orleans Family Reunion packet.

Amanda Behrman of the Woodfield CVB establishes personal relationships with reunion planners like Renee Turner whose Jackson-Simmons Family Reunion annual attendance ranges from 80 to 100 members. Turner needed Behrman’s help finding a site for their family picnic. She decided on a reception and banquet at the hotel, but also wanted an outdoor picnic near the hotel. Behrman contacted the Schaumburg Park District which has special family reunion picnic packages. Turner arranged a picnic at a nearby park and the Park District provided food, a tent and children’s games. This year, the family wanted something different, so Behrman contacted several businesses to host an indoor dinner and activity. They chose North Beach Entertainment Complex which has sand volleyball, a bowling alley and a full catering menu.


Many CVBs offer reunion planning workshops. And dancing broke out at this one in Newport News, Virginia.

Behrman says, "About two to six months out, I always check with my reunions to find out if they need more information. Once they secure the hotel, transportation and outside functions they think about other details. One service I provided for the Jackson-Simmons Reunion was name badges. A month before the reunion, Renee sent a list of members, and I made the badges. Even with family reunions, this is an important service, because many people in Renee's family had never met. I provided plastic registration bags, area maps, brochures about area attractions, shopping and restaurants, discount cards for the area's most popular attraction (Woodfield Shopping Center) and small giveaways for each member. Many times I’ll give little promotional items like coin purses, pens and decks of cards. It’s a nice way to say thank you for holding your reunion in our area."

Turner, thankful for Behrman’s help, said, "GWCVB was instrumental making the Jackson-Simmons Family Reunion a success. They directed me to the park district for our picnic and we had a great time. Everyone received goodie bags including the coin purses from Amanda. And the maps saved me from having to draw one myself."

The Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, CVB provides souvenirs, plastic bags and postcards you imprint for advance promotion. In a recent FAM tour for military reunion planners the bureau provided transportation, hotel and meals for the planners and companions. CVB staff member, Bob Imperata, said, "They just had to pay to park their cars." Bob surveys participants after the FAM to ensure the tour met their expectations.

The Jacksonville CVB senior sales manager, Lisa Betley, personally drives groups for site inspections, often allowing people to fly in for the day without staying over. After the reunion is booked, it’s assigned a services manager to assist with arrangements for motorcoach transportation, photographers and entertainment.

Jeff Malan says, "In addition to tour-oriented services, I usually provide reunions with name badges (with insignia and logos), visitors guides, promotional items, a customized banner, assistance arranging welcome speeches and letters from local dignitaries, transportation, lists of speakers and entertainers, and on-site staff to assist with registration." In one case, the reunion organizer was in Hong Kong and arranged a one-day tour of Lincoln with a bus chartering service. The bus company couldn’t supply a guide, so they called Malan. A CVB staff member served as a guide, but there was trouble creating an itinerary. Malan couldn’t reach the planner so he blindly devised an itinerary using the scant information from their first communication. Finally he contacted the planner for final modifications and the tour was a success.

Albuquerque CVB assists military reunions to find a location for memorial services and arrange for Navaho Code Talkers to act as color guard and say a Native American prayer at their memorial. Staff also helps coordinate tours, hotel rooms, and arrange a donated sand painting of the group’s logo.

DuPage County, Illinois, CVB offers site selection and inspections, bid package preparation, complete itinerary planning, printed name badges, help to secure transportation and complimentary brochures. They also give the reunion planner a complimentary one-time-use camera and photo album to capture memories created in DuPage County.

When the Kissimmee-St. Cloud CVB booked the Marine Corps League-Department of Florida reunion, they secured a proclamation from the Florida Governor and welcome letters from the Board of County Commissioners and mayor. For the national convention, the Bureau will try to arrange media coverage and designate the week "Marine Corps League Week."

Are you wondering what a convention and visitors bureau (CVB) can do for your reunion? Learn more at "What conventions and visitors bureaus can do for you." Then, contact the CVB in your city or away because they are there to help and most of their services are free.


 
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