The celebration of the win is short-lived when your city lands the Republican National Convention (RNC). Once the city of Cleveland was awarded the 2016 RNC, the real work began, starting with the formation of a private, non-profit organization – the Cleveland 2016 Host Committee. Staffed by six full-time employees, David Gilbert, Destination Cleveland’s CEO, also served as CEO of the Host Committee. “Nearly everyone on the Destination Cleveland staffed touched the planning in one way or another, which equated to providing approximately 11 full-time equivalent employees for the Host Committee staff,” he says.
For a single week in July, Destination Cleveland pulled out all the stops to transform their destination conversation. “Hosting a national political convention provided Cleveland with an unprecedented opportunity to re-introduce our great city and region to both 50,000 visitors on the ground as well as the nation and world through wall-to-wall media coverage over a very short amount of time,” says Gilbert.
Among many initiatives to put the city’s best face forward, Destination Cleveland launched a new app to connect delegates and visitors to Cleveland’s attractions. The team also recruited and trained some 3,000 volunteers to act as destination concierges and worked collaboratively with arts and culture organizations to provide a lively atmosphere during the convention.
When I caught up with Gilbert and Mike Burns, the Senior. Vice President of Convention Sales and Services at Destination Cleveland, it was clear that the RNC presented both challenges and opportunities. Now that they’ve had the chance to catch their breath, they’re ready to share what they learned and how the new knowledge is already shaping the future of meetings in Cleveland. Here are their five top takeaways from this year’s Republican National Convention:
- Community Connections Lead To Success.
“That week really showed us how important the people in our community are to making conventions a true success,” says Burns. “Our community wanted to be intimately involved in the convention planning, and while involvement of so many added a level of complexity we weren’t accustomed to, we established important and meaningful relationships. By establishing those relationships early on, especially when it came to hotels, volunteers and marketing, there was a big pay off in the long run as we were able to provide a seamless experience for visitors. Having the CVB so involved in the planning also helped bridge gaps in the community for any future business that we bring to town because the community engagement and collaboration was so strong during the convention.”
- Leverage Your Investment In The Future.
Building a cadre of assets for an event like the RNC isn’t a one-time investment. Destination Cleveland’s staff time to recruit and train a 3,000 person volunteer network will be accessed, in whole or in part, for upcoming groups meeting in the city. The same holds true for the collaborations with arts organizations and other newly developed guest experiences.
- Ride Sharing Is A Critical Part Of Transportation Planning.
“While we do not have the exact stats yet, ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft were very popular during the convention,” says Burns. “At certain times of the day, they were more popular than the extensive shuttle network that was provided. We worked very closely with the airports to ensure that drivers had designated areas for pick-ups, making it very easy for the riders to catch an Uber or Lyft. In future, meetings planners need to make accommodations for well-thought out ride-sharing programs when planning conventions.”
- Think Past The Hashtag.
While social media and digital marketing were very important during the convention, monitoring the conversation and responding as the concierge for visitors played a huge role. “As much as possible, the host city should collaborate with meeting planners on their social media plans,” says Burns. “Plans should be integrated to give consumers the best visitor experience.” Launching a Destination Cleveland app just in time for the convention also connected and enticed visitors to explore more places outside the convention center, arena and ancillary event venues.
Communication Is Key.
“The best experience for a convention – especially one the size of the RNC – comes when the host city and meeting planners collaborate and work very closely together,” says Burns. That philosophy also proved sound when working with some 15,000 credentialed journalists who were also in attendance. “We created a robust PR program that educated visiting media about the city – from how we’re addressing our big city challenges to the interesting and unique assets that make Cleveland a great place to live, do business and visit,” adds Gilbert.
It’s clear that a major political convention requires a big commitment. So will Destination Cleveland try to win this huge piece of business again? “Along with that opportunity came a tremendous undertaking that required the collaboration and resources of a number of private, public and civic organizations,” says Gilbert. “Pursuing another national political convention isn’t out of the realm of possibility, but for the foreseeable future, we’re focusing on growing Cleveland’s share of business in the overall meetings and conventions market.”
To find out more about meeting in this dynamic and evolving city, contact the experienced sales team at Destination Cleveland.
Brought to you by Destination Cleveland.