Anatomy of a Citywide
These organizations, properties and transportation options help a citywide come together and keep it running smoothly.
Convention and Visitors Bureau
Connecting early and often with the CVB in a destination city is probably the most important key to planning a successful citywide event. “Make the CVB your first call,” says Crystal Morris with the Columbia Metropolitan CVB in South Carolina. The staff can put you in touch with hotels, meeting venues, restaurants, transportation companies, security companies, audiovisual suppliers and other organizations needed to pull a citywide event together. Morris advises groups to contact CVBs three to five years in advance to ensure availability and choice of hotels and meeting facilities. Tip: Morris advises groups to contact CVBs three to give years in advance to ensure availability and choice of hotels and meeting facilities.
Citywide events require hotels—plural—that are close to one another, and close to other venues and restaurants. They also have to fit the planner’s budget and space requirements. One issue planners run into: a series of separate hotel contracts. Tip: Some CVBs offer planners centralized housing support by finding hotels, getting them aligned on room rates, and providing contracts with similar nomenclature, deadlines and pricing structures.
Hotel meeting space often can’t accommodate large events like citywides. What’s needed, then, is a convention center with exhibit space, breakout meeting rooms, food and beverage services, and audiovisual capabilities—and it all needs to be within close distance to the hotels. Tip: To save on AV costs at convention centers, planners should check with speakers and educators in advance to find out who will need technology for their presentations rather than placing equipment in every room for every session.
Getting attendees from the hotel to the event venue or to restaurants and activities is a challenge. “You don’t want a bunch of people all driving different vehicles around, or being left behind,” says Tim Lampkin, director of convention sales and group services at the Asheville CVB. Some cities have low-cost or—better yet—free public transportation if events are located in a relatively small but not walkable area. For transportation to off-site events, CVBs can help planners by sending RFPs out to local motorcoach providers planners can choose from. Tip: If you expect attendees to travel to and from events using public transportation, provide them with an access card (prepaid, if budgets allow) and a schedule in their registration packets.
Restaurants and Entertainment
Most citywide events build in time for attendees to enjoy local restaurants and attractions. Working these plans and logistics into an agenda can go a long way in making attendees happy. Many cities have entertainment districts with a variety of dining options near the convention center and hotels. Tip: Erin Degulis, director of convention services at the Providence-Warwick CVB, says her team can preselect restaurants with planners and work with them to create special menu pricing to meet a group’s per diem. “We then set up a table at the registration area where attendees can make reservations.”
Large-scale citywides often have attendees arriving from all over the country, so an accessible and convenient airport is a must. Planners should communicate with attendees in advance about transportation options to and from the airport and hotels. Many hotels provide complimentary shuttles. Tip: CVBs often work with planners to create a welcome center at the airport to greet guests as they arrive and make sure they know how to get to their hotel. “We have welcome banners and give attendees customized flyers and visitor guides,” says Columbia CVB’s Twila Jones.