How Planners Are Sold on Destinations

Meeting planners are most influenced by face-to-face interactions with destination representatives — as one might expect — according to Development Counsellors International's recent study. Other results, however, are more surprising.

More than 200 North American meeting planners with global meeting planning responsibilities participated in the Development Counsellors International (DCI) new study, “A View from Meeting Planners: Winning Strategies in Destination Marketing.”

The research— an updated version of a similar DCI study released in 2012 — offers a fresh look at how planners are making purchasing decisions and the factors influencing their perceptions about destinations.

Convene Editor in Chief Michelle Russell asked Daniella Middleton, DCI’s director of business events, for her perspective on what  the numbers mean:

Michelle Russell: It seems that from a perception standpoint, some cities are highly sought after, but from a cost perspective, they are too expensive and ranked less favorably. True?

Daniella Middleton
Daniella Middleton

Daniella Middleton: Correct. Fifteen percent of respondