How Seattle Is Getting Its Meetings Mojo Back

By Kelsey Ogletree, May 10, 2016

In the seven years Tom Norwalk has served as president and CEO of Visit Seattle, he’s helped create a funding mechanism that’s doubled the CVB’s budget, allowing him and his team to develop creative new ways to drive sales. By eliminating reliance on dollars from the city, Norwalk says he hopes Visit Seattle will be perceived as a service-oriented resource that will do “whatever it takes” to meet planners’ expectations. He shares seven insights on how the city is ramping up its meetings mojo and speaks candidly about one of its notorious problems.

On winning back lost business:

“Every year, on average, we’ll do about 45 national citywides. We track the turn-away business, and over the last five years, we’ve turned away more than 300 groups—valued at $1.5 billion—primarily because we couldn’t find dates they wanted. We’re building a second convention center [slated for groundbreaking in 2017] in hopes we can salvage the 20 to 30 meetings per year we currently have to turn down. With the beauty of our city, its location and walkability, over 60 percent of our groups are repeat. But new business is really important. We think they’ll come back once we get them.”

On Seattle’s sweet segment:

“Medical meetings and medical technology/scientific is the larger segment we go after. Seattle is becoming a global health and scientific hub. We have the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, which does cutting-edge cancer research, plus the University of Washington medical community that’s second-to-none. We had a large medical group here in April, ARVO [Association for Research in Vision Ophthalmology], that we courted for eight or nine years to convince them to leave Florida. It was a classic example of how long the sales cycle can be.”

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