Destination Marketing Association International picked the exact right time to rebrand as Destinations International. This past year has produced significant challenges and opportunities for the industry, and it doesn’t look as though that volatility will change any time soon. As a result, Destinations International has amped up efforts in every department, from advocacy to research to education, to help its members more thoroughly communicate and demonstrate the value of CVBs.
“Working with CVBs now is different, as with anything, [compared to] 10 to 15 years ago, with the changing markets and consolidation,” said Colleen Phalen, CMP, CEM, executive vice president of program development and meetings for Destinations International. “We want to focus on what our value proposition is to the meeting planner, and most importantly, to our members.”
Destinations International is also seeking to live up to its new name. “Dotting the ‘I’ in international is going to be one of the biggest and most exciting things for us as an association,” said Andreas Weissenborn, director of research and analytics for Destinations International. “We had the ‘I’ before, but I think in 2018 you’re going to really see that start to take off, and not just in terms of membership but also partnerships as well.”
ADVOCATING FOR APPRECIATION
One area Destinations International is heavily focusing on is advocacy. “We’ve spent a lot of time over the last decade underscoring how important it is that a CVB engage in advocacy as part of their DNA,” said Jack Johnson, chief advocacy officer for Destinations International. “I think we’ve won that battle, and I think everyone understands that.”
Now, Destinations International wants to prepare CVBs for new challenges, like the close call that VISIT FLORIDA recently faced in terms of its funding, or event boycotts resulting from discriminatory legislation. “We are trying to … provide tools, education, and research to our members, but we are also trying to focus on two specific areas,” Johnson said. “One, educating our members so that they can develop and maintain grass-roots advocacy efforts on their own; but also to alert them to what we see as trends and real threats.”
So far, Destinations International has started organizing a rapid-response team of expert consultants that destination organizations can call on if they find themselves in a situation where they need advice quickly, as well as created a new peer-to-peer advocacy community to encourage conversation between CVBs. The organization will hold its inaugural Advocacy Summit in Baltimore on Oct. 25–26, 2017. They’re also trying to stay one step ahead, by closely tracking legislation and political conversations.
On the research side,“you’re really going to see us as an association be much more situated in the driver’s seat versus calling an Uber,” Weissenborn said. For example, Destinations International worked with Destination Analysts on a new study, “The DMO and the Future of the Meetings Industry,” just released at Destination International’s 2017 Annual Convention in Montreal in July, which took a comprehensive look at how more than 500 meeting planners think, use, and view destination organizations.
“I think the two areas where [members] really wanted to see more from this organization is hands-on help … but also relevant research,” Johnson said. He said that as a result, Destinations International has tweaked its research strategy, investing one- third of its time and efforts into basic organizational research — for example, a study on benefit compensation. The organization also plans to increase updates of its “DestinationNEXT Futures Study” to every two years, and is in the process of preparing more reports and research on general trends in the industry.
“So, that’s probably one-third of our efforts,” Johnson said, “and the other third is what are these burning issues? What are these threats that we need to address?” Which is why the organization embarked on “The Weaponization of Travel” study, released in July. Supported by a PCMA Education Foundation grant, the report looks at the impact of travel boycotts in North Carolina, Arizona, Indiana, Tennessee, and Mississippi, and whether or not they were effective.
A NEW LOOK
Erin Francis-Cummings, president and CEO of Destination Analysts, said that one of the top takeaways from “The DMO and the Future of the Meetings Industry” is that — no surprise here — planners are most concerned with attendee satisfaction. And one way CVBs can help planners deliver that is by becoming a planner’s in-the-know concierge, ready and waiting with the perfect recommendation — for everything.
Often, Francis-Cummings said, CVBs “are thinking so much about the hotel, … but there’s this whole other area of the destination … that [planners] want to rely on them for information — where the best restaurants are, where a great private dining room is, what the best neighborhoods are….” That’s a huge opportunity, as CVBs are one of the few sources — if not the only source — equipped to offer free, reliable, and unbiased expertise on their destination. In the study, planners identified the single-most innovative contribution CVBs could make to the meetings industry as an improved core focus on destination expertise.
Another takeaway from the study: Planners are trying to do more with less. However, event organizers are not always informed about how a CVB can save them money. According to the study, fewer than 10 percent of planners described a CVB’s role in the meetings process as to “provide or facilitate incentives,” and only 12 percent described it as to “provide support — saves time or money.”
“There’s a strong awareness of CVBs among meeting planners. There’s a lot of love there,” Francis-Cummings said. “But, there is not a strong understanding among meeting planners of the full breadth of services that CVBs provide. We hear from the CVB side: ‘Why aren’t we hearing from meeting planners more? We provide all these things.’” Yet the study reveals that a lot of them don’t know about all of the services CVBs provide. At the same time, Francis-Cummings said, meeting planners with smaller meetings reported feeling “abandoned” after booking their meeting or wanting more from the destination organization relationship.
Another area where planners expect more from CVBs: response times. “It’s interesting because when we asked about how CVBs failed to meet their expectations, being too slow to respond was the most common complaint from the meeting-planner side,” Francis-Cummings said. Destination Analysts plans to release a more comprehensive study that surveys CVBs on this topic as well as others.