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Evolving the Role of Convention Bureaus

Convention bureaus need to ensure they stay relevant in the rapidly changing world of business events, not only in the marketplace but in their destination.

For too long, CBs have drawn an invisible circle around themselves and a few trusted allies. Not venturing outside the circle or letting others in, they are often only seen when requesting funding.

To be and stay relevant, convention bureaus need to understand the gaps and opportunities in the destinations they represent. The best way to acquire this knowledge is to speak with and listen to as wide an audience of local stakeholders as possible. These conversations should occur not only with those with whom CBs are most familiar but also those from outside the industry. In other words, from sources beyond the invisible circle.

By casting a wider net, the convention bureau will enhance its influence on matters of importance in their communities. Ultimately, being involved will help improve the products and experiences the CB is promoting to the market.

Convention bureaus should be finding ways to engage in discussions around infrastructure development, capacity building, public policy, accessibility, and social, environmental, health and security matters.

This does not mean diverting from the CBs role to sell and market the destination but evolving to a broader mandate. Without such a perspective, the voice of the industry, and the customer, will not be heard when decisions are being contemplated which shape the future of the community (destination).

Destination planning is a tool which all CBs should become familiar, as a way to widen influence and enhance relevancy. A relatively new field, destination planning is facilitated and encouraged by the convention bureau.

Destination plans are long-term, have a broad engagement process and outcomes which focus on the destination. Strategic plans, by comparison, focus on the CB itself, with outcomes directly influenced and controlled by them. The table below illustrates the key differences between these two types of planning.

Another key tool for CBs is to carry out objective and quantitative-based assessments designed to uncover the strengths and weaknesses of the destination.

For example, how does a destination stack up on hygiene factors, competitive advantages, and key differentiators? And based on these attributes, how well should the destination be performing? Conducting such an assessment enables a CB to be better equipped to push for ways to address shortcomings with the public and private sectors.

Another tool is for convention bureaus to determine their role in key destination matters. Most CBs are accountable and responsible for sales, marketing, and branding of the destination.

It is important to be clear whether other organisations also might see themselves as having this responsibility. If so, how does this get addressed? And how about such issues as infrastructure, mobility, services, product experiences, policy and regulatory? The CB should identify what role it would like to play. If not leading, the convention bureau should strive to be consulted or, in the least, be kept informed.

Being invited to the table where consequential decisions impacting a destination is something which is earned. CBs will benefit by stepping out of their comfort zone, getting acquainted with community needs through broad engagement, and in turn bringing the perspectives of the industry and marketplace to the decision process.

Tools such as destination planning, destination assessment, and role identification help CBs establish a meaningful contribution to these discussions.

Written by Paul Vallee, Executive Consultant, Americas, with Gaining Edge. He has extensive experience consulting strategic and destination master planning, organisation development, and industry capacity building. His assignments include providing advisory support in Canada, the U.S., Denmark, Brazil, Colombia, Puerto Rico, Aruba, Panama, and Thailand.

Photo: iStock.com/GarryKillian