Canada East Chapter

December 20 2012

Game Changers 2012

Jennifer N. Dienst

What’s top of mind for 11 industry leaders.

Davide Veglia, President ABTS Convention Services

Your International Partner From Online to On Site

 Which of your new offerings are meeting planners most excited about?



We are moving forward with new technologies to make the booking process faster and more convenient for our international meeting planners. We have introduced QR codes, which capture information on site during the conference for priority access to our preferred properties. We are constantly improving our interactive websites to make booking intuitive and easy. Planners can also manage their group’s rooming lists and book local DMC services online.

What challenge do you think the meetings industry has successfully overcome in the past year or so? What’s the biggest challenge facing the industry in 2012?


The global financial crisis that we are currently facing is a challenge. When the domestic meetings industry took a hit, we were able to increase international attendance, which helped offset some of the domestic losses. As for medical meetings, the biggest challenge facing the industry is the awareness and willingness to adapt to and accommodate attendees from abroad, where pharmaceutical sponsorship is common. This is where we help our associations - by accommodating international groups who have larger housing blocks and tend to spend more on F&B and ancillary services.

How has your team used social media to work with meeting professionals and promote your company?



We now offer live chat with our multilingual, multicultural staff in three international offices, who provide support to planners in a range of time zones. We also use blogs to connect planners with our immigration attorney and CME accreditation expert.

What piece of advice would you give to a young professional entering the meetings and conventions industry?


Find something specific that you excel at and focus on that niche. I started working with medical meeting planners in 1995, when I was eating pizza on the floor and using an old door as a desk because I couldn’t afford a real desk. Today, ABTS Convention Services has four international offices and represents more than 16 major U.S. medical associations. But I still have the door as my desk!

What single asset makes you most proud to represent your company?


The global reach that we extend to our association clients and housing partners - we work with more than 9,000 international planners all over the world. We’ve been building that network since 1995, and are still adding to it every day.

Bobbie Patterson, Executive Director, Boise Convention & Visitors Bereau

Meetings With a Personal Touch

What challenge do you think the meetings industry has successfully overcome in the past year or so? What’s the biggest challenge facing the industry in 2012?


The biggest challenge is a better understanding between planners and suppliers on how to make the economy work for both sides. Planners need facilities to comp the use of meeting space, while buildings face challenges like reduced revenue to the point where they can’t make debt obligations. It’s an ongoing issue beyond 2012.

How has your organization responded to group requests to incorporate CSR initiatives into their meetings?


We’ve created a “menu” of ways groups can give back to the community. For example, Boise’s “Chefs to the Rescue” program donates leftover food from events to local homeless shelters.

What single asset makes you most proud to represent your destination?


We find that in Boise it’s not what people saw or did, it’s a personal connection they made to the destination. About 85 percent of first-time visitors say, “I think I could live here.”

Paul D. Astleford, President and CEO, Experience Columbus

Always something new to discover.

What’s new in your destination that meeting planners are most excited about?


We’ve recently completed close to $1 billion in destination enhancements, including hotel and convention-center renovations, a new community park in the city center, and the redevelopment of our riverfront. These enhancements are topped off by the $140-million Hilton Columbus Downtown, which will open in late 2012 with a direct connection to the Greater Columbus Convention Center.

What challenge do you think the meetings industry has successfully overcome in the past year or so?


Finding a way to weather the tough economic climate during the past few years has been our industry’s biggest accomplishment. We have continuously proven the value of face-to-face meetings and the desire and necessity of travel. In 2012 we face a similar challenge of navigating the global economic concerns that exist in the marketplace. Learning how to best react to what is happening economically overseas will be vital to the future of the meetings industry in the U.S.

How has your team used social media to work with meeting professionals and promote your destination? What new social-media tools are you looking forward to trying?


We have been actively engaged in social media for several years now. What’s exciting is seeing the meetings industry adopt social media more widely during the past year or so. More and more, we are utilizing tools like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter to connect with meeting professionals just as we have with leisure visitors for years now. We are also excited to launch a new mobile strategy for 2012.

What single asset makes you most proud to represent your destination?


It isn’t one single asset, but rather the entire destination appeal. I love seeing the reaction of clients when they come on a site visit and leave saying, “Wow, I had no idea Columbus ….” We hear that a lot, and it never gets old.

What are meeting professionals asking for now that they weren’t asking for a year or two ago? How are you responding to that need?


