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How to plan with CVBs

Courtesy Detroit CVB

In the work of planning trips, church group leaders have no better allies than the helpful employees of America’s convention and visitors bureaus.

Taking a group of people on a tour is no small task. To succeed, group leaders must find interesting destinations, make hotel and dining arrangements for each day of the trip, create itineraries that keep their travelers engaged and make sure everyone is having a good time along the way. And although it can be daunting to make travel arrangements in a faraway city for groups of 30, 50 or more, convention and visitors bureaus help make the process as easy as possible.

Nearly every city in America has a convention and visitors bureau, or “CVB,” as they’re often called. These organizations represent the hotels, restaurants, attractions and other businesses that make up the tourism and travel industries. And they employ teams of local travel experts who make it their mission to help convention planners, tour operators and group leaders put together great visits to their hometowns.

Working with a CVB is perhaps the best way for group travel planners to build great trips (especially if you’re not using a tour operator). As you begin working on your next domestic trip, take advantage of CVB services with these four key steps.

1) Make contact early. When you begin planning a new trip, making contact with the CVB where you’re headed should be your first step. In fact, you may even want to get in touch with a number of CVBs before you decide on a final destination for your trip because these organizations can provide great information about what’s new in their cities that might help you decide where to go.

In today’s digital world, the CVB website is a logical and convenient place to begin. These organizations’ digital homes are constantly becoming richer and easier to use, providing a treasure trove of information that will help you plan your tour. You can use the website to see what attractions a city offers, view some sample itineraries and find the name of the group sales manager who can set up the particulars of your trip.

Group sales managers will be your best friends in trip planning, so you’ll want to build a good relationship with them, and feel free to call on them with any questions or concerns. If you attend the Going On Faith Conference or other travel industry trade shows, you may meet and get to know some of these travel professionals before you begin working on a specific tour.

If you get in touch with a CVB far enough in advance of your anticipated trip, you may qualify to visit the destination by yourself on a familiarization (or “fam”) tour. CVBs set up personalized trips for group leaders and tour operators to see their cities firsthand, develop product ideas and help promote upcoming tours. The visits are often paid for or subsidized by the CVB, so you should only attend if you legitimately plan to bring a group later on.

2) Plan an itinerary. The folks who work at CVBs are experts in their local tourism scenes and have helped a lot of groups plan excellent tours. So rather than do all the research and coordination it takes to plan a detailed itinerary for your time in a city, why not let the experts lead you right to the best activities for your group?

Group sales managers usually know which attractions in their cities work best with groups and how long you should spend at each one. Many CVBs have prepared sample itineraries — often available online — to give you a good preview of what your group can do in the destination. These sample itineraries are often built around specific themes, such as history, outdoor adventure, shopping or dining, so you’re likely to find one that will immediately appeal to your group.

You don’t have to limit yourself to preplanned itineraries, though. Feel free to ask your CVB friends to come up with some creative ideas or customized itineraries to fit the needs and interests of your travelers. With a little bit of creative freedom, CVB planners can devise one-of-a-kind experiences around town that will elevate your trip above a typical tour.

In many cities, full-service CVBs go one step beyond simply suggesting itineraries and actually make all the arrangements with the attractions you will visit. If the organization that you’re working with offers this service, be sure to take advantage of it.

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.