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Counting Motorcoaches

“During our busy season, I drive past every hotel in town and count the motorcoaches in the parking lots every morning on my way to work. It’s the only way that we have any idea how many groups are coming.”

During a research trip last year, I was discussing the issue of tracking group business with one of my hosts from the local convention and visitors bureau. Though she spends almost all her time promoting her destination as a group tour destination, she has very little information about how many groups come to her city. Tour operators and group leaders often don’t think to tell the local CVB when they book trips or how many people they’re bringing. And local hoteliers, who compete fiercely with one another, are often hesitant to share their group booking information with the CVB for fear this will compromise their competitive advantage.

It’s a shame this tourism professional has to spend her time driving around town to count motorcoaches, but this wasn’t the first time I had heard such a tale. CVB salespeople around the country have been grappling with the issue of tracking for years. The struggle is real.

So here’s a travel resolution for the New Year: In 2016, let’s all do a better job at helping local tourism promoters track our travel.

I know that planning and running tours keeps you very busy, and calling a CVB to tell them you’re coming to town is often the furthest thing from your mind in the midst of your hectic days. But let me explain why this is so important.

Convention and visitors bureaus are the backbone of the domestic tourism industry. If you’ve researched information on a destination or even seen attractive advertisements for tourist destinations, the local CVB likely provided the information. These travel professionals create visitors guides, design itineraries, train their local suppliers, attend conferences and trade shows and do a lot of other work to promote their destinations to travel planners. If a city doesn’t have a CVB, it’s not going to get much tourism.

Most CVBs have at least one staff member tasked specifically with promoting their destination to the group tour market. But here’s a secret about CVBs: The tourism sales staffs and marketing budgets are almost always dwarfed by the number of staff members and marketing dollars dedicated to bringing conferences and conventions to a city.

In most destinations, conventions are much more lucrative than tour groups, so CVBs allocate most of their resources to this market. The leaders of most CVBs around the country came up through the ranks of convention salespeople — very few worked the group tour market — and are inherently biased toward convention business.

This means the people that do work in the tourism market often have to do much with little. And in these days of budget cuts and corporate scrutiny, many group tour representatives at CVBs are forced to show the success of their efforts in order to defend their marketing budgets or, in some cases, to justify the existence of their jobs. But without concrete numbers, that is very difficult to do.

The work that these CVB employees do is crucial to your success as a travel planner and is invaluable to their local tourism communities. The best way you can show your appreciation for their help is to take a moment and let them know when you’re bringing a group to town.

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.