Economic pressures are forcing more professionals to ask for destination incentives. This is also happening because meeting professionals are becoming more cognizant of the influence they possess in emphasizing the value of our industry as an economic development engine.

Colleen Brzozowski, Director of Sales, Grand Traverse Resort & Spa

Michigan’s Premier Resort Experience

What’s new at your resort that meeting planners are most excited about?

Our new Dylan’s Candy Bar and Candy Café has been a huge hit with our meeting planners for both creative amenity gifts and group activities. Even more exciting is the remodeling of our guest rooms, which will include a fresh redesign and updates to enhance guests’ comfort.

What challenge do you think the meetings industry has successfully overcome in the past year or so? What’s the biggest challenge facing the industry in 2012?

The biggest challenge for both planners and suppliers is doing more with less, whether it’s managing budgets, staff, or time. But by having successful partnerships, both parties can handle these challenges successfully. In 2012, we will continue seeing short-term bookings requiring quick turnaround. We plan to meet that challenge through great communication, attention to detail, and our solid network of relationships.

How has your team responded to requests from groups to incorporate CSR initiatives into their meetings?

We are seeing more groups looking for ways to give back to the community. Our event design manager serves as our on-site DMC and works closely with groups to design customized CSR opportunities, whether it’s donating tote bags or creating a teambuilding activity in conjunction with a local charity organization.

How has your team used social media to work with meeting professionals and promote your resort? Has it been a success?

We’ve seen a high number of downloads of our mobile app, which we recently introduced, as well as significant growth in social-media interaction with our guests. Many of them love to comment and share their personal experiences on our Facebook pages.

What are meeting professionals asking for now that they weren’t asking for a year or two ago? How are you responding to that need?

More organizations are open to sharing their meeting objectives with us so that we can help them achieve ROO, ROI, and ROE. It’s becoming more than just dates, rates, and space. We communicate early in the process to build a partnership and assist in designing all elements of the meeting to ensure a successful experience.

Paul Upchurch, President and CEO, VISIT Milwaukee

Warm Hospitality on the Waterfront

What’s new in your destination that meeting planners are most excited about?

In 2011, Cheapflights.com ranked General Mitchell International Airport the country’s third-most affordable airport. Just eight miles from downtown, the airport is also one of the fastest-growing - yet fares are, on average, $108 less than O’Hare’s and $75 less than the national average.

What challenge do you think the meetings industry has successfully overcome in the past year or so? What’s the biggest challenge facing the industry in 2012?

In recent years, the struggling economy has caused organizations to cut budgets and question the relevance of meetings. The industry has successfully responded by demonstrating the ROI of meetings and defending the importance of face-to-face interaction. In 2012, the industry will still be dealing with a volatile economy, resulting in short-term booking windows and attendance fluctuations. Meeting planners - as well as CVBs - must be flexible enough to accommodate this new reality.

How has your organization responded to group requests to incorporate CSR initiatives into their meetings? Have you seen a rise in requests? What unique CSR opportunities does your destination offer for groups?

Although we have not noted a significant increase in requests for CSR projects, VISIT Milwaukee has devised its own initiatives. Since 2009, we have donated hundreds of bikes - assembled by staff and potential clients during our “Build-a-Bike” events at industry trade shows - to local Boys & Girls Clubs.

What single asset makes you most proud to represent your destination?

Water. Yes, that’s right. It’s not widely known that Milwaukee enjoys an incredibly beautiful location on Lake Michigan, and at the confluence of three rivers. Throughout the past 15 years, the city has preserved its water resources as well as initiated a number of waterfront attractions and amenities for visitors, including the Milwaukee Art Museum’s Quadracci Pavilion, Discovery World, and a riverwalk that the American Planning Association called a “top-10 great public space.”

What are meeting professionals asking for now that they weren’t asking for a year or two ago? How are you responding?

Due to next year’s uncertain economic forecast, the trend of short-term booking windows may result in even shorter response times. The challenge for CVBs representing multiple hotels and facilities will be creating a streamlined process with partners to provide quick responses.

Kellie Ann Cahill, CMP & Kai Fischer, Directors of Sales and Marketing, Hilton New York and Sheraton New York Hotel & Towers


What is - and how have planners responded to - NY 5000?

Cahill: Together, NYC & Co., Hilton New York, and Sheraton New York Hotel & Towers offer a convention complex with 5,000 guest rooms, 100 meeting rooms, and a total of 225,000 square feet of meeting space, all within one block in Midtown Manhattan, called NY 5000. It has become a viable option for customers who are looking for an “unconventional” meeting alternative in New York City, giving clients the benefits of a convention center in the heart of Midtown in two dynamic hotels.

