Memberships with Convention and Visitors Bureaus (CVBs) and Destination Management Companies (DMCs) can yield a significant amount of business, but it can be difficult to figure out where to start, the expectations, and how to handle those first few jobs.
If motorcoach operators want to maximize business opportunities, they should work closely with a local CVB, which can serve as a bridge to convention centers, says Kelly Ann Curtin, senior vice president of membership and destination services at NY and Co. The private, nonprofit, member-based firm is the official marketing, tourism, and partnership organization for New York City.
“The role of the CVB is to bring big meetings into the host city and then to help the delegates have the best time they can possibly have,” Curtin says. “It also helps the meeting planner have as easy a time as possible, finding the right suppliers in that city, because chances are they are not based in that city.”
Operators should look for the convention calendar that their CVB publishes with the convention center, listing what groups are visiting.
“The CVB has relationships with all these groups and the meeting planners, so they can introduce the motorcoach operators and the meeting planners, and often the meeting planners ask the CVB to send out leads,” she says. For example, a meeting planner may need a fleet of buses to take delegates to the airport, or from a host hotel to a welcome night reception.
To become a member of most CVBs or DMCs, operators will be asked to fill out a basic application with information about the types of services they provide and the types of equipment they own or can charter, along with their scope of capabilities. They’ll also be asked to provide a description of their services that the CVB will put into publications, including on their Web sites and in meeting planner resource guides.
Las Vegas-based DMC Activity Planners, Inc. has a wide range of vehicle needs, from transporting a single VIP, or thousands at a time depending on the event, says Stephanie Arone, general manager and director of sales and marketing. The DMC works with nearly a dozen transportation companies and with up to 150 clients each year. Ninety percent of their jobs include some form of transportation, for either a single event or a week’s worth of functions. Arone adds that a relationship with a DMC can be invaluable. When Activity Planners Inc. develops a good working relationship with a transportation company, it will use them as much as possible.
Activity Planners looks for companies that will make it easy to work with them. “An online system is great, but live conversations are often needed to walk through the details of a particular event,” Arone says. “From there, we need to make sure that the information is effectively passed from dispatch to the drivers; there is nothing worse than a driver showing up and not being informed.”
Arone says in her experience, communication between dispatch and the staff is especially important. “If the vehicle is 20 minutes out, don’t tell us that it’s five minutes away. If there is a change that you need to advise us of and it’s 10 a.m. on Sunday, call our cell phones. If there is a communication breakdown at any stage in the implementation of a transportation assignment, it could be a huge detriment to the success of the overall program.” Along with Arone, other experts from CVBs in Los Angeles and Chicago provided some tips on how transportation providers can work effectively with these travel planners.
7 KEY WAYS TO IMPRESS TRAVEL PLANNERS:
1. Communicate clearly and often about equipment and expectations. Arone says, “Keep us apprised of new vehicles, and bring them by so that we can see them. The more that we know about your inventory, the better we can sell your services.” In addition, good dispatch is critical: “A company can have clean, beautiful vehicles, but if dispatch does not effectively communicate by passing along as much information to the drivers in advance of a program, and communicating with our operations onsite effectively and truthfully about the status of arriving vehicles, it doesn’t matter if the coach is a 55-passenger Rolls Royce.”
2. Keep equipment clean and up to date. “You’ve got to maintain your equipment. There are companies out there that don’t take good care of their equipment and it misrepresents what we’re doing,” says Michael Krouse, vice president of sales at LA Inc. He adds that it’s important for transportation companies to realize that the driver is the first impression as is that piece of equipment that they put out there in front of a customer. “It should be clean and running,” Arone says. “Maintain your vehicles. There is no excuse for a dirty restroom, broken PA, or video system.”
3. Stay involved. Mark Tunney, managing director of convention sales for the Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau, says that the organization hosts a “Member Showcase” that includes all newcomers to the convention bureau. “It’s like a mini trade show just for the CVB and McCormick Place. We often ask these motorcoach and tour operators to come in and present to the sales and client services teams so we get a better understanding of their expertise.”
4. Understand customer expectations — and deliver. Krouse says that before entering any agreements, it’s important to know your inventory and staffing levels and have an honest dialogue about customer expectations as well as event needs. “Those are key in our reciprocal relationships with these providers. We want to know what they own, what they charter out, capacity, condition and age of equipment, [since] some people want more upscale vehicles.”
5. Be competitive. Since this market is so competitive, operators need to be very aggressive in finding out about their customers, Krause says. “Know their expectations and your bid will be fair and equitable and will win the business. But you’ve got to fight for the business. You can’t be passive in your approach because there are too many options.” He adds, “Customers will weigh in value against cost, the condition of the product, service, experience, cleanliness, professionalism.”
6. Ensure your staff is familiar with the city they will be working in. Tunney points out that Chicago, like any other big city, can be a challenge to get around in during rush hour. “That’s where familiarity of what’s happening in the city is necessary.” During the summer, transportation companies need to know the schedules of draw bridges when going over the river, Tunney says. Also, Grant Park has many festivals that affect traffic in different locations, so operators must know when they are happening, he says.
7. Remember that CVBs need transportation, too. “When we personally have transportation needs, we do an RFP,” says L.A. Inc.’s Krouse. “We’ll ask for everyone to bid on our business so that it’s fair, equitable, and unbiased.”