Convention Industry Council Creates Offsite Sessions for First Time at Conclave 2014

Karen Kotowski (center) at CIC's Conclave 2014
Karen Kotowski, CEO of CIC (center), at Conclave 2014 in New Orleans

The Convention Industry Council (CIC) held its annual Conclave educational conference in New Orleans this past September, headquartered at the Hyatt Regency New Orleans. The session brings together a wide range of certified meeting professionals of varying experience to learn best practices and network with peers about new industry trends.

The concept of how local travel immerses a person in a destination is, of course, a megatrend in leisure tourism. However, according to CIC’s CEO Karen Kotowski, CAE/CMP, more convention planners are incorporating local experiences into their programs.

Part of the demand is also being driven by planners and attendees seeking access to local thought leaders and cultural influencers to share knowledge, spur professional development and build new business relationships.

For the first time at Conclave, two sessions were held offsite. The group visited the New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center and Marriott New Orleans, where they met with many different local supply-side representatives and employees.

“It’s definitely a trend, a lot of destinations are working really hard to make sure that meeting planners and organizers know everything a destination has to offer, and that’s a conversation that’s getting started earlier and earlier in the planning process,” says Kotowski. “A lot of destinations want to be known as knowledge hubs, and so they’re pulling their most vibrant communities into the overall strategy.”

Also, by tapping into that local knowledge, DMOs are not only attracting more convention business, those types of introductions are an economic development vehicle for their communities. Kotowski says everyone is looking for more value in their business partnerships, both on the buyer and supplier side.

“I’m hearing that on a global basis where destinations are marketing their role as a knowledge hubs, because I think we are all seeking to provide more value in our meetings to change things up,” she says. “I think attendees are expecting more. I think there’s more demand on our time, and if you’re out of the office, you want to make sure whatever you’re attending is going to be as valuable as possible. So meeting organizers want to make sure that their content is so compelling that people are going to make it a must to attend.”

The two offsite sessions at Conclave 2014 were “wildly popular” to the point where not everyone could be accommodated, so CIC is going to expand those opportunities at next year’s event.

As for the key takeaways from this year’s event, Kotowski says offsites give planners a chance to learn by doing and networking with more people.

At the convention center session, for example, “It was really a holistic look at booking a meeting in a convention center from site visit to implementation,” she explains. “During the other site visit at Marriott, we did a hands-on session to learn about what goes on in the kitchen, and why it’s important to get head counts accurate to ensure quality and service. So we were actually plating meals and serving food and talking to the chefs, so it really helped. The planners got to realize how their decisions impact the suppliers.”