In 2010, Kansas City hosted NAFSA's Annual Conference & Expo. Below is a case study on how the KCCVA, local host venues and NAFSA staff delivered what was described as a "very successful" meeting.
Coming off record attendance for its 2009 annual conference in Los Angeles, NAFSA was determined to keep the momentum going at its 2010 conference in Kansas City. The KCCVA also accepted this challenge with great enthusiasm—in fact, the marketing staff teamed up with Valerie Royal, NAFSA’s senior director of meetings and conventions, to create a sophisticated, focused and effective attendance-building program that ran over the six months leading up to the June 2010 event.
"Our marketing strategy was going to make use of a series of e-postcards aimed at our worldwide membership of 10,000 people,” Royal said. “The CVA augmented that idea by creating a NAFSA microsite—specific to our members and connected to our e-postcards—which highlighted the features and attractions in Kansas City that were relevant to the themes we’d use to persuade members to attend.”
The first e-postcard went out to members six months before the show, using the tagline, “Be surprised by Kansas City’s shopping!” And by clicking on a link embedded in that e-mail, members arrived at a website specific to them, finding highlights of the most interesting shopping possibilities around the city.
A few weeks later, another e-postcard went out; this one used the tagline, “Be surprised by Kansas City’s barbecue!” Clicking on that embedded link brought members to a part of the microsite focused on the city’s signature culinary experiences. The next e-postcard focus: Kansas City’s arts and cultural scene, followed two weeks later by an e-postcard themed to showcase the city’s historic and vibrant jazz community. In short: NAFSA members were treated to interesting, detailed snapshots of Kansas City’s best aspects over several months, making them feel both excited and comfortable about a trip to Kansas City.
The attendance figures for the 2010 event certainly proved that to be true. More than 7,200 members—a number that very nearly eclipsed the Los Angeles event—came to Kansas City for NAFSA. About 35 percent of those attendees came from outside the U.S., representing 130 different countries.
Once on site, attendees were treated to a hassle-free meeting experience. First, “the Kansas City Convention Center is very easy to navigate, and it worked perfectly for our program,” Royal said.
Even when a whopping 4,800 people showed up for the first day’s general session in the 3,800-capacity Grand Ballroom, the center’s staff had a suitable solution. “We used an overflow location in another part of the center, and relayed the session via closed-circuit broadcast to the 1,000 attendees who gathered there,” Royal said. “Everyone was happy with how it went.”
Using the Westin and the Hyatt Regency properties located in Crown Center as its headquarters properties, NAFSA also utilized 15 other hotels to house delegates. In light of this, transportation to the convention center during the day and to the Power and Light District in the evenings required serious coordination. But “we worked with a local vendor to provide shuttles from Crown Center and from Country Club Plaza, where most of the other hotels were located, and everything went smoothly,” Royal said.
As for the evening events, NAFSA used a wide mix of facilities for its diverse audience.
“They absolutely enjoyed the Power and Light District—on the first night, we bought out the entire area and had all its restaurants participate in a giant dine-around, which was exactly right for our purpose,” Royal said. “We also satisfied our attendees’ desire for culturally focused experiences by using the American Jazz Museum and the American Negro Baseball Museum.” Lastly, many of the show’s sponsors and exhibitors used venues such as the revitalized, ornate Midland Theater to entertain and impress delegates.
In the weeks after the event, Royal and her colleagues at NAFSA were quite pleased with attendee feedback.
“People noted that even with all the excitement going on throughout the event, they still felt very comfortable and relaxed,” Royal said. “Many attendees, board members and exhibitors said it was not as stressful in Kansas City as it was in other cities. The hospitality from hoteliers and all the vendors was definitely noticed. So from every perspective, our Kansas City event was very successful.”