JUL 2018

ConventionSouth magazine is the leading resource for meeting planners who book all types of events, conventions, conferences and group travel in the south.

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J U L Y 2 0 1 8 ⎜ ConventionSouth ⎜ w w w . c o n v e n t i o n s o u t h . c o m 23 COVER: SMALL MARKETS...BIG ON MEETINGS Casey Hartt, lead marketing consultant with Visit Sebring (Fla.), noted that groups often seek out Sebring as an untapped market for new experiences. Located centrally in Florida, the region offers a much different flavor than the well-known coastal areas of the state. "They really like some of the unique offerings for group social activities that Sebring has to offer, such as interactions with the Sebring International Raceway, visits to our distillery and winery, and engagements with our agricultural heritage like the citrus and cattle industries found here," Hartt said. In similar fashion, Dave Esslinger, director of sales with the Gatlinburg CVB, said that a combination of progressive and quaint, charming and slightly quirky are a good mix for groups visiting Gatlinburg. "Gatlinburg is bursting with vibrant arts and culture," he said. "[The city] is not only home to the largest and oldest arts and crafts community in North America but it also has the acclaimed Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts, which was established in 1912. Event planners who want to offer their attendees a unique mountain arts experience can have attendees participate in workshops along with attending special lectures and events." In Amarillo, it's the authentic Western experience that draws groups, according to Hawkins. "We are still very Texas true in our heritage," she said. "There is still a lot of ranching and farming that takes place and it makes people feel like that they are stepping back into the true spirit of the West. We'll put clients on a horse for the first time and things like that. We also have the Route 66 culture. It's a pretty interesting mix." Competitive Pricing Isenhour suggests that price is one of the primary factors driving small-market trends. "In this current seller's market of the industry where more and more operations are trying to maximize profits, groups are looking for the best deals they can find," he said, pointing to everything from food and beverage to taxes, resort fees and travel costs. "I recently had a group sourcing a proposal and the rate offered, when all said and done after all fees, went up close to $100 from the base room rate. That is insane. So, groups are looking for affordability on the hotel and meetings side and also on the auxiliaries' side." Esslinger agreed, noting that price is always a determining factor regardless of the group or market size. "One of the hidden costs that gets overlooked when evaluating a city for an event are the nightly parking charges that most hotels charge in most cities, large and small," he said. "Gatlinburg hotels do not charge for overnight guest parking and most offer a complimentary breakfast as part of the overnight stay." Access to Community Leaders Small markets typically offer greater access to destination marketing professionals and community leaders due to their scale. In addition, Hartt noted that regions such as Sebring can offer a more personable feel. "One of the biggest compliments we get from visitors is the friendliness of our people and I think that helps make the planner's job easier and provides a memorable experience for the attendees," she said. "Customer service is so important and we really try to make every guest here feel welcome and wanting to return to the area." Isenhour underscored the importance of customer service, noting that he has been on site visits in large markets where a CVB representative did not show up. "And I am a planner that, when sourcing an RFP, always sources to the local CVB's in addition to my national hotel partners, the local hotels, etc.," he said, adding that smaller markets seem more willing to go above and beyond in terms of outreach and incentives. "So, if I am sourcing through your office, regardless of the group size, show interest in the business." In addition, the Skift report suggests that midsize markets are becoming more strategic with their offerings to ease the planning load for groups, noting that "since the global recession, convention bureaus have been aligning their efforts more closely with their governments and economic development agencies in an effort to build networks of local leaders in their high- growth industry and academic sectors. With those networks in place, bureaus can provide planners with greater access to potential speakers, exhibitors, sponsors, and researchers active in specific industry clusters. Large cities have long relied on these types of ambassadors to connect with outside planners in advanced and creative industries. Now, midsize cities are collaborating with their ambassadors more intentionally to help attract new conference business and help planners develop more sophisticated programming." ■ Meeting groups can take part in pottery classes at Gatlinburg, Tennessee's Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts. Groups can hold events and watch races at the Sebring (Fla.) International Raceway.

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