I'll be the first to admit that I was scandalized by the outrageous amounts of money AIG spent at their annual meetings when their company (and the entire US economy) was crashing down around their ears, but did you ever stop and think of the impact on local economies - hard working men and women cooking the food, cleaning the rooms, fixing the things that break - when companies stopped meeting? The entire trend was (is) devastating to destinations that rely heavily on the meeting and convention business to keep their people working.
As tourism professionals, it is our job to tell the stories of our destinations - how much fun you'll have when you come here for a meeting (remember, 80% of travel spending happens after 5pm, so it's in our local shops and gathering places). Suddenly fun became a dirty word to meeting planners.
And what about the swine flu? And the gulf oil spill? Or political boycotts? And any other disaster, natural or man made that can blind side a destination and put people out of work?
Ok, ok... enough about us! So just what did we learn at the Upper Midwest Convention and Visitors Bureau Conference? I learned how we can help our local sports organizations host larger and more successful tournaments, how to coordinate with the city parks and recreation department and local schools in using their venues to host regional tournaments - bringing more money into the local economy. And where to go to learn more about how to do all of the and where to meet the national events-rights organizations.
My colleague learned how to create rock-star experiences for our visitors, how to prepare better bids to attract convention, meeting and sports events to our community, and how to partner with our local producers to create agri-culinary experiences (now doesn't that sound yummy?).
The boss learned what successful DMO executives do, and how to plan for the next crisis that is looming just over the horizon.
And did we have fun while we were meeting in Davenport Iowa? You know we did! First off, after our ten hour drive, we needed to stretch our legs, so we walked along the beautiful hike/bike path that skirts the Mississippi River, then crossed the river on the Government Bridge, making our way to the Rock Island Arsenal. After we were very politely but firmly escorted off the military installation by the kind security guard, we peppered him with questions about the facility.
We learned that the Government Bridge was one of the first bridges across the Mississippie, and the Lock and Dam Number 15 is the largest roller dam and lock system in the world. We waited until long after dark to watch the swing section rotate so this barge could navigate the locks. And the North Platte locals think people are crazy who will stand and watch trains all day?
Here is a picture of the roller dam taken from a really cool walkway that crosses from the downtown section of Davenport to the Rhythm City Casino on the river. And just in case you were wondering, there is a Geocache on the walkway that the girls and I found using the Geocaching app on my cell phone.
Our first meal in Davenport was at the Front Street Brewery, and thank goodness it was, because the restaurant was closed for kitchen renovation for the rest of the conference. I recommend their Bucktown Stout.
Thankfully, just down the street was the Great River Brewery, and Dan was nice enough to pour a sampler for me. Of course it was his job, but he did it very graciously, even staying open late so we could all hang out there for awhile. The Roller Dam Red is great, and The Mister will be treated to a four-pack of tall boys! I love it when microbreweries offer off-sale! I liked the Straight Pipe Stout.
The dine-around (a UMCVB tradition) restaurant we chose was Antonella's Pizzeria, and despite the fact that the poor mother-daughter wait staff hadn't been warned of our coming, we had a fantastic time. After all, good Italian food isn't meant to be hurried, and it was good food, and we enjoyed great conversation around the table.
All in all, we infused quite a few outside dollars into the local Davenport economy, supported some great mom-and-pop businesses, had fun, networked with friends and learned a LOT! A very successful conference if you ask me.
Thanks for stopping by. The coffee is always on.