Knowledge Hubs

Bidding Wars

Competition is fierce. We talked to DMO executives about how they sell their cities.

Just how competitive is it for DMOs that are bidding on meetings and conventions in 2016? Our May cover story was all about how Minneapolis and Montreal competed to win the Apimondia citywide meeting. Here’s what some other destinations are doing.

“I would use the word fierce — not in a fashion-forward sense, but in a dog-eat-dog type of way,” said Rachel Benedick, vice president of sales and services for Visit Denver, whose team of 30 handles thousands of leads every year for both the city’s hotels and the Colorado Convention Center. “The competition’s crazy, especially in the convention-center market. When you see the cities that are investing in their infrastructure, both from a convention-center and a hotel perspective, it’s staggering. You know they’re out selling the dream — and we all do that, depending on what stage you’re at.”


That stiff competition in turn can translate to less repeat business from groups, especially when it comes to international business. “The average citywide type of group may have had a rotation cycle that was, say, four to five years,” Benedick said. “Now it’s not unusual to see rotation cycles of 10 to 12 years, because there’s so many more options for groups. We had a great citywide here last year, in the fall of 2015, and our next opportunity to bring them back to Denver is 2028.”

From groups’ perspective, some destinations’ brand assets may begin to resemble one another — so how do they distinguish themselves? Both Denver and Columbus, Ohio, emphasize their walkability, for instance, as well as their friendliness. “[Columbus] is a smart and open community with a dynamic convention package that can fit the needs of any group,” said Angela Hammond, CASE, CTA, director of convention sales for Experience Columbus.

While that’s true, it’s also true for a few other places just like Columbus. “My philosophy has always been, for our city, you don’t sell against the competition, because let’s face it, there are a lot of really great cities out there,” Benedick said. “You need to sell to the client, so it’s really about understanding what are the hot buttons for a group. What was their most successful meeting, where was it and why, and then how can we best position Denver to be that next best experience for them?”


To mine their own story, some destinations rely heavily on local resources and creative site visits. “We like to showcase the personality of the city through our members and partners, so people get a true sense of what D.C. is all about through a local perspective,” said Melissa Riley, vice president of convention sales and services for Destination DC. “The process is much more tailored than dates, rates, and space — it’s about how we can enhance the customer’s experience, and what we bring to the table that makes our destination different. Of increasing importance is showing the customer the local benefits, and their access to thought leaders and like-minded organizations in D.C. that will help them be successful.”

Local resources are also at the heart of what destinations can offer science and medical groups in particular. “It helps tremendously to have a strong local member, no matter what market — whether it’s medical, education, science, or whatever,” said Terry Kopp, director of sales for the Boise Convention & Visitors Bureau, “because they tend to know the hot buttons of every group, whether those have to do with air accessibility, what to see and do, or what the pre- and post-opportunities might be.”

Boise increasingly is using interactive and video elements in its proposals — including drone footage — while Experience Columbus has produced a series of polished videos, Hammond said, “to show Columbus’ vibrant offerings through the eyes of a first-time visitor and convention attendee.”


Yet no matter how imaginative a destination is with its marketing, time can be a foe “The biggest thing that has changed [with proposals] is the speed to market right now,” Benedick said. “There was a day when the three-ring-binder bid book was really standard and the time frames were longer. You received an RFP, you had a month or something to get everything together and respond.

“Now, we find it’s very common right now, even sometimes with large bids, that the response deadline is 24 hours, or the end of the week. People want the nitty-gritty first. They want to know, what’s my convention-center pricing, what space do I have, what does my hotel package look like? Sometimes it’s almost backwards — you get that stuff to them, and then they say, ‘Okay,’ and then that’s when they really starting to look at the destination.”

Corin Hirsch

Corin Hirsch is associate editor of Convene.