This year a survey conducted by Financial & Insurance Conference Planners (FICP) resulted in 91 responses, about one-fifth of FICP’s total member companies. It was interesting to note that 100 percent of the conference planners hire a Destination Management Organization (DMO) for at least one service, with transportation (100 percent) and activities/tours (98 percent) coming in as the most-used services. More than 75 percent of respondents also use DMOs for décor, entertainment and meet-and-greet services.
Obviously, most large DMOs, or CVBs (convention and visitors bureaus), as they’re commonly known, play integral roles in assisting meeting planners with not only their choice of a destination, but meeting management as well.
When the Destination Marketing Association International (DMAI) launched its DestinationNEXT initiative (in two phases), many DMOs and their local stakeholders were eager to learn about new ways to assess their destination and use this information to better present their product to meeting planners from every industry.
“Better build the destination and you stand a far better chance in successfully attracting corporate meetings, including more corporate headquarters development, relocations and corporate expansions in the region.” — Maura Allen Gast, FCDME
“One of the best tools to come out of the DestinationNEXT effort is a destination ‘self-assessment’ that, if addressed with candor, really allows a DMO to see where the destination itself fits in to the competitive landscape,” says Maura Allen Gast, FCDME, executive director of the Irving (Texas) Convention & Visitors Bureau. “This is far more in-depth than a routine SWOT analysis. When the DMO and its stakeholders actively participate in the assessment, you have no choice but to see where the opportunities for enhancement and improvement truly are. From a corporate perspective especially, corporate meetings are driven by efficiencies, not just in the meeting design and content, but in the location choices.”
Gast, a member of the DestinationNEXT Phase Two Advisory Group, feels that with an honest and in-depth assessment of a destination’s pros and cons, using past successes and past failures as examples, DMOs will have a better chance of attracting corporate meetings in this very competitive climate.
“Choices that maximize attendees’ time, and thus the bottom line, matter,” Gast says. “Destination weaknesses, whether they be in airfare, traffic management, limited hotel or meeting product, insufficient marketing resource, impact the success of the destination. Address those, and overlay them on top of your lost business reasons, and you start to map out a plan to better build the destination. Better build the destination and you stand a far better chance in successfully attracting corporate meetings, including more corporate headquarters development, relocations and corporate expansions in the region,” she explains.
One of the main ingredients in DestinationNEXT is the inclusion of stakeholders in the DMO’s assessment process. Stakeholders include economic development officials, hotels, restaurants, meeting and exhibition venues, and thousands of local residents involved in the hospitality business, as employees or owners. What are the needs of the DMO’s stakeholders and what is the potential of each of the stakeholders to participate with the DMO to attract large meetings?
“DestinationNEXT is a powerful assessment tool that gives DMOs and their stakeholders a candid assessment of their destination’s strengths and opportunities,” says Brad Dean, president and CEO of Visit Myrtle Beach. “One aspect of that assessment is understanding the needs of all stakeholders and effectively engaging them in all facets of the marketing process. By evaluating our local industry’s needs and potential, we have strategically increased our investment in group sales and marketing.
“We have also expanded the scope of services that our stakeholders need to grow their individual businesses,” Dean says. “Here in Myrtle Beach, this has led to a record level of achievement for our group sales team. Looking forward, we will be using DestinationNEXT as a full-scale destination assessment tool to explore other areas of our destination that can be enhanced or grown.”
Many DMOs were already using some of the tools that DestinationNEXT proposes, including becoming more involved with local companies, large and small, to ensure that everyone is on the same page regarding the importance of organizing local meetings as often as possible, and recognizing the potential of hosting out-of-town subsidiaries of major local firms.
This is being done to a great extent in Virginia, where the meetings and conventions sales managers at Richmond Region Tourism have been actively seeking out insurance and financial meeting planners from local companies for many years.
