By: Mike Rhodes—
An inside look at how the Horizon Convention Center attracts out-of-town business.
Muncie, Indiana— Have you ever wondered how out-of-town prospects are located, sold, and booked for conventions at the Horizon Convention Center?
Convention Sales Manager, Laura Rowe has that responsibility, and it’s one she loves. Rowe graduated from State University of New York Empire State College with a degree in hospitality. She started out in the “room sales” side of the business and worked for Marriott for a few years on the east coast. She also worked in room sales in Indianapolis and when the opportunity came up for a sales position at the Horizon Convention Center, she thought the job would be a great fit. Rowe has been with the Horizon Convention Center for 4 1/2 years now and sees the benefit of the new downtown hotel in acquiring new convention business for the Horizon Convention Center.
“When I came to Muncie 4 1/2 years ago, the new hotel was simply a dream and a pile of dirt,” she said. “During my first two years here, I spent a lot of time “selling the dream” of the new downtown hotel to prospects and what would be possible for new convention business. I don’t think we would have the increased convention business we do now, if not for the Courtyard by Marriott, Muncie. We’ve seen a tremendous increase in business at the Horizon Convention Center because of the hotel. Still, when I meet with new prospects one thing I have been hearing over the last 6 months is, ‘We love Muncie. When are you going to get more sleeping rooms downtown within walking distance of the convention center?'”
Rowe is quick to point out that she works with other hotels in the Muncie Community to meet the sleeping room needs of larger conventions. “People who come here are happy with the creative options we have come up with to accommodate larger groups,” she said. “We do everything in our power to accommodate larger groups. For example, we have a partnership with MITS and “Hops-And Vines” who have been fantastic with transportation shuttling conference attendees downtown from other area hotels.”
Typically, Rowe attends two types of tradeshows to generate business for the Horizon Convention Center: Traditional and Reverse Tradeshows.
In a traditional tradeshow setting, Rowe sets up a 10X10 booth with backdrops, brochures, props, etc. Sometimes the booth has a theme. For example, this year the Horizon Convention Center created a Big Green Egg Promotion where an organization giving HCC the opportunity to respond to an RFP would have their name entered in a drawing to win a Big Green Egg grill.
Usually traditional trade shows Rowe attends last anywhere from 1-3 days. Follow up takes place after the show to further qualify meeting planners needs.
Reverse Tradeshows are where the meeting planner has a makeshift office with a small table and chairs. Suppliers visit perspective planners for 8-13 minute meetings to “sell” their locations to the planners. Reverse tradeshows require advanced research to see which planners are most important to see as time is limited. When Rowe attends reverse tradeshows, she can see anywhere between 15-30 meeting planners.
Some of the cities Rowe has travelled to for tradeshows include: Roanoke, VA; Tampa, FL; Wichita, KS; Milwaukee, WI; Louisville, KY; Columbia, SC; San Diego, CA; Kansas City, KS; Baton Rouge, LA; Birmingham, AL; Chicago, IL; Ft. Wayne, IN; South Bend, IN; Mesa, AZ; Scottsdale, AZ and Lexington, KY
Rowe says she meets with various industry specific associations to gather leads for new Horizon Convention Center business. For example, she is a member of Meeting Planners International Indiana Chapter—an organization where Rowe serves on their board as the VP of Communications. She also belongs to The Indiana Society of Association Executives. Both organizations are made up of meeting planners and suppliers. Belonging to both organizations provides Rowe the opportunity to meet with their membership, develop long-term relationships with decision makers and win their business. She also belongs to an Indianapolis-headquartered organization called the Fraternity Executives Association(FEA). FEA supports the majority of national fraternities and sororities, helping the organizations find appropriate venues for their annual leadership trainings and conferences.
Sample shows Rowe attends include:
FEA – Fraternity Executives Association
CMCA – Christian Meeting and Conventions Association
RCMA – Religious Conference Management Association
PFA – Professional Fraternity Association
SMMC – Small Market Meetings and Conventions
ISAE – IN Society of Association Executives
GLES – Great Lakes Education Summit
Connect Missouri – will be new this year.
MPI WEC – Meeting Planners International World Education Congress
INSHRM – Indiana Society for Human Resource Management
One attribute that is somewhat unique for Rowe as a convention sales manager is the timetable she works with. Many organizations have sales timelines that are either daily, monthly or annually. Rowe works out much further than that. She is currently booking conventions and conferences for 2020-2022.
Scenes from some of the Horizon Convention Center’s past conferences and conventions.
Centrally located in a thriving downtown atmosphere, Horizon Convention Center connects personalized service and expertise to fulfill your custom convention, wedding, or event needs. Your guests will love the heart of Muncie!