Destination marketing organizations (DMOs), such as convention and visitors bureaus (CVBs) and tourism boards, have always served as prime sources of information for planners considering various cities for meetings. But now that we live in a digital world, and so much information is available online through websites and social media, the role of DMOs is evolving to meet the changing needs of its markets.
“The evolving role of destination marketing organizations is undergoing unprecedented shifts due to systemic changes in travel consumer behavior and expectations, advances in technology and digital communications, and market forces demanding that DMOs develop more sophisticated business models that can support their ability to meet these demands,” explains Michael Gehrisch, president and CEO of Destination Marketing Association International (DMAI). (Gehrisch recently announced that he is stepping down after 15 years with the organization.)
DMAI has responded to these shifts in the marketplace by launching a groundbreaking, three-year research project called DestinationNEXT. For the first phase of the project, DMAI sent an extensive survey to industry leaders in March 2014. The organization received one of its strongest responses ever: 327 DMOs from 36 countries responded, giving DMAI a wealth of information that they could use to chart its future course.
“So what does this mean for meeting planners?” Gehrisch asks. “DestinationNEXT signals a pervasive strategy realignment among DMOs globally to engage with their clients in new ways, promote their destinations more productively and offer a more well-rounded destination experience with better business deliverables. Planners live in the middle of all of that.
“DestinationNEXT signals a pervasive strategy realignment among DMOs globally to engage with their clients in new ways, promote their destinations more productively and offer a more well-rounded destination experience with better business deliverables. Planners live in the middle of all of that.” — Michael Gehrisch
“DestinationNEXT is about where the industry is heading,” he continues. “So what I would say to planners is, look at what the industry is recognizing and doing around these buckets of transformational opportunities, and then understand they affect you and potentially open areas for deeper collaboration with DMOs.”
The phase one survey identified a number of key opportunities, including how DMOs can play an expanded role in the community on broader economic development issues, how they can improve the branding of their destinations in the leisure and meetings and conventions markets, and how they can capitalize on social media and smart technology to engage and access residents, industry and markets.
For example, when Alison Best took over as CEO of Visit Oakland just a few years ago, her first mission was to “reconnect Visit Oakland with Oakland” because she felt that tourism had never been understood or valued in her destination. Visit Oakland’s staff began reaching out to the city’s business owners and cultural influencers to encourage them to use the hashtag #oaklandloveit. This resonated with the community in terms of building community pride and enabled the DMO to discover stories about their city that they didn’t know. By focusing on a hashtag instead of a tagline, Visit Oakland has been able to bring more attention to its destination and showcase a variety of experiences. As Andy Levine, president and chief creative officer of the DMO consulting firm Development Counsellors International, noted in an ebook published by DMAI, “DMOs are becoming content curation platforms because content is experience-driven rather than product-focused.”
Phase Two of DestinationNEXT was unveiled during DMAI’s 2015 Annual Convention. “While phase one was all about research and uncovering the major opportunities in our industry, phase two is all about action and what steps different DMOs can take to meet these opportunities,” Gehrisch notes.
“It included the release of an online diagnostic tool which presents a framework that DMO leaders and communities can use to critically assess the destination. The tool is not intended to be a benchmarking index to rank DMOs or destinations. Instead, it measures the effectiveness of the destination as a whole and helps to start a conversation and provide focus on what needs to be done in the future. What makes this interesting is that because the destination is being assessed rather than the organization, DMOs, just as well as community stakeholders, can go through the self-assessment process. Everyone else, from convention centers, hotel/restaurant associations, city councils to economic development agencies, also can participate.”
Gehrisch continues, “Additionally, a comprehensive portfolio of DMO Practices was developed to help destinations capitalize on the three transformational opportunities outlined in phase one. Some practices are well established, but not necessarily universal, while others are more groundbreaking in their vision. Some are basic, others are complex and require significant resources. Some practices enhance internal capability, some create customer and stakeholder value, while others do both. Their relevance to a specific DMO will depend on the destination’s overall strategy and the position of tourism in the community.
“Overall, the response to phase two of DestinationNEXT has been incredibly positive,” Gehrisch describes. “One of the most profound shifts revolves around the important role of DMOs to convince governments and stakeholders that tourism promotion should be viewed as an investment in a destination’s economic growth and community well-being, versus an expense line item for ‘tourism promotion.’ Today, the DMOs with the highest impact in their destinations are actively engaged in destination development in collaboration with their city councils and economic development organizations, and DestinationNEXT is helping all DMOs gain a similar seat at the table.”
According to Richard Scharf, president and CEO of Visit Denver, DMOs have always been involved in economic development, but they are now becoming much more strategic and collaborative with segments such as the high-tech industry. Over the past decade, the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce has identified growth industries where Denver has a strong presence, such as aviation, aerospace, bioscience, energy, telecommunications, health care and information technology. Visit Denver is now targeting these industry segments, and one example is the close alliance it has developed with Anschutz Medical Campus in Denver, home of the University of Colorado Health Science Division, to identify and promote new sources of local expertise to international groups. This collaboration between the DMO, the local economic development team and the medical community resulted in bringing the World Conference on Lung Cancer to Denver.
Tammy Blount, FCDME, is co-chair of the DestinationNEXT Advisory Group and president and CEO of the Monterey County Convention & Visitors Bureau. “DestinationNEXT has been an incredible source of inspiration,” she explains. “The three transformational opportunities (dealing with the new marketplace, building and protecting the destination brand and evolving the DMO business model) are key, and have been woven throughout our strategies for more than a year. In the fall of 2013, we launched our new brand campaign — in the consumer market the tagline is ‘Grab Life by the Moments,’ and in the meeting space, it’s ‘Inspired Moments in Meetings.’ In collaboration with our Customer Advisory Board, we have integrated brand messaging and content marketing strategies with traditional sales approaches to have a more personal relationship with our customers, both existing and prospective. We have enhanced our services, we have listened to our customers and implemented tools that help them have more inspirational and successful meetings, and we have seen business grow significantly.”
According to Milton Segarra, president and CEO of Meet Puerto Rico, some people simply have the wrong idea. He says, “The biggest misconception about DMOs is that we’re a room-night producing machine. And you know what, we’re not.”
Over the past decade or so, Meet Puerto Rico has kept its focus on promoting the island as a convention destination and touted its convention center facilities and hotel meeting space offerings. But that meant it was often shying away from the island’s real appeal: its unique culture and geography. So to remedy this, Meet Puerto Rico shifted its focus in 2014 and launched a new website and branding campaign called: “On a Tropical Island. In The Caribbean.” The goal of the campaign was to showcase the destination in a more experiential way by tapping into the island’s dramatic tropical environment, which is what makes it truly unique.
The Singapore Tourism Board has taken the novel approach of helping convention organizers cluster their programs around similarly themed conventions to expand the networking and educational opportunities for visiting attendees. Each month, Singapore’s convention calendar has a specific theme such as sustainability, fashion, media, medical or automotive. This strategy is also good for the destination, because attendees often stay longer to see what the other events in their industry are all about.
DMAI asked Kershing Goh, regional director of the Americas for the Singapore Tourism Board, if companies are comfortable with sharing their knowledge like this, and her response was, “I think increasingly, events are beginning to feel that rather than competing with each other, they’re often complementary. In this time and age where obviously, it’s expensive to travel, and there’s so much digital technology, it becomes, ‘Why do I need to go?’ ” Goh says, “They want to come because the whole ecosystem is there, and everybody is in town for those two weeks.”
San Jose, dubbed the “smartest city in America” as the Capital of Silicon Valley, flexed its high-tech muscle in 2014 when it launched “Wickedly Fast Free Wi-Fi” at the San Jose McEnery Convention Center, Mineta San Jose International Airport and within downtown San Jose — a smart marketing move to meet the ever-increasing bandwidth demands of meeting and convention attendees armed with multiple devices to stay connected. And as a further reflection of its culture of innovative thinking, San Jose boasts a unique, one-stop-shop destination marketing model, which allows planners to book the San Jose Convention Center, hotels, unique venues, menus, CVB services and more through one source: Team San Jose.
Other DMOs are developing more video content for the meetings market. Last year, Visit Anaheim launched the Faces of Tourism video series featuring real-life stories of local hospitality industry veterans who can promote the economic value of tourism on a very personal level. In one video, Judy Hamrick describes how working her way up over 25 years from a server to catering captain at the Anaheim Convention Center has helped her raise her three kids.
Visit Bloomington (Indiana) wanted to get the message out that Bloomington welcomes all people, so the DMO filmed a number of gay and straight local small business owners who wanted to communicate how their city is open for business for everyone. “We uploaded that, and we pushed that information out to communicate that Bloomington has always been a welcoming place,” says Erin Erdmann, the organization’s director of convention sales and travel media. “Our local industry partners were really appreciative and thankful that we actually put ourselves out there.”
CVBs and other DMOs continue to provide the types of support planners have come to rely on. “For me, CVBs and tourism boards act as a marketing arm for the destination — in raising awareness and providing a link to the local providers,” explains Tiffany Cohen, CMP, director, client services for the Beaverton, Oregon-based event marketing, management and production company Opus Agency. “I find many times that I start a conversation with a CVB long before I actually ‘need’ them — and that it’s through the relationship that I might consider the destination when it’s finally time to source.”
Allison Nunes, global internal events manager for LinkedIn in the San Francisco Bay area, explains, “I mostly rely on tourism boards or similar organizations when planning events internationally in countries I may not be as familiar with. I will also work with some of our partners in the U.S. if I need some specific information and guidance on a destination/venue in a short amount of time.”
Nunes shared details of a positive experience she had while working closely with the Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board on a huge program that she ran in Los Angeles. “They were involved from the initial site visit and negotiations, all of the planning, and then post-event, providing support where needed. The team at LA Tourism was such a great partner that we viewed them as an extension of our own planning team. They had our best interests in mind while coordinating the many hotels and vendors we work with in LA. I’ve never worked so closely with a tourism board or felt so supported through the entire process and life of the event.”
Tracy Stuckrath, CSEP, CMM, CHC, president and chief connecting officer for Atlanta-based Thrive! Meetings & Events, says that she really appreciates it when CVBs send out RFPs on her behalf and then consolidate the responses into a single, manageable report that not only lists room rates, but other factors such as concessions.
In regard to the changing roles of CVBs and DMOs, Stuckrath has several requests. “I would really love it if the CVBs and DMOs would really get to know what hotels and restaurants are in town that accommodate different dietary needs,” she explains. “Who are your halal caterers? Who are your kosher caterers? Where are the best gluten-free and vegan meals found? This is especially important if the client is not hosting meal functions at their event and you need to provide options for the attendees. So I think that a CVB that delves a little bit more into their city to find out these things would be more valuable to planners.”
Stuckrath also would like CVBs to put together running and walking routes that attendees could use. ”Make it fun,” she says. “Maybe it goes by the top picks of the city, so attendees are also getting a good look at the city when they’re on their walks or runs. (CVBs) could be great advocates for wellness in their communities. We’re all trying to promote walking to venues as much as possible, so I think that’s a great opportunity for them.”
Susie Weibel, design and purchasing manager, event solutions, for Minneapolis-based BI Worldwide, sometimes relies on CVBs for collateral or digital images, or when her company is not using a destination management company (DMC) and needs expert recommendations for items such as local entertainment or venues.
She also appreciates the incentives some bureaus offer. “Tourism/CVBs promote their destinations and offer incentives, which we, in turn, pass on to our customers. For example, Maui CVB is offering incentives for 2016 business booked by December 31, 2016 (i.e., comped entertainment, hula dancers or lei greeting at the airport, etc.). We have also used comped air for site inspections offered by Irish Tourism. That was a stand out. We offered that as a concession in an RFP in a competitive bid situation during a proposal where bidders could present different destinations. BIW presented Ireland. We won the business. Others did not present Europe, and it helped us get Europe in the budget.”
So what’s next for DestinationNEXT?
“We understand that in order for DestinationNEXT to remain relevant, we must continually assess trends, adapt to changing customer expectations, and discover and drive new opportunities,” Gehrisch explains “When the travel landscape changes as quickly as it does today, a strategic road map needs to be constantly updated. Because of this, DMAI is committed to ensuring that DestinationNEXT is a living, active, ongoing initiative that blazes a trail for the road ahead.” C&IT