The following story is true. The names have been changed to protect the innocent.

It was pure luck of the draw that got her stuck with the job. Mr. Morgan gave the task to his top admin team. “It doesn’t matter to me which of you takes this on, but one of you own it and make it happen.” Jamie and Mandy agreed to a coin toss: heads wins supervision of office Christmas decorating; tails loses and has to plan the party. Jamie’s face fell as Mandy snatched the heads-up quarter off the desk, kissed it and whispered a relieved, “Yes!”

The Christmas party is a big deal. Blue Sky Corporation’s 175 employees are not the single audience, though planning for a group that size is a big enough chore by itself.  Loving the holiday season as Mr. Morgan does, he includes the Blue Sky big wigs and major stakeholders from around the country on the invitation list and uses the festivities to woo and wow and make Blue Sky shine like the star on the giant Christmas tree. It is no small affair. If not done impressively, Jamie is sure her stocking will be full of coal this year.

Planner's Zone isn't just for venues and hotels. Attendees sampled delicious catering from vendors, including yummy tacos from Milpa Kitchen & Cantina.

With nothing to go on but a budget ceiling and memories of past years, Jamie started making a list: venue, invitations, hotel accommodations, transportation, catering, decorations, entertainment. And find Santa Claus. “I’m asking him for a vacation as soon as this is over,” she said to herself, already feeling overwhelmed.

And then it came. The invitation that would solve Jamie’s predicament landed on her desk: the Planner’s Zone expo on October 25 at the Denton Convention Center.

The Blue Sky Christmas party has traditionally not been held in Denton. Jamie supposed the costs involved were the reason why. The Planner’s Zone opened her eyes to the fallacy in that thinking. Every single to-do on Jamie’s list is available right here in Denton.

The Planner’s Zone had the answers for Jamie and some 350 more people that attended the expo last Thursday, October 25, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Denton Convention Center, where more than 60 exhibitors showcased venues, products and services. In the 12 years since the Denton Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB) launched it, the Planner’s Zone has evolved to become the premier zone for matching organizers of all manner of events with Denton venues and resources.

Dana Lodge, CVB Director of Sales, has been at the helm of the Planner’s Zone since it was just an idea.

“My mission on the CVB team is convincing groups to meet and stay in Denton,” Dana says. “Over the years, the biggest challenges have been our own citizens, because they either don’t believe Denton has what they need or they think planning something in Denton will bust their budgets. Neither is true.”

These days, planners from outside Denton are cluing into this fact too, especially now that the Denton Convention Center is open. We’ve always been open for meetings, but now large-scale convention planners are discovering Denton.

The Denton Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB) hosted 14 professional meeting planners from Austin and Dallas for a 2-day familiarization tour in conjunction with the 2018 Planner’s Zone. Pictured on the Planner’s Zone expo floor is (L to R): Manuel Miramontes, Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired; Daniel Moran, Texas Association of Counties; Miriam Miramontes, Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired; Erin Wilson, Denton CVB Sales Manager; Jen Morgan, Hilton Garden Inn Denton Sales Manager; Luz Hinojosa, Texas Association of Counties. (Photo by Kim Phillips // Denton CVB)

In conjunction with the Planner’s Zone, the CVB hosted 14 convention planners from Austin and the Metroplex for a two-day familiarization tour. These were professionals at the top echelon of the North Texas meetings industry known for their quality management and leadership the world over. All of them do business internationally, but being DFW-based, the bulk of their meetings are booked in the North Texas region.

The tour introduced these VIPs to Denton’s venues, hotels, restaurants, attractions for off-site events and our overall sense of place. The big plus was attending the Planner’s Zone expo, where the pieces for a Denton meeting really came together.

Last week, I talked in this column about the important role that servicing plays in delivering on our Original Independent Denton brand promise. The Planner’s Zone is a  CVB initiative focused on exactly that, with added emphasis on driving the meeting industry’s ancillary impact to Denton businesses. From Jamie’s Blue Sky Christmas soiree to giant conventions and all manner of events small and large in between, the CVB is committed to making them count, for our clients and our city.

We’ve all been in Jamie’s place. The Planner’s Zone is over until next year, so now what? While it’s the easiest and most fun way to fill in the planning blanks, the Planner’s Zone is one day in the year-round life of the Denton CVB. Recruiting to Denton and facilitating original, independent meetings and events is what we do. Regardless of the day, the CVB is the planner’s zone.