Ever since I joined the Peoria Area Convention and Visitors Bureau team, the most common question people ask is, “What do you do?” Industry colleagues tell me they, too, get the same inquiry. They also lament the fact that the public, in large part, does not understand how critical a CVB is to the local economy, or how one works. So here is a primer we’ll call CVB 101.
The PACVB is a destination marketing organization. Simply put, it is our job to lure visitors to the Peoria area, whether they come for business (meetings and conventions) or pleasure (tourists). Why is attracting visitors so vital? Each out-of-town visitor may spend the night in a hotel, eat at restaurants, shop at local retail outlets, visit different attractions and fill up with gas. All of that commerce is “new” money for the local economy. Based on 2002 figures—which according to industry standards were conservative—“ new money” equals about $130 per person, per day. Using that conservative formula, in 2006 the PACVB was directly responsible for pumping $7 million dollars into the Peoria area economy through conventions alone. (It is much more difficult tracking the economic impact of tourists who do not stay overnight.)
We have three main components to our business model: marketing, sales and service. In most cases, businesses and organizations don’t just decide all by themselves to hold their meetings and conventions in the Peoria area, they have to be sold. That requires a solid marketing effort, which is tailored to the three types of visitors we try to attract: leisure, convention/sports and groups. Our “Illinois River Country” campaign is designed to draw the leisure and group travelers. It is targeted at households with incomes greater than $55,000 in multiple cities throughout Illinois and surrounding states. We advertise in other carefully-selected vehicles, such as Midwest Living magazine, The Illinois Travel Guide and Oprah Winfrey’s O magazine. We also print more than 100,000 visitor guides annually.
Our current marketing campaign for the convention sales market is “Come. Stay. Play.” It aids our convention sales staff to pursue several kinds of market segments, including education, religion, government, sports, agriculture, corporate, hobbies, medical, fraternal and social/welfare. Most organizations employ meeting planners who must decide where to hold their conventions, and most meeting planners attend trade shows to explore possible locations. Also attending these shows are sales staff from various convention and visitors bureaus like ours who pay to be there. Then it’s a flurry of frenetic networking as we develop “leads,” names of potential clients, to follow up on later.
The fastest growing market segment is sports. Unlike conventions, sporting events can be planned within a calendar year. Youth sports are especially attractive, because the whole family comes along. We have a sales person devoted solely to this burgeoning market. Once an organization commits to holding its meeting in the Peoria area, services might be required, such as an information booth, name badges for attendees, equipment, housing, etc. Our service department then works with the meeting planners to handle those details. The PACVB website plays a key role as well.
The PACVB gets its funding from three main sources: the City of Peoria, the state and members. We get 44 percent of Peoria’s hotel/motel tax (the “H” in HRA), which comprised $837,000— roughly 60 percent—of our total budget in the 2006 Fiscal Year. State grant money accounted for another $366,000—approximately 26 percent—of our budget. Membership dues, advertising revenue and fundraisers made up the rest. And unlike many businesses where personnel costs eat up the majority of the budget, less than 50 percent of our FY ’07 budget is spent on salaries. The lion’s share of our budget is devoted to marketing. Our budget is far less than those of competing CVBs, but that’s for another column. Class dismissed. IBI