What are meeting professionals asking for now that they weren’t asking for a year or two ago? How are you responding to that need?

Cahill: Customers are asking for flexible terms and conditions as well as favorable room rates. The uncertainty in the economy has resulted in shorter booking cycles. It is also interesting to see the effect that social media has had on the group meeting experience. It is now an active platform to engage with our group customers, allowing the hotel to interact with clients directly.

What are the advantages of NY 5000 for meeting planners?

Fischer: NY 5000 provides a state-of-the-art, renovated package of hotel rooms and meeting space in the best city in the world, to help drive attendance without the high cost of a convention center.

What challenge do you think the meetings industry has successfully overcome in the past year or so? What’s the biggest challenge facing the industry in 2012?

Fischer: Showing that meetings are not taboo, but a vital part of an organization’s ability to provide direction and strategy in a cost-effective manner during uncertain economic conditions. The challenge is planning further in advance to take advantage of softer pricing, as well as the overall lack of confidence in the recovery. With a diminished supply of new hotels coming into the marketplace, room rates will continue to rise, so waiting too long to plan a meeting will end up costing more.

Nick Topitzes, CMP, CEP & Chairman, pc/nametag Inc.

Where Meeting Planners Come First

What challenge do you think the meetings industry has successfully overcome in the past year or so? What’s the biggest challenge facing the industry in 2012?


The industry has slowly gotten back on its feet after a tough three years. Planners and hoteliers have learned to do more with less and do it in a condensed timeframe. Now we face a new threat to the economy. The problems in Europe could cause a European recession or depression. If the economy slows again, we could see budget cuts and reduced meeting attendance.

How has your team responded to requests to incorporate sustainability into your products? Have you seen a rise in requests? What unique eco-friendly products does your company offer?


Currently, we offer eco-friendly nametags, lanyards, tote bags - pretty much our full line. We look at all of our products and take sustainability into consideration. We also look at how to lower costs: Can we use different materials? Can we cut shipping weight?

What single asset makes you most proud to represent your company?


I love talking to someone at a trade show when another planner walks up and says, “They are a great company. They saved me.” I tell new hires that a meeting can be at the Four Seasons with fine wines, filet mignon, and Bill Clinton as the speaker, but if there aren’t nametags when people arrive, the planner could get fired. So it is vital that we deliver.

What piece of advice do you wish you had been given that you would you now impart to a young professional entering the meetings and conventions industry?

(h4)

Build relationships and don’t burn bridges. Everyone knows everyone in this industry, and sooner or later you will have a reputation - good or bad. You have to learn to negotiate, but you must be fair. If you beat up a hotel too much, you will pay another way. If the hotel has overly aggressive pricing, planners won’t come back when it’s a planners’ market.

What are meeting professionals asking for now that they weren’t asking for a year or two ago? How are you responding to that need?


Today, everyone expects fast service. Planners produce a meeting within four weeks instead of four months. As a company, we have learned to respond by keeping a huge inventory, so that if someone needs 10,000 nametags in San Diego tomorrow, we can do it.

Gregg Herning, Vice President of Sales & Marketing, Peabody Hotels

The Peabody Orlando Is a New, 1,641- Room Game Changer

What’s new in your destination that meeting planners are most excited about?


We have been referring to our expanded property as a game-changer for the past 18 months. Our $450-million expansion, open for more than a year now, includes 1,641 new guest rooms, 300,000 square feet of meeting and function space, a three-acre grotto pool area, a 22,000-square-foot spa and fitness center, and new restaurants. It’s truly a masterpiece. Planners have described the convention space as the best in the country.

What challenge do you think the meetings industry has successfully overcome in the past year or so? What’s the biggest challenge facing the industry in 2012?


All indicators point to business returning to normal, and we are seeing encouraging activity specifically in retail, technology, and medical meetings. Planners are still looking for creative pricing, especially for catering and Internet connectivity. The real emphasis is on getting back to normal and bringing people together again. The biggest challenge for 2012 and beyond is pushing our average rates closer to pre-recession levels.

How has your team used social media to work with meeting professionals and promote your destination? What new social-media tools are you looking forward to trying?


We hosted a viral campaign that offered an all-expenses-paid executive conference. We have also worked with groups before their conference on strategic flight plans to boost attendance. Our popular “Duckmaster” will soon have his own blog so that guests can receive updates about Peabody activities and events.

What single asset makes you most proud to represent your destination?


We’ve held the Forbes Four-Star rating longer than any other hotel in Florida - 23 years. The world is full of beautiful hotels, but it’s our service delivery and memorable experiences that really make the difference to guests.

What are meeting professionals asking for now that they weren’t asking for a year or two ago? How are you responding to that need?

Planners want increased Internet connectivity and bandwidth. As more conferences adopt an interactive format, their users are encouraged to follow along and communicate with presenters. We as hoteliers have to become more knowledgeable about these areas and know what questions to ask to avoid confusion or lapses in service.

Alex Kaptzan, Director of Convention Sales, Tampa Bay & Company

The Ever-Expanding Hub of Florida’s West Coast

What’s new in your destination that meeting planners are most excited about?


The Glazer Children's Museum, the Tampa Art Museum, and Curtis Hixon Park are all brand-new developments that have opened within the past year, within close proximity of our convention center. New attractions include the Cheetah Run and Cheetah Hunt rollercoaster at Busch Gardens and the brand-new LEGOLAND Florida.

How has your team used social media to work with meeting professionals and promote your destination? What new social-media tools are you looking forward to trying?


Tampa Bay & Company utilizes blogging, Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, and YouTube as its primary social-media tools, and they have proven to be tremendously successful in marketing the destination. We primarily use blogs to promote the destination to meeting professionals, and we use Twitter to gauge the pulse of a group’s attendees while they are in Tampa.

What single asset makes you most proud to represent your destination?


The hospitable environment Tampa offers, no question. We welcome our visitors with a friendly, safe, and affordable destination that has everything one looks for in a Florida experience - history, culture, warm weather, attractions, and more. Our unique combination of ingredients can’t be matched, and we provide it all at a great value.

What piece of advice would you give to a young professional entering the meetings and conventions industry?


Get involved, and stay involved, with your industry. Network among your peers; join trade organizations, boards, and committees; and volunteer your time and knowledge whenever and wherever possible. Gain as much exposure in your industry as possible, and strive to continue learning throughout your career.

What are meeting professionals asking for now that they weren’t asking for a year or two ago? How are you responding?


The trend of supply exceeding demand in hotels and convention centers has created larger function-space needs, while attrition issues from 2009 and 2010, as well as economic worries, have shrunken room blocks. Groups require more space but cannot commit to the blocks they did historically. Hotels are looking for alternate revenue streams, and often tie rentals to food-and-beverage minimums. Convention centers have also gotten very creative in offsetting those rentals.

Al Hutchinson, Vice President of Convention Sales & Marketing, Virginia Beach Convention & Visitor’s Bureau

Bringing Out the Best in This Rich, Coastal Destination

What’s new in your destination that meeting planners are most excited about?


Virginia Beach understands the need to make the destination mobile-friendly. In the past year, our website was made available to all mobile devices in a user-friendly format, making the promotion of the destination sustainable as well as portable.

What challenge do you think the meetings industry has successfully overcome in the past year or so? What’s the biggest challenge facing the industry in 2012?

The strategic alliance of our industry’s hospitality partners (i.e., U.S. Travel, PCMA, and more) has done an incredible job of reigniting the face of tourism and illustrating the value of face-to-face meetings. The economy is still a huge threat to our industry, and the race to relevance is still foremost on the association executive’s mind.

What single asset makes you most proud to represent your destination?


Virginia Beach has a winning combination of passionate people working in the meetings and hospitality industry, and a safe - yet hip - vibe. When you are here, you feel it and love it. When you leave, you miss it and can’t wait to return.

What piece of advice would you give to a young professional entering the meetings and conventions industry?(h4)

First, find a mentor. Our industry is built on relationships, so what better way to fuel your growth than through an incredible role model who has connections and lessons to impart? Second, don’t just perform the work - connect the dots. Make that connection to the big picture.

How has your team responded to group requests to incorporate CSR initiatives into their meetings? What unique CSR opportunities does your destination offer for groups?


In May 2011, we hosted the two-day “One Beach, One World” FAM tour that showcased some of our most sustainably and socially conscious meeting venues, including JT’s Grommet Island Beach Park & Playground for EveryBODY (the country’s first 100-percent handicap-accessible oceanfront park) and the Virginia Beach Convention Center, the first in the U.S. to achieve LEED Gold certification for Existing Buildings. Attendees also assembled toiletry bags for a local homeless charity. We now use this “One Beach, One World” platform in our official CSR program.

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