“Phase One of DestinationNEXT identified evolving the DMO business model through collaboration and partnerships as a key transformational opportunity,” said Kristin McGrath, CDME, Richmond Region Tourism’s vice president of sales and services. “Richmond Region Tourism was ahead of the curve in this regard having created our Community Relations (CR) department in 2012 to specifically address these opportunities. The CR department has been quite successful in forming strategic alliances outside of the traditional hospitality community. The Richmond Region has six Fortune 500 companies (10 Fortune 1000 companies), and part of our mission is to ensure that our local corporate senior executives understand the importance meetings and conventions have on our economy. Keeping meetings local, and working together to bring additional meetings to Richmond, benefits the entire community.”
Working with local economic development groups also has been one of Richmond Region Tourism’s priorities, especially in their efforts to attract outside meeting groups to the region, which often includes insurance and financial-related organizations.
“We have recently started to work more closely with the Greater Richmond Partnership (GRP), the economic development team representing the Richmond region,” says McGrath. “We partnered financially with GRP a couple of years ago on our Richmond Region video, for which we received a Virginia Tourism Corporation grant. Various edits of this video are used by both Richmond Region Tourism and GRP for attracting not only meetings, sports and leisure visitors, but corporations and industry as well.
“Most recently, we worked together to secure the 2017 Industrial Asset Management Council (IAMC) Fall Forum,” McGrath continues. “Finance and insurance is a target market for the Greater Richmond Partnership, and we will continue to collaborate to bring additional meetings to Richmond. Because our city is a regional banking center and home to the Fifth District Federal Reserve, there are many advantages to meeting in Richmond.”
Rachel Benedick, vice president of sales and services for Visit Denver agrees that conducting an honest assessment and bringing in all the stakeholders, especially the corporate meeting planners that mean so much to a city’s bottom line, is an important tool for DMO staffers.
“DestinationNEXT is part of a new generation of tools that Visit Denver can draw on to evaluate our effectiveness as an organization and assure that our goals are aligned with the broader goals of economic impact and infrastructure development in Denver,” says Benedick. “This study reminds us of our need to be authentic to our customers and draw upon local resources to help the city’s unique benefits and appeal stand out.”
Brand marketing is another facet of DestinationNEXT that DMOs are concerned with, especially as it applies to persuading meeting planners that their destination offers more than just a nearby airport and high-tech meeting rooms. Not only must a meeting destination for insurance and financial industry planners communicate quality, but firms in these industries also are interested in making sure the destination is concerned about environmental sustainability, social responsibility, safety and security, and health and cleanliness. These areas of concern are prominent in the California coastal city of Monterey.
“DestinationNEXT has been an incredible source of inspiration,” says Tammy Blount, president and CEO of the Monterey County Convention & Visitors Bureau. “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 is ‘Inspired Moments in Meetings,’ says Blount. “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.”
Insurance and financial management firms seem to especially like Monterey, and the CVB makes sure that meeting planners working with these firms have all the information they need for a successful event. “We have two big criteria when looking for a destination, and the first is always ‘travel’ related,” said Moira McGinty, president of Moira McGinty Consulting, who works closely with the Monterey CVB when planning insurance and financial industry events in the Monterey region. “A rule that we like to use is ‘one flight and a one- to two-hour drive’ as our maximum travel time for group meetings. We don’t want people getting frustrated with traveling, and most of our clients like that rule, which can get them to the destination in the fastest and most comfortable way possible no matter which major U.S. city they are flying from. Monterey is great, because most big cities have non-stop service into San Francisco, and the CVB has been great about notifying us about new flights and helping with ground transportation options from the airport.
“The other big (criterion) is ‘desire’, selecting a site where our clients would want to go on a vacation, and may not have gone before,” says McGinty. “These people are seasoned travelers; they have been to a lot of places, and that’s why Monterey has been such a lovely choice; it has a certain charm to it that few other destinations can match. The CVB is very up-to-date on local activities: They told us about the skydiving there, which we never knew existed in Monterey, and their personal service is so honest in their reviews of local services. I deal mostly with the C-suite-level clients, but the great thing about the Monterey area is the diversity of meeting venues ranging from beautiful, moderately priced accommodations to the upscale Post Ranch Inn, just 33 miles down the coast in Big Sur, so any type of group can find a high-quality venue there, whether it’s in the mountains, along the coast or in downtown Monterey.”
