Imagine planning a very large and complex meeting without hiring a Destination Management Company (DMC). That means one planner, perhaps aided by a staffer or two, would search for, vet and negotiate with multiple venues, vendors, entertainers, tour operators and restaurants.
The do-it-yourself approach might reduce expenses. However, bearing the burden of endless details in-house could increase the chances for mistakes. It also would take mountains of time and possibly detract from time spent on other meetings, thereby offsetting any cost savings.
So why not hire a DMC? They are destination experts who work regularly with local vendors and can negotiate good deals. They can quickly suggest and secure the right venues for a gala dinner, extravagant theme party or any other meeting or event. They can cut through mounds of red tape to help planners obtain exclusive use of downtown streets and special venues.
After all, Destination Management Companies are often a planner’s best friend and trusted partner.
AlliedPRA Orange County office used its connections to plan a complicated retreat at the Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel, California, for about 450 employees of Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP, a large New York-based law firm. The firm selected AlliedPRA to handle a similar retreat at the same property several years ago but discontinued the meeting after the recession hit.
The law firm again turned to AlliedPRA after deciding to hold the four-day retreat. “We reached out to them again because they have all of our historic information,” says Eleni Thomas, senior manager, events, Weil, Gotshal & Manges. “I wanted to make sure that when we reintroduced the retreat, there was some consistency. They still had a record of all the activities we did, and our usage and attendance counts. It was very helpful for planning purposes.”
Thomas and AlliedPRA discussed goals for the meeting. “It was like planning several meetings in one,” she says. “We sat down with the AlliedPRA team and talked to them about the culture of our programs and where we were able to spend extra and not do so to avoid problems that might eventually come up.”
Teamwork was flawless. “We communicated daily,” says Thomas. “They felt like an extension of my team. I’m in New York and don’t have any feet on the ground in California, and my department runs over 300 other programs a year. It was imperative to have someone who could do the legwork I couldn’t do. Plus personalities matched, which doesn’t happen every time you work with a DMC. I wouldn’t have been able to pull it off without that relationship.”
AlliedPRA’s imagination was on full display with group dining events, including an evening dinner. “There weren’t enough of the types of restaurants in the area, and we wanted to divide up the guests into equal groups,” says Liz Smith, CMP, CTA, national sales manager, AlliedPRA Orange County. “So we took over seven art galleries in the area and divided them into seven groups with seven different dining experiences.”
Two of the galleries had hosted dining events before. “With the other five galleries, we had to vet and create the kitchen and everything onsite for the execution of the program,” says Smith. “The decor of each dining room matched the theme of the gallery. For instance, the modern art gallery had a clear table with avant-garde types of centerpieces.”
On another evening, attendees wanted to meet as teams, have dinner at their meeting sites, and then have the entire group of 450 come together afterwards. “Based on that, we put together an event utilizing Disney’s event spaces,” says Smith. “Guests traveled via bus to Disneyland, had free time in the park, and then dined in four separate event spaces. Dinners inside the event spaces mirrored their theme and design. After dinner, everyone came together for a private viewing of World of Color, a show at Disney California Adventure Park featuring projected images and special effects on a large water screen.”
“The head of the company was so impressed with the program that he took the stage and led a standing ovation for the planner. That really is the goal of a DMC — to make the planner look like the hero.” — Liz Smith, CMP, CTA
The final-night gala dinner was held at Mission San Juan Capistrano, a historic Catholic mission. “We dined in the courtyard with long, linen-covered tables and jewel-toned centerpieces that reflected the colors of the garden and up-lighting on the palm trees,” says Smith. “At the end of the night, the head of the company was so impressed with the program that he took the stage and led a standing ovation for the planner. That really is the goal of a DMC — to make the planner look like the hero.”
Planners look like the biggest heroes of all when they use DMCs that hurdle last-minute barriers to create complex events that wow attendees.
That’s what Access Destination Services did for 2,300 attendees at the annual four-day sales meeting earlier this year for a major corporation. The highlight of the meeting was an event on the last night at AT&T Stadium, the home of the Dallas Cowboys in Arlington, Texas. “The objective was for every person walking into the event to feel it was just for them,” says Jeff Davis, partner – Texas, Access Destination Services. Because of the number of guests, the large space and everybody arriving at the same time, we had a challenge in making every guest feel important.”
Attendees took over the stadium for about five hours. “We wanted it packed with a kind of controlled chaos, almost like a game day,” says Davis.
Attendees entered the parking lot of AT&T stadium simultaneously in buses and were greeted by drummers and Rowdy, the Dallas Cowboys mascot. Guests entered the inside of the stadium by walking through tunnels filled with cheering “fans” dressed in Dallas Cowboys gear. Inside the stadium, in the stands, attendees were greeted by two high school marching bands and live video of themselves on the giant, center-hung, four-sided HD scoreboard with screens totaling 13,000 sf.
Attendees then walked down to the field, where several games included a bungee run, shuffleboard and pool. Guests also participated in zorbing, which involves rolling along the ground inside large transparent balls.
Between activities, guests enjoyed meals. “They had large buffets and bars on the field,” says Davis. “Lines were limited in length because of how we positioned events on the field. About half the people wanted to eat immediately while the other half played games.”
The event turned out exactly as planned. “It was the highlight of the meeting,” says Davis. “This was one of those evenings where everything turned out beautifully.”
Success was achieved despite last-minute challenges. Within 34 to 48 hours of the event start time, the participant count increased by about 400 people. The challenges were: “Can the caterer provide that much more food in such a short time frame, and can we get more buses and staff?” says Susan Gregory, Access Destination Services director of marketing – Texas. “Do we have room for them to do everything we want them to do on the field to make this a special event for them?”
A solid relationship with AT&T Stadium helped Access Destination Services obtain what it needed from the stadium and vendors. “We do 12 to 20 events at AT&T Stadium a year and have a very good relationship with them,” says Gregory. “There are five different departments you have to work with, and they don’t have one point of contact. We are very familiar with all those departments. Because we have repeat business, we can negotiate better with them and provide clients with better services.”
Kristi Cline, creative director for DMC Destination Nashville, also provided examples of how important local connections are for a successful partnership. Cline had to dramatically alter plans for a technology-intensive meeting at the last minute for a top technology company, which hosted 800 potential business partners (heads of start-up companies) at a three-day meeting in Nashville.
The centerpiece of the meeting was a contest called “Pitch Hop,” a takeoff on the rap music term “Hip Hop.” Pitch Hop was a contest in which attendees created rap videos to pitch business ideas to the technology company hosting the event.
Two months before the scheduled event date, Destination Nashville started planning it via conference calls with company officials scattered around the world. They decided to hold the event at Marathon Music Works in Nashville. Company officials finally visited Nashville about a week before the event.
“We met with them at the venue, and it was decided that it was too small to have people creating rap videos in one space while people spoke on stage in another space because the two activities would compete with each other,” says Cline.
So Cline suggested on the spot that attendees create their rap videos in a bus. “By the time we left Marathon Music Works and arrived at my office, we had already procured a tour bus,” says Cline. “We took out the bus seats, kitchen and everything else, and built a high-tech recording studio in the front of the vehicle and video studio in the back that were separated by a sliding door.”
The bus was parked next to the venue. Attendees signed up for time slots to record raps, choose their wardrobe from the options provided and shoot videos with the help of technicians. The bus had its own Wi-Fi system, servers and generators to provide power. Banners wrapped around the outside of the bus were branded with “Pitch Hop” and the technology company’s name and logo. Judges chose the Pitch Hop winner, who received $35,000 in business transactions with the technology company.
Cline acknowledged that switching Pitch Hop over to a bus a week before the event was like walking a high wire. “But that’s what I do every day,” she says. The event won this year’s inaugural Association of Destination Management Executives International (ADMEI) Excellence Award for Excellence in Technology Integration.
Oftentimes when a DMC is part of a large global network, the success stories keep rolling in. Terry Epton, CIS, CITE, DMCP, president of Hosts New Orleans, a Hosts Global Alliance Member, reports, “I am so pleased with our company’s direction and our continued robust growth. Hosts Global and its Hosts Global Alliance (HGA) will soon be hosting more than 200 clients at its Annual HGA Global Forum, which will be held at the Royal Sonesta Boston, July 30–August 3. HGA DMC members from around the world will gather along with meeting and incentive planners in a one-of-a-kind networking and educational opportunity. The HGA Global Forum features state-of-the-art industry education, a key component of which will feature Rodger Stotz, chief research officer for the Incentive Research Foundation (IRF). Stotz will facilitate a discussion during the HGA Global Forum that will focus on IRF’s new groundbreaking research highlighting the changing roles of DMCs in the meeting and incentive industry. Hosts Global was instrumental in seeing that the IRF research survey was distributed to the membership of ADME International as well as our DMC Partners, who do business in more than 190 locations around the world.”
Epton continues, “Locally, in my hometown of New Orleans, Hosts New Orleans worked closely with the Risk Insurance Management Society’s Annual Conference & Exposition (RIMS). On arguably the busiest and most popular week of the year in New Orleans this past April, when city was home to the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival and the annual PGA Zurich Classic, Hosts New Orleans was chosen to execute 41 special events associated with RIMS. These events ranged from intimate and elegant 35-person exclusives to huge special events for thousands utilizing numerous venues in the city, all featuring the best of New Orleans cuisine, music and culture. I am enormously proud of our Hosts New Orleans Team!”
Choosing the right DMC is a crucial decision because it has a big impact on the attendee experience. Planners and DMCs offer the following advice on selecting a DMC.
Charging policies vary and include percentage markup on program costs, per-attendee charges, management fees, à la carte pricing and the cost-plus method (the retail cost multiplied by a percentage to develop the total cost). “Make sure that what you understand that charging policy (to be) in the beginning is the same throughout and there are no surprises,” says Thomas. “I’ve heard about instances where planners agree to a certain cost structure and then fees start popping up that weren’t discussed at the start.”
Partnering with a DMC allows planners to focus on what they do best while delegating the details of local activities, entertainment, special events and the like to an expert in those areas. The time and effort saved by using a DMC translates into better meeting planning efficiency and overall cost savings. And, who knows, you could be the hero at your next event. C&IT