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Visitors bureau welcomes residents as ambassadors for the region

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Since the Greater Wilmington Convention and Visitors Bureau’s “Meet Me at Home” program started in February, only a couple of Delawareans have reached out to their business connections to bring national conventions back home.

Tamara Thompson, acting city auditor for Wilmington, first heard of the program when she, coincidentally, phoned the visitors bureau for help bringing the 400-member meeting of the Association of Local Government Auditors to Wilmington in 2020.

She hoped the visitors bureau staffers could help her bulk up what she described as her “little skeleton of what we were going to submit.”

They did.

“They were very knowledgeable in regards to event planning and all the options that are available here in the Wilmington area,” Thompson said. “They have a handle on organizing these types of things. We do audits. We don’t do conventions. They worked out all the details. They were contacting the Chase Center for us and getting information. I think it’s helpful for anybody planning a conference in the Wilmington area.”

The Meet Me program asks area residents who attend conferences to pitch their hometown as a meeting place and introduce visitors bureau staffers to conference organizers.

Lyn Lewis, the bureau’s director of communications, said the area’s biggest obstacle to wooing conventions is that Delaware is not the first place organizers think of when they’re selecting a site.

To counter that, the visitors bureau sends Jessica Bittmann, its director of sales, to conventions around the country to talk up the area’s unique attractions.

Northern Delaware’s draws aren’t all tourist attractions like Nemours Mansion and Gardens and nearby QVC studios; they include no sales tax and relatively low nightly rates for the 6,117 available rooms.

Lewis said the visitors bureau offers has the highest transportation incentive budget in the region. The bureau has $50,000 to distribute on a first-come-first-served basis to groups that book a minimum of 100 rooms.

Some groups use it to ferry convention-goers from Philadelphia International Airport; others use it for offsite visits to Winterthur or Longwood Gardens. The largest incentive paid went to the Council of State Governments Easter Region Conference in 2015. The council received $18,000, and used it to shuttle delegates from downtown hotels to the Wilmington Riverfront and ferry delegates and spouses to Delaware attractions.

Lewes said the bureau would especially like to attract convention business from the hundreds of groups based in Washington, D.C. “One of the things that’s frustrating for us is we would like to appeal strongly to the D.C. marketplace. People who live in the D.C. market go to Rehoboth, but they don’t think the roads extend to Wilmington,” she said.

The visitors bureau provides free assistance to groups interested in holding their meetings in Greater Wilmington. Staffers will research hotel rates, recommend meeting spaces and after-hour activities, and connect groups with service providers.

The same free services are available for those planning weddings, reunions or traveling youth sports league events.

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