Planning a convention takes a lot of work, and one of the first and often most difficult decisions for a meeting planner is where it should be held. While San Diego, Las Vegas, Orlando, and Washington, DC, might immediately come to mind, some planners choose to travel to the Last Frontier--as long as they have a lot of help.
"Nobody wakes up and says, 'I'll take my meeting to Alaska,'" laughs Julie Dodds, director of convention sales for Visit Anchorage. "Everyone wants to come here, but meeting planners don't think of us in the same way that they consider other convention cities.
"We have a lot of misconceptions to overcome--they say, 'It's too far, it's too cold, it's too expensive'--but none of these things are true," she adds. "It's our job to educate them."
Taking a Personal Approach
While meeting planning guides and travel brochures provide good information, there's nothing more important than one-on-one relationships with out-of-state meeting planners to help convince them to come to the 49th state. Convention and visitors' bureau staff also target groups within the state and the Pacific Northwest that have rotating meetings or that hold annual conventions within the region. "Sixty percent of our meeting business comes from within the state of Alaska, which is our biggest client--our bread and butter," Dodds says. "This is true with most states, and with Anchorage being the largest city in the state with the most facilities, we do attract a large number of these groups."
Visit Anchorage (Anchorage Convention and Visitors Bureau) has six national sales managers on staff that make individual appointments with association meeting planners, host luncheons, and attend tradeshows all over the nation. The bureau also hosts three FAM (familiarization) tours--one during the Iditarod, one in May, and one in fall--to bring meeting planners and decision makers into Anchorage. "We want to educate them on why Anchorage is a great place to hold a meeting," Dodds says. "We need to show them what we can do and the services that we can provide, because no one will book a city that they haven't seen first."
Juneau and Fairbanks also benefit from taking the one-on-one approach. "We do a lot of research, looking into the associations in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest who meet in this area, and work to establish person-to-person contact with their decision makers," says Liz Perry, convention sales manager, Juneau Convention and Visitors Bureau. "We bring them up for a site visit...