By LYNN LOFTON
Meetings and conventions are a big part of the state’s tourism industry with various cities and properties vying to play host. Trade associations and other groups are courted by sales personnel in an effort to keep this business in Mississippi, but how do they solicit with all the competition from surrounding states? A few sales professionals reveal some of their methods.
Lynsey Smith, director of sales for Visit Natchez, along with the organization’s regional sales manager based in Jackson reach out to repeat clients in addition to making cold calls. “We also attend lunch and learn meetings with the Mississippi Society of Association Executives in Mississippi and Louisiana.We make good contacts that way,” Smith said, “and we use our website, visitors guide and meeting planners guide.”
Repeat clients are important to the Beau Rivage Resort & Casino in Biloxi too. “Our biggest data base is from repeat clients,” said Mike Davis, executive director of sales. “We work closely with all Mississippi associations and also take the traditional route of making plenty of sales calls. We have great partnerships with all our Gulf Coast neighbors and promote all the things we have up and down the Coast.”
Janice Jefferson is the director of sales for the Gulf Coast Convention & Visitors Bureau. She and her sales force use a combination of solicitation methods. Those include participation in trade shows tailored to the market, social media, Cvent, and Backyard Market. “We also still use the tried and true methods based on relationships, and boots on the ground with sales missions,” she said.
Most of the Coast CVB’s meetings are booked 18 months out although they already have some business on the books for 2020. Davis says the Beau Rivage meetings and conventions are booked an average of three years in advance but they are starting to get farther out. “We have a diversity of meeting space and want to book large, smart business farther out,” he added.
Because Natchez generally hosts smaller groups, Smith can book with six months notice but she has a number of meetings already booked for 2018. “We have a lot of different options for smaller groups, such as board meetings that can be accommodated in some of the historic homes as well as the hotels,” she said. “Our convention center can handle 1,000 to 1,500 people. We have something for everyone here although we mostly have state and regional groups.”
Davis says the size of meetings the Beau Rivage can accommodate depends on the group’s agenda. “We can have 10 to 1,200 people because we have 50,000 square feet of flexible space,” he said. “We sometimes use other spaces on the property, including the 1,550-seat theater, the outdoor deck around the pool, and the stadium at MGM Park.”
Services provided depend on the needs of visiting groups. “We’ve yet to come across any needs we can’t meet,” Davis said. “We’ve done everything, including huge productions with live animals.”
The Beau’s Director of Public Relations, Mary Cracciolo Spain, added, “MGM Park is a new key element we have. Also, we work with groups that have left the state and extended invitations to come back and see what we have to offer. There’s always something new here such as shows, restaurants and menus.”
Jefferson says several Coast hotels can self contain large groups, but the biggest space is the Coast Convention Center with 200,000 square feet of meeting space that can handle up to 5,000 people.
“We offer a variety of services such as assistance in selecting off-site venues, itinerary planning, tours, welcome bags, transportation, registration and name tags,” she said. “I always say ‘yes,’ we can help with anything, and we work closely with our local partners to get it done. We’re selling the whole experience of the Coast. I’m happy to say the area is booming and everything is looking up.”
Groups coming to the Coast for the first time get added incentives to help offset the cost of their conferences.
The sales staff of Visit Natchez also work with partners such as hotels, restaurants, and tours to assure that the needs of groups are met. Spring and fall are always busy times, but 2016 is the river city’s tricentennial year which is bringing more visitors. “It’s not a typical year; lots of groups want to help us celebrate and be a part of the Natchez legacy,” Smith said.
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