Importance of Conventions and Convention Centers to Tourism

convention - image courtesy of Stefan Schweihofer from Pixabay
image courtesy of Stefan Schweihofer from Pixabay

Last month we looked at weddings as a form of conventions and we gave extra attention to the niche market called “Destination weddings.” These events are a romantic part of the convention and events section of the travel and tourism industry. Now we turn to other forms of conventions and their importance to tourism.

Conventions, in the guise of trade shows, may be one of the earliest forms of capitalism. Ever since people have started to trade with each other, there has been the need to gather together, exchange ideas and find new ways to present products, services or ideas. In today’s world, conventions are big business. Ever since Biblical days, people have understood that selling a product means more than simply having a good product, it must also be presented well and in an accessible manner. A major mistake of some conventions and trade shows is to crowd the room or have it so noisy that people simply stop thinking. Delegates not only attend the trade show part of the convention, now called the exhibit hall, but also often use their convention dollars as a way to turn a business trip into a semi-vacation. In fact, it is not uncommon now for convention delegates to bring family members along with the idea of mixing business with pleasure. 

From the perspective of the travel and tourism industry conventions provide major economic boosts to the host community. Those working at conventions or attending them need a great many services, from hotels to electricians, from good restaurants to transportation. Additionally, exhibitors may need freight services, in-house coordinators, and service personnel to set up and breakdown exhibits. In today’s world, conventions also need a great deal of security not only to prevent any pilferage but also to protect both those exhibiting at the convention and those attending it. 

– Determine if your city/locale is appropriate for a convention.

What makes your locale special? What types of conventions would work well for your community? What types of conventions might not match with the sociology of your community? 

– Know who your competition is and what it offers. 

If you are pitching that your location is centrally located, then determine what that location offers that is special and how it differs from other locations. The reality is that all communities are centrally located in relationship to someplace else. What makes your location special?  How good are your transportation arteries and how cooperative is local law enforcement in aiding needy travelers? Remember that almost every city claims that it offers old-fashioned hospitality and that its people are special. Most meeting planners interpret these statements to mean that your community has nothing special to offer. 

– Do not seek conventions that are bigger (or smaller) than your city can handle. 

Often communities do not think through the logistics of a convention. If you are going to seek to attract a convention, be sure to know what types of hotels you offer, how close restaurants are to the convention center and what services a convention center has. For example, is your convention center equipped with a communication center, does it offer land telephone lines in addition to cell phone access,  or must both delegates and others totally depend on cell phones? How well do taxis and Ubers service the convention center? 

– Never promise a potential convention what you cannot deliver.

Remind those seeking convention business for your community to make sure that what they promise is real and do-able. Meeting planners know all too well how to separate honest offers from the con artists. Always put your best foot forward and place a smile on your face. The reality is that you may never know what will win (or lose) you a convention’s business. Treat each person as if this is the convention that will make or break your community. 

– If your convention center is close to a less than safe neighborhood, develop a safety plan with the local police department.

It can take as little as one well-publicized incident to destroy a convention city’s reputation. Work carefully with your local police department so that security is provided in a timely and courteous manner. In a similar fashion, do everything that is possible to enhance the landscaping and environmental beauty of the convention center’s neighborhood. Remember that the airport access and the neighborhood surrounding your convention center is the one that makes the greatest impression on your visitors. 

– Develop a cadre of local businesses, services and citizens who are willing to turn your community into a convention community.

Remember that conventions make you money when delegates leave the convention center and patronize restaurants and other businesses in the community. If your community has poor customer service or simply is not tourism friendly, then conventioneers will speak poorly of you rather than of the convention itself. The more that delegates enjoy your community the more likely they are to return as leisure visitors or recommend it to their family and friends, as well as to meeting planners. 

– Encourage members of the local business community to give away freebees to conventioneers. 

Especially in a challenging economy, freebees are a good source of advertising and permit local business owners to interface with new and potential customers. Often out-of-towners will provide the sort of feedback that locals never give. Encourage convention exhibitors to use simple yet eye-catching colors and designs to attract people to their booths and if the show requires personal discussions, then make sure that the booths have sufficient personnel in it at all times. The basic rules of customer service are even more necessary when your community is hosting a convention. Thus make your convention center cost effective. For example, meeting planners will remember that fact that you provided free table set-ups and the conventioneers will be pleased if you provide free computer access. 

– Provide activities, restaurants and attraction lists for before, during and after a convention. 

Conventions are your community’s chance to show off. Remember that everyone at the trade show may be a visitor and is a potential source for future revenue.

The author, Dr. Peter E. Tarlow, is President and Co-Founder of the World Tourism Network and leads the Safer Tourism program.

About the author

Dr. Peter E. Tarlow

Dr. Peter E. Tarlow is a world-renowned speaker and expert specializing in the impact of crime and terrorism on the tourism industry, event and tourism risk management, and tourism and economic development. Since 1990, Tarlow has been aiding the tourism community with issues such as travel safety and security, economic development, creative marketing, and creative thought.

As a well-known author in the field of tourism security, Tarlow is a contributing author to multiple books on tourism security, and publishes numerous academic and applied research articles regarding issues of security including articles published in The Futurist, the Journal of Travel Research and Security Management. Tarlow’s wide range of professional and scholarly articles includes articles on subjects such as: “dark tourism”, theories of terrorism, and economic development through tourism, religion and terrorism and cruise tourism. Tarlow also writes and publishes the popular on-line tourism newsletter Tourism Tidbits read by thousands of tourism and travel professionals around the world in its English, Spanish, and Portuguese language editions.

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