It’s been said that the electric light did not come from the continuous improvement of candles. A revolutionary approach was needed.
Well, St. John’s, Saskatoon and Victoria think they have a revolutionary, business-boosting idea based on collaboration and convenience. The trio launched Cities in Sync (CiS) at the 2017 edition of Tête-à-Tête, the Canadian Society of Association Executives’ annual trade show in Ottawa. Modelled after a similar program in the U.S. called Synchronicities, CiS is a one-stop shop for groups working on a rotation.
Krista Cameron, director of sales for Destination St. John’s, explains that CiS was developed and rolled out with associations in mind. “We all know they go east-central-west, so we teamed up to offer a one-stop shop, where they only have to have a conversation with one of us, send one RFP and they’ll receive proposals from three destinations. It’s easier for them because we’re collaborating. We also have incentive payments from each destination attached when they do [book via] Cities in Sync.”
The initial inspiration was to target associations, but as true salespeople, the CiS folks won’t turn anyone away. Corporates are welcome.
The fine print is quick and easy to understand. The planner/client is expected to book an event into each city in their next three meeting cycle. The rotation may take place over a four-year period to meet the needs of clients that require one year of rotation in Ontario. All contracts have to be signed within 12 months, and there’s a requirement for 300 rooms on peak. Those who meet those requirements qualify for cash incentives to help with costs. However, there is flexibility built into the program, and tiered incentives exist for groups below the 300-room peak requirement. In addition, recognizing that some groups meet biannually, they can qualify so long as all cities are used in the group’s three-meeting cycle. Cities can be booked in any order. Whatever the group size, the other benefits and convenience remain.
Chief among the benefits is file sharing between the destinations. This spares the planner from having to repeat their needs with each facility in each city.
The lead on Cities in Sync has been Candace Schierling, director of national conventions and event marketing for Tourism Saskatoon. Schierling explains that by collaborating, they are making a planner’s job easier while at the same time securing business for their cities. And, beyond reducing the planning workload, the triple-city booking also helps planners grow their event and attendee numbers as the three destinations can work together on local, regional and national pre-promotion and coordination of social media strategies.
Schierling says that one of the keys to ensuring the program’s success has been making sure sales reps, not just directors of sales, understand the program and are onboard with it.
It’s a good reminder that the problem with many top-down ideas is the failure to communicate them to the frontline workers. “It’s been a two-year project preparing for the launch,” she explains. “This involved bringing each sales team up to speed on the assets and attributes of the partner destinations, and studying opportunities for shared events, sales missions and marketing campaigns.”
From the destination perspective, it’s also a way to better leverage marketing and sponsorship dollars and reduce the cost of sales.
When the American cities announced their association, they saw an immediate impact on bookings. Cities in Sync has been met with similar interest. Miranda Ji, director of sales for the Victoria Conference Centre and Business Events Victoria, says that in the first week after the program’s launch at Tête-à-Tête more than 20 people they met at the tradeshow expressed interest.
It seems this is an idea that could have legs with planners voting with their feet in favour of a St. John’s, Saskatoon and Victoria combo.
It is a bold move for friendly competitors to trust each other enough to set aside the energy usually devoted to besting other destinations and secure business via collaboration. Cities in Sync might be the launch of a number of innovative collaborations. Perhaps Canada’s three wine regions—B.C.’s Okanagan, Niagara in Ontario and Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley—could be the next set of collaborators.
Allan Lynch is a freelance journalist based in New Minas, Nova Scotia. He writes extensively about the business events industry.