Here are the top takeaways from our webinar, What Meeting Planners Wish Destination Organizations Knew.
Do you ever wish you could read the mind of a meeting planner to find out what convention center and venue information and resources they really need from destination organizations and what digital marketing actually resonates long term?
Mae Bodine, VP of Client Strategy at Digital Edge, hosted a webinar to get the deets straight from three Certified Meeting Professionals: Krista LeZotte, Director of Event Services at American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, Lisa McGlashen, Director of Meeting and Exhibits at American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery; and Tanya Kinsman, Assistant Executive Director for Meetings and Continuing Education at American Association of Endodontists.
Here are five takeaways from our meeting planner panelists that destinations, convention centers and businesses in the travel & tourism industry need to know.
Specs Before *Sparkle*
Of course, your new, renovated or expanded convention center looks impressive. And you’re going to want to show it off with high-resolution photos, videos or virtual tours (more on that in a bit). But one of the rules we follow at DE when it comes to content is “Specs Before Sparkle,” and our webinar’s planner panelists stressed the importance of that practice.
To prepare for the webinar, we sent each panelist a survey to identify key themes and insights into what they wish destinations knew about their needs. Our planner panelists said they find convention center information, along with meeting hotel listings, the most valuable information on a destination organization’s meeting website. They want to see a destination’s convention center package clearly defined in terms of:
- Meeting space specs
- Convention center hotel figures
- Proximity of the convention center to the area hotels, restaurants and activities (Maps come into play here — we’ll get more into that more, too!)
Looking specifically at the destination’s meeting package, include statistics and facts and figures so planners can clearly understand size, scope and accessibility. For the convention center, include:
- Planning toolkits
- Maps (yes, more maps!)
- Direct links to detailed meeting space floor plans and capacity charts
- Services available
– Tanya Kinsman
“One thing that’s really helpful are direct links to the convention center floor plans. A lot of times it’ll be just a generic link to the convention center homepage, which is helpful, but I’m really looking for those floor plans initially. Largest ballroom information — sometimes it’s there, sometimes it’s not — to make sure that it will fit some of the larger general sessions that we need.”
Assistant Executive Director for Meetings and Continuing Education
American Association of Endodontists
Our planner panelists noted that while it can be helpful when destinations total up all the rooms and meeting space in the areas they cover, those numbers should remove hotels that wouldn’t be used for conventions. In addition, break down the number of guest rooms and meeting space specs for each hotel in the main convention center area and include:
- Distance to the convention center
- Number of suites and king and queen/queen or double/double rooms
- Number of rooms available to be blocked for an event
- Detailed meeting space floor plans and capacities
- Complimentary amenities like Wi-Fi
- Room service availability
- Any coffee shops and/or full-service restaurants on property
To help planners browse and select hotels, they prefer for destinations’ websites to have fields that allow them to search by:
- Specific room numbers
- Meeting space
- Distance to the convention center
It’s also important to include major airports, airlift information and the distance from the airports to the destination’s convention center and hotels. It is also effective to display this information with — you guessed it — maps.
Maps on Maps
You likely gathered from our first webinar takeaway that planners find maps extremely beneficial.
The main takeaway here: Include maps on your destination’s website that show the proximity of your convention center and meeting venues to hotels, dining, activities, shopping and entertainment. You’ll want to have the distance in mileage/blocks and minutes.
Make sure the map, whether static or interactive, is user-friendly. LeZotte told us one of her biggest pet peeves is the lack of readable maps that destinations provide.
Kinsman and McGlashen also told us they use the Google Map feature to look at hotels and restaurants surrounding a destination’s convention center. So, consider adding an interactive map to your website. That way, planners can spend time on your site instead.
Visit Lake Tahoe’s website lets users explore the destination via a virtual map — with summer and winter tours. This experience takes you around Lake Tahoe in a realistic way that makes you feel like you are there in person!
Supplement — Don’t Replace — Site Visits With Virtual Tours
This leads right into our next takeaway from the webinar: As more destinations include virtual maps and tours, are they becoming the site visits of the future?
The meeting planners who we spoke to said no. While they find videos and virtual tours helpful, they say those are not replacements for site visits, which they reported are their top destination resources.
LeZotte said virtual site visit tools, like online walking tours of venues, are helpful to have in addition to in-person site visits because they’re a great reference point when planning.
Kinsman and McGlashen said virtual tours are also beneficial for planning branding and sponsorship opportunities. In fact, Kinsman said, her team will use it as a sale stool, so the sponsor can see precisely where they will be purchasing their branding opportunity.
And we are seeing the growth of virtual reality and the adoption of the metaverse. Atlanta is developing this interactive experience to supplement the site visit and be a useful tool for planners as a general resource, including post-site visit.
McGlashen said that while a virtual reality site visit cannot replace the in-person experience, it can help plan and finalize structure and signage placement.
Safety & Security: Be Transparent
A major takeaway from our webinar for destinations is transparency is key, especially when it comes to safety and security. It’s better for destinations to share that information than shy away from it.
McGlashen said planners will find out about any issues from colleagues and the news, so that’s just one of the reasons why destinations need to be more upfront about them. LeZotte said it’s essential for planners to fully understand the safe areas of a city and the areas that their attendees should be avoiding. And Kinsman said destinations can help by connecting planners with additional programs for security if needed.
Address safety and security by identifying safe meeting places surrounding the convention center or hotels for various meetups if there were any sort of emergency like weather incidents and including safety tips and resources, such as a quick list of area hospitals, pharmacies and urgent care facilities in the destination. By making this information available to planners, destinations make it easier for planners to share this highly-requested information from attendees and stakeholders.
– Krista LeZotte
“Security is a tough subject because it can cover a lot of different things, and also everybody’s personal feelings about being safe just might vary a little bit. I think when we’re putting together like crisis documents for our staff, and also for our site to help prepare people, it’d be really helpful to just have a lot of that information accessible.”
Director of Event Services
American Speech-Language-Hearing Association
DE has been working with Meet Los Angeles on the destination’s web content, information sheets, video content and social media regarding safety and security measures for convention groups. The Meet LA team has developed a task force and a process for each and every citywide convention that comes to the city. The process includes law enforcement, key city officials, the hotel community, the convention center staff, security and the Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board.
McGlashen said LA is doing a great job addressing safety and security. The destination’s team schedules a pre-planning meeting with local safety and security personnel to get planners up to speed on their current meeting plans. Meet LA also stations ambassadors on streets close to meeting venues to help attendees. All of our meeting panelists agreed it’s crucial to have transparent safety and security conversations during pre-planning meetings — not just during the pre-con.
Show ‘Proof of Life’
Our planner panelists said they’re tired of destinations using generic ballroom photos, stock images and outdated b-roll. Instead, they suggest that destinations display the culture of the cities through images to help planners understand more about the neighborhoods.
– Lisa McGlashen
“We definitely want photos. We want people, and we want to see how the space is being used. I saw a destination website where it was just buildings and structures, and I’m, like, ‘That’s really pretty, but do people go in there? How is it being used, especially how we can use it.“
Director of Meeting and Exhibits
American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery
Also, show “proof of life” in photos — aka people in the pictures — to illustrate unique ways meetings and conventions are executed in the destination. LeZotte said she would especially love to see other events hosted in a destination’s convention center.
Need help giving meeting planners their must-haves from your destination, convention center or business in the travel & tourism industry?