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Planner to Sonoma County Tourism: I Must Be Dreaming

At the start of my event planning career, I’d heard of organizations like Sonoma County Tourism (SCT); I just didn’t believe or understand them, so I rarely used them.

What an epic mistake that was.

I’ve planned my fair share of conferences, meetings, and events in Sonoma Wine Country, Boston, New York, Portland, and San Francisco, among others. Each area wants your business as much as the other. Those dollars your organization brings serves a specific community and it’s in that city or county’s best interest to make bringing and conducting said business easier than ever, which is why destination marketing organizations (DMOs) such as SCT exist.

Sonoma County Tourism is a non-profit organization, funded by a 2 percent “Business Improvement Area” assessment, and strictly dedicated to bringing and assisting business such as ours to this full-bodied region. SCT’s services are complimentary.

Translation: You don’t have to do this alone!

We’re a diverse region. Every city has its own flavor, activities, culinary fun-finds, venues, etc. It is the perfect backdrop for any meeting type but you’re going to want an expert of Sonoma County to ensure what you expect of your meeting or event is met with the right Wine Country pocket.

SCT will aid you in creating the ideal itinerary for your group. From research to booking, here’s what you can expect from this team, and my thoughts on how to make the most of your time with them:

Initial Visit/Brainstorm
Whether you’ve got your entire program flushed out and are looking for a dinner venue, or are still debating event dates — as a planner — you can benefit from SCT’s services anytime.

  • Event Dates: There isn’t a “wrong” time to visit Sonoma County. I’ll tell you that right now. If you haven’t chosen your dates yet, talk to SCT. Days of the week and months of the year each provide varying price points, and experiences. November through April is considered the value season.
  • Region Selection: Please, don’t waste your time blindly searching, “Wine Country Meeting Venues” online. We (us planners) are busy enough, right? Contact SCT with your group’s demographic and program type and they’ll not only suggest venues — they’ll schedule your onsite visits and personally take you on a tour through these venues and ancillary event locations. Pinch yourself if you want, but also remind yourself, SCT is a nonprofit service to show planners like us how to get the most out of our group’s stay.
  • Theme: I’ve used DMOs like SCT in other U.S. destinations for a theme brainstorm before. It’s great! With the volume of events and groups SCT sees each year, they’ll know what works, what doesn’t, and unique ways to engage your attendees. Just ask.

Partnered Opportunities:
You’ve heard of, “dovetailing.” Menu selection is probably the most common occurrence of this in our world. Team up with another group’s menu or ingredients, and gain a greater bang for your buck, while saving yourself (and the venue) a little time.

Partnered opportunities are a similar feat. Throughout Sonoma County you can benefit your group experience and bottom line by partnering with other Sonoma County vendors and attractions.  SCT will know the highlight attractions nearest your venue, and the best way to couple them with your program based on your budget and preference. Ask for package suggestions.

Ancillary Events/Activities:
I (not surprisingly) still find it completely impossible to manage every region highlight within Sonoma County. The right equation for your group is here, and finding it is made easy through SCT.

They work with planners, sure (meeting planners, wedding planners, conference organizers, and social event planners). They also work with local business owners and vendors (venues, wineries, restaurants, service providers, etc.) to explore their parade of services to outside organizers.

Truth is, these providers want our business. Generally speaking, their first stop is to SCT to review their new and existing services — so when we ask the following questions, SCT will not only have the answers, they’ll provide the right referrals:

  • Which wineries are the best-bet for my group size?
  • Are there any outdoor hiking, biking, picnicking options nearby?
  • What’s the weather like during our stay?
  • How should I manage transportation?
  • What’s the best place for a grab-and-go lunch, or exclusive private dining experience?
  • Where, exactly, is Sonoma County hiding those premier chefs, and how do I find them?
  • Is beer tasting really a thing in Wine Country?

Cash Incentive:
I recently sat down with SCT to discuss its benefits to planner partners. A must-know is the Sonoma County Incentive Program, which says any new planner partner that submits a request for proposal (RFP) to SCT with the below stipulations may receive a credit toward the hotel master account of said program upon booking:

  • One or more nights, Sunday through Thursday
  • During the months of November through July
  • The RFP must go through SCT from the start

Cash Credit Range:

  • $1,000 for 50 – 100 actualized sleeping rooms
  • $2,000 for 101 – 200 actualized sleeping rooms
  • $3,000 for 201 – 300 actualized sleeping rooms
  • $4,000 for 301-plus actualized sleeping rooms

What to do now?

  1. Fill in an RFP with what you know. It doesn’t matter if all you have are date ranges, and a vague description of your group demographic. (In all honestly, the sooner you reach out, the happier you’ll be.)
  2. Submit your RFP here.
  3. Someone from SCT will contact you.

If you’d prefer to contact them directly, you may email them at [email protected] or call them at 800-576-6662. Find a list of our meetings and groups staff here.

Up Next:
Writing this post really got me thinking, Planner-to-planner, I’m curious to hear testimonials from others who use SCT. While I do a little digging, you get going on writing and submitting your RFP; maybe one day I can use your testimonial! Happy planning!

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