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Meetings: The Red-Headed Stepchild of CVB Budgets?

Recently I was speaking with a favourite client who is the senior business development person for a major Canadian Convention & Visitor Bureau (CVB)*. He shared with me his frustration with the budget process, especially the fact his Bureau has been allocating 94% of its marketing budget to leisure business and only 6% for meetings, conferences and incentive travel (MC&IT).  Yet the Bureau's own analysis showed that the measly 6% produced 70% of the business generated by the CVB's programs!

In conversations with many other Bureau sales executives, both in Canada and the USA, I've heard that MC&IT business rarely gets its fair share of marketing funds.

One might argue that spending on leisure advertising and other promotional programs is an essential part of creating awareness for a destination. The allure of the destination from tourists' point of view is a big reason why an event planner will decide in favour of one destination over another.

That kind of spending pattern might have worked fine a few years ago, when tradeshows were well attended, planners actually showed up for events or fam trips, and meetings were booked through fewer channels.

But now business is more fragmented and B2B buyers are not as easily swayed by routine advertising in meetings publications.  CVB sales teams need more support from their marketing departments because buyer behaviour has changed.  (We've described the reasons behind these changes in a Discussion Paper published earlier this year.  You will be required to enter basic contact information to download).

Buyers now want to have more information accessible from the web and from mobile devices. They want MORE than pretty pictures of nature sites or tourist attractions.  They want to know about how that destinations facilities and services will make their meeting a success.

They also expect to see destination reps active on social media, sharing useful content and engaging them in productive business conversations. They don't want to be "sold to"; they want to be drawn to a destination because of the suppliers' level of expertise in hosting a small meeting, a high-level conference, a major convention, or a once-in-a-lifetime incentive trip.

This requires CVB's marketing and sales departments to be more aligned.  Key elements include: 
  • An MC&IT-dedicated website or section of a website, designed and optimized with the meeting planner in mind
  • Educational content, with case studies and other thought-leadership pieces that showcase the destination, but also provide advice on how to maximize attendance, save money, plan more productive events, etc.
  • A social media strategy that appeals to B2B buyers, not consumers looking for the next vacation spot
  • And marketing automation integration geared to support proactive lead nurturing, fueled by the above-mentioned content!

What I've just described is an inbound marketing approach, one that attracts more inquiries and feeds sales teams more business opportunities.

Inbound marketing for MC&IT business requires increased investment.  With shrinking budgets and increased fiscal pressures, it's one more demand that CVB marketing executives probably didn't need. The good news is that ROI on MC&IT business is much easier to measure than with leisure. Let's hope more CVBs prepare to meet the shifting demands of the market.

* Note: In this article I have used the description "Convention & Visitor Bureau" or CVB, though I could have also used "Destination Marketing Organization" or DMO.  I hope my friends at DMAI will forgive me...