From 1988 to 2000, Don Welch was general manager of the Peoria Civic Center, responsible for operations, sales and marketing, human resources and hospitality functions. After a four-year stint as president of Vonachen Services Inc., he served as vice president of the Hotel Pere Marquette for three years, and for six years, he co-owned and operated Prima Pasta Shop. In June of 2012, he took over as president and CEO of the Peoria Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. As Welch marks his third year at the helm of the PACVB, iBi spoke with him about the inner workings of the organization, the convention business, and the opportunities that lie ahead.
How does your previous work experience lend itself to succeeding in this position?
My past experience as general manager of the Peoria Civic Center and vice president of the Hotel Pere Marquette has assisted me in understanding the business needs of the facility, hotel and clients. While holding those positions, I was also able to experience sitting on the board of the PACVB. This gave me an even better understanding of what is important to our board members.
The organization covers a wide swath of central Illinois. Why the eight-county region? What are the challenges of marketing such a diverse geographic region?
The PACVB is the official Illinois Destination Marketing Organization (DMO) for eight counties located along the Illinois River, representing areas from Bureau County to Mason County. We promote the entire region through our leisure marketing in publications such as Midwest Living, USA Today, Illinois Travel Guide and the Illinois Holiday Guide, as well as on television commercials broadcast in the Chicago and St. Louis areas. Our sales team also attends over a dozen trade shows each year to promote to and attract meeting and convention planners and sports rights holders.
What are your primary niche markets?
The PACVB’s sales efforts are focused on conventions and events that will utilize the Peoria Civic Center and area hotels. State associations, corporate meetings, medical societies and youth sporting events are the primary targets.
What percentage of your targeted audience is local/regional vs. statewide/national?
Our target audience is event planners that will bring attendees from outside the area to stay in our hotels, dine in our restaurants, shop in our retail stores and spend their money in our communities. We also have a smaller focus on tour bus operators. The PACVB mostly markets outside a 50-mile radius of our area to entice those in.
What is the funding mechanism for the PACVB?
Our funding is primarily provided through local and state hotel taxes.
Describe the metrics used to measure your success.
Historically, hotel room-night “pick-ups” have been used to judge the return on investment of DMOs’ sales efforts. With the advent of third-party meeting planners adding commissions and room rebates to attendees’ hotel room rates, the convention rate at the host hotel is, many times, not the lowest rate the convention delegates can find. As a result, many delegates are staying in a hotel that has not contracted with the meeting planner, and those “pick-ups” are not reported.
Describe the unique relationship between the PACVB and the Peoria Civic Center.
I tend to equate our role to that of a real estate broker. The PACVB does not own the convention or sporting venue, nor do we control the hotel inventory. Our role is to match the meeting planner or sports rights holder (the buyer) with the venue and hotels (the sellers). Like a real estate deal, many of these sales take time and a number of showings to find the right marriage between buyer and seller.
How do you go about landing convention business? What are your top sources of leads?
We prospect for new business in a number of ways. Our top source has been industry meetings where DMOs and meeting planners/sports rights holders meet face to face. Traditional trade shows where exhibitors set up booths for the meeting planners to walk by have been replaced with what is referred to as a “reverse trade show.” These are meetings where buyers and sellers are paired up for short (six- to eight-minute) meetings, very similar to “speed dating.”
What is the biggest misconception people have about the PACVB?
Since we have historically only marketed to visitors from outside the area to “put heads in beds,” members of the local community do not see our advertisements and therefore don’t know what we do or what we are about.
What are some of the biggest opportunities you see for the region in the coming years?
Without a doubt, the commitment by Caterpillar to stay in Peoria and build a new world headquarters campus!!! The incredible investment by Cat will certainly lead to even more investment in the local economy. Additional development on the riverfront, in the Central Business District, the Warehouse District and the entire Greater Peoria area will certainly follow. iBi