When it comes to Puerto Rico, which has been in the headlines lately for its economic woes, it’s especially crucial that all stakeholders are included in DMO marketing and operational planning decisions so that the island remains on insurance and financial company meeting planners’ site selection lists.
“We let our stakeholders know how much of an economic impact hosting corporate meetings can be to Puerto Rico,” said Milton Segarra, president and CEO of Meet Puerto Rico. “For every $17 we spend marketing our island, it generates $561 dollars for Puerto Rico. Engaging our members, and working together to create a prefect meeting environment, helps us stay relevant and competitive, and our experience hosting insurance and financial company meetings at our quality resorts on the island means that not only will the meeting be productive and successful, but that many of the participants will want to return to Puerto Rico for a vacation.”
Segarra went on to say that the island is buzzing with new, high-quality venues and expansion projects, including the transformation of the privatized San Juan Airport with millions of dollars invested in infrastructure and customer services. “The recommendations that emanated from the DMAI DestinationNEXT initiative validated our thinking, and now we are putting it all to work with a renewed sense of enthusiasm and dedication in our effort to increase our corporate meetings business.”
Even Orlando, recently rated the top meetings city in the country for 2015 by Cvent, which used a variety of qualifiers (Unique Request for Proposals Received, Total Room Nights, Awarded Request for Proposals, Awarded Room Nights and Percentage of Qualified Meeting Venues and Number of Profile Views) still has to work hard to attract large meetings and conventions.
“The last time we met in Orlando was in 2003, before I was with the association, when we had over 5,000 attendees there,” says Kristina Mechelis, CMP, director of meetings for the Association for Financial Professionals. “Visit Orlando has been a great partner for our upcoming 2016 meeting as well. I am always interested in anything new and exciting coming to a city, and the Visit Orlando folks offered a lot of exciting information about the city and the new dining venues and hotel renovations that are taking place there, so it seems like our meeting next year, with 6,000 participants booked in over 15 hotels, will be a great experience for everyone attending the event.”
When DMOs do an assessment of their destination’s inventory of attractions, hotels and activities, passing that information on to meeting planners is good business practice, not only for the DMO but the information passed on often can make or break a meeting planner’s ultimate site selection decision.
“When planning client events, Miami continues to be our top choice for a destination,” says Sandra Edstrom, FLMI, client relations and events manager for the Hannover Life Reassurance Company of America. “Miami is easy to get to, offers unlimited activity options and the white sand beaches easily lure our clients to attend our event year over year. With so many restaurants and an endless list of unique and exciting things to do and places to visit, we can provide our clients with a fresh, exciting experience each year. To help with planning, I turn to Ileana Castillo at the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau (GMCVB). Her knowledge of the ocean beach resorts that best fit our group quickly turns into a list of available properties to choose from. I also look to the GMCVB for guidance on restaurants and activities and find that with every interaction, I’m treated as their most important customer.”
The best DMOs not only work with insurance and financial company meeting planners on the large meetings and conventions, but their willingness to assist individual attendees and exhibitors planning separate, offsite functions is equally as important. Staffers at Visit Indy were busy getting things ready for this year’s annual American Society for Healthcare Risk Management Conference (October) in Indianapolis when they received a query from Betsy Van Alstyne of Integro Insurance Brokers about finding a suitable reception site for 300 guests, most of whom would be attending the ASHRM conference and exhibition the same week.
“Visit Indy took the time to arrange site inspections at a number of properties, and came along as host on many of those visits, driving me from site to site and handling introductions,” says Van Alstyne. “In addition, they helped identify a caterer once I had chosen the desired property, and will provide customized maps and visitor information packets to our group. They were extremely helpful during my site search and saved me a lot of unnecessary legwork.” Van Alstyne’s reception will be held at the Indianapolis Artsgarden, a beautiful glassed dome venue downtown.
When all is said and done, perhaps the most valuable service a CVB can provide is an inspirational experience. I&FMM