Best Practices for Meetings Destination Marketing in a Pandemic World (and Beyond)

April 8, 2021

Ally Dorrough

Ally Mills Dorrough, APR, TMP, is the communications and marketing specialist for Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism in Alabama. A graduate of Auburn University, Dorrough serves on the Alabama PRSA Board of Directors as the South Alabama Regional Coordinator and the national PRSA Travel & Tourism Section Executive Committee.

In a time when the travel industry has turned upside down and is striving to survive, destinations have evolved — and evolved again and again — to encourage traveling safely when the time is right. While general leisure travel is gradually increasing, meetings and convention travel is still widely uncertain in most areas of the country and will be a more gradual progression back to fully in-person.

Destination marketing organizations have been forced to think creatively to better serve meeting planners as they plan for virtual, hybrid and in-person meetings. For example, I helped expand Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism’s meeting planner marketing toolkit, which includes a custom digital save-the-date, custom banner ad package, visual assets and more to assist drawing attendees to our destination.

Our feeling is the potential for more smaller corporate meetings post-COVID is an opportunity for the destination to attract clients that typically work with larger cities.

I’m proud of how we’ve promoted our 32-mile beach destination through a meeting planner lens, but many other CVBs deserve recognition, too. Read on to learn more about what three destinations of varying sizes are doing to bring back group business.

Visit Franklin

Located outside of Nashville, Visit Franklin is offering detailed virtual walkthroughs and has assigned a staff member to be dedicated to safety concerns. This program through SelfWalk imaging allows the CVB to create virtual renderings of the most frequently booked meeting and event venues, which is as close as planners can get to real-life walk-throughs without physically being in the room.

The virtual walkthrough is so thorough it includes “measuring walls and spaces with a tape measure just as they would if it were in person,” said Matthew Maxey, director of public relations at Visit Franklin.

Maxey says having a staff person dedicated to safety concerns in and around the destination has been key to giving planners peace of mind when considering booking future meetings in Franklin. “Throughout the planning process, this staff member can easily communicate what safety precautions are required at each potential property and alert planners if and when there are changes by local leaders or health department officials,” added Maxey.

Visit Rochester

Likewise, Visit Rochester in New York has activated virtual site visits through a partnership with Threshold 360, a virtual tour creation tool widely used by destination marketing organizations.

“The pandemic has shown us just how critical having virtual and digital tools in place to sell our destination have become,” said Rachel Laber Pulvino, director of communications and public relations for Visit Rochester. “Over the past year, we have been working diligently to enhance our virtual offerings, allowing event planners to tour meeting spaces, hotels, museums and restaurants from anywhere.”

Custom digital maps through Threshold 360 are an added value for clients during an uncertain time and a benefit for future in-person meetings. The CVB is also maintaining “What’s Open in Rochester, NY” on its website to keep planners informed on what is open so attendees can plan accordingly. It’s been one of the most visited pages in the last year.

As the in-market experts for Rochester, Pulvino says her team has remained in close contact with event planners to keep them informed of local guidelines, regulations and the latest health and safety information for our community to ensure their attendees are informed and welcome in the destination when they are ready.

Discover Atlanta 

Building on virtual reality resources for planners, the Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau offers a suite of digital products from 360ATL for virtual site visits to a planner’s guide and a COVID-19 resource page. There is also an online portal to personalize a catalog of more than 200 restaurants, facilities and attractions that double as event spaces.

“Regardless of the tools planners use, our staff is ready to assist with every step of hosting an event in Atlanta.” said Kristin Delahunt, vice president of convention services for the CVB.

Being a valuable resource for planners is top-of-mind for destination sales teams and marketers — pandemic or not. As destinations continue to shift to provide more digital resources and opportunities to best serve their longtime and potential clients, they in turn showcase and encourage safe travel to their locales for attendees. Those attendees — virtual or in-person — will ideally become returning leisure guests and loyal destination ambassadors.

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