By Carleigh Dworetzky
As millions across America practice social distancing, Convention and Visitor Bureaus (CVBs) are faced with the overall challenge of supporting their community and planning for the post-COVID-19 rebound. In addition to working directly with meeting planners, CVBs often report and forecast tourism for the entire community. CVBs play an integral role in the education and knowledge of upcoming events and trends in their community.
While stay-at-home orders remain in effect, there are several steps CVBs can take to assist their community in preparing for recovery.
- Be a Bridge: The relationship CVBs possess with local governmental agencies is an integral part of forming a support plan for the community. Local government officials are being tasked with emergency planning. In many markets, there is an imminent need for hotels and lodging accommodations for first responders and/or to triage or to house ill or quarantined individuals. CVBs can serve as a bridge between these agencies and the hotel communities.
- Support the Community: The COVID-19 pandemic has caused unprecedented challenges to the U.S. blood supply. Donor centers have experienced a dramatic reduction in donations due to the implementation of social distancing and the cancellation of blood drives. Given these circumstances, most collection facilities can’t operate and maintain the needed supply. Venues and facilities currently not in use offer the perfect location to uphold safe social distancing and support this desperate need. CVBs can work with the hotel community and local donor organizations to identify and schedule donation locations.
- Government Advocacy: CVBs can leverage their local governmental ties to advocate for financial support for their community partners. CVBs should push for the federal government to expand current stimulus packages to represent more hospitality institutions. The Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA) has crafted several talking points around expanding the legislation to allow tax-exempt organizations to apply for SBA interruption loans, increasing the maximum loan size for SBA interruption loans along with reducing collateral requirements for businesses suffering the worst of this economic crisis. These items would allow for more support to tourism related areas (and CVBs) while providing more leniency as the travel and tourism industry recovers.
- Outbound Communication: Chances are most of the hotels in your destination have furloughed or laid off a significant portion of their staff. In the haste to do this, not all hotels had a clear communication plan to groups on the books. This is leaving planners in “grey zones” unable to reach anyone to change or cancel groups. To assist, CVBs should look to work with their hotel partners in order to keep an up-to-date list of sales contacts at all hotels. Then communicate this to all groups on the books sourced by the CVB. Be sure to include any changes to your staffing levels in these communications as well. This exercise will be helpful when new opportunities emerge and you need to communicate with hotels.
- Maximize Availability: While this has always been the hallmark of CVBs, now, more than ever, it is crucial. As the storm settles, there will be an influx of rescheduled events. This will not just be shifted dates but also shifted cities. It will be crucial to maximize every square inch of your facilities. Working now to move events and consolidate meeting space will lead to more availability within your market when demand returns.
- Prepare for Change: Most likely, the first meetings to return will be smaller in scale and have spacing restrictions in place. Your convention center and your local hotels probably don’t have capacity charts for this. Update your convention center charts and work with your local hotels to update theirs as well. This will help you better understand the size of groups your destination will be able to support. Be very generous with your sizing and assume some semblance of the 6-ft. social distancing rule will still apply; a space that once held 5,000 people might now only hold 2,000.
- Maintain Relationships: It is still a great idea to keep in touch and check in on your planners. Remaining close will ensure your destination is top of mind when they look to the future. However, these communications cannot be about selling; it’s about the relationship. In fact, heavy sales speak is likely to get you remembered, but not for the right reason. These communications should be about how your destination is changing to accommodate the new times. As the year progresses, you can add communications about available dates and recovery plans.
- Help with Transient Business: Not everything is about group. During recoveries, transient travel returns long before group travel does. This recovery will be no different. Recovery will come from the drive market first as it always does. Help your destination by investing in advertising campaigns into drive leisure markets.
- Utilize Benchmark Tools: Any tool that allows you to compare your destination to others will help you understand where your destination is on the path to recovery. This will help you to educate your hotels on how your destination’s performance is relative to others. This can help your hotels understand pricing opportunity as demand returns.
Although these times may leave us feeling out of control, a clear recovery plan will lead to a stronger rebound for both the destination and your constituents. CVBs play a dynamic role in guiding these processes for the community and will continue to be integral in driving the economic impact of meetings, conventions and overall tourism within their market.
Now is the time to lead the way. Laying out a clear plan and sharing it with your constituents will help you jumpstart your efforts. Going one step further and sharing that plan with past and future customers will let them know how much your destination cares about them and their attendees. Service before self should be the mantra in the back of your mind. What you do today will influence how you and your destination recover.
As the director of destination solutions at Knowland, Carleigh Dworetzky leads the charge on Knowland’s overall product and service offerings from the suite of TAP Products. She joined Knowland from Destination DC where she was the convention strategy manager, responsible for reporting and analytics to align her community’s sales strategy. Dworetzky’s experience spans more than a decade within a portfolio of reputable hotels and conference centers. She has received the “Smart Women in Meetings” award from Smart Meetings as a rising star. She also previously joined Destination’s International’s “30 under 30,” which aims to invest in the future generation of destination experts.
This is a contributed piece to Hotel Business, authored by an industry professional. The thoughts expressed are the perspective of the bylined individual.