How One CVB Is Helping Meeting Professionals by Leading With Empathy-Driven Communications
With travel slowed nearly to a halt around the world, this isn’t an easy time for anyone, let alone destination management organizations. While there is a silver lining to come, says Don Welsh of Destinations International, for now, CVBs around the country are doing what they can to assuage meeting planners’ fears by coming up with solutions for cancelled or postponed events and being a support system for destination partners.
Nowhere is this more evident than in Florida’s Palm Beach County, where Discover The Palm Beaches is focused on an empathy-driven communications plan to help event professionals logically move forward and look ahead to a brighter future during this stressful time. Kelly Cavers, senior vice president of group sales and destination services, explains the CVB’s strategy and how it’s working.
How is your destination managing major event and conference cancellations right now?
Our group sales and destination services teams have been regularly communicating with event hosts, our convention center and hotel partners, to ensure everyone is equipped with the latest destination-specific information. For clients who have events booked in the near future, we’re assisting them through the process of canceling or postponing to later this year or further out. This was our approach even before any COVID-19 cases were confirmed in Florida.
What are some examples of those communication methods?
Phone calls and video conferences continue to be our preferred methods of communication. When necessary, we’ll follow up with an email that includes additional resources of information. All hands from our group sales and destination services teams, as well as our community partners, are on deck supporting groups. This is a joint effort to not only communicate updates but to identify solutions.
Are the Palm Beaches experiencing any strain from groups rebooking for this fall?
We’ve definitely seen an increase in business for this year’s third and fourth quarters, although opportunities do remain. Flexibility helps tremendously [when finding dates to rebook]. Having wiggle room when it comes to event details such as the venue, dates, space or length of program makes it easier for planners to reschedule events while navigating shorter windows of availability.
How can CVBs serve as a resource to event planners concerned about rescheduling events when so much uncertainty around the current situation remains?
Preparing for possible scenarios is key. We’ve been working with our hotel partners to make sure we have open dates that can support the rebooking process. In addition, we’ve held several conference calls to update our community partners on DTPB’s current status regarding bookings, marketing and communication initiatives. We’re also encouraging meeting planners to use our Emergency Management Toolkit – specific to groups, meetings and events – as a guide on where to obtain information during and after this crisis.
How are you remaining sensitive to the current environment while still planning ahead for future business, to avoid a lag later?
Our sales approach has been in line with DTPB’s wider strategy to remain sensitive to residents and potential visitors, and focus our efforts on supporting scheduled groups and our community partners – from Boca Raton to Jupiter and Tequesta. We continue to secure new business for future years while proactively working to secure new dates for groups that need to postpone or cancel. [As a CVB], we want to understand what [meeting planners’] new needs are from a financial standpoint; reinforce their confidence in us, through resources such as the emergency management toolkit; and ensure they have the most up-to-date city, county and state information to make the best decision for their group. Also, our organization continues to promote ways residents and visitors can support local businesses [by sharing] virtual experiences that not only serve as daydreaming material but may also inspire future visitation.
Are there any success stories that have come from your destination recently, despite the COVID-19 situation?
We had our customer advisory board in town at the early onset of the outbreak before any cases were confirmed in Palm Beach County. Having the opportunity to leverage their expertise (the board comprises leaders from international medicine and life sciences associations, association management organizations and corporations that represent Fortune 500 companies, among others) allowed us to establish a thoughtful, dedicated communication strategy and provided insight into the information meeting planners were seeking as developments unfolded. We’ve also created FAQ sheets by curating questions from meeting planners and sourcing information from Florida’s Department of Health and the CDC, which have amplified our ability to answer technical questions in our regular communication with meeting planners.
Additionally, our team has initiated informational meetings, including one led by Palm Beach County Health Department director Dr. Alina Alonso, who educated representatives from local hotels, restaurants and entertainment venues about the virus. Having this insight and guidance from experts allowed us to share more accurate, thorough information on the state of our destination. [See Discover The Palm Beaches COVID-19 research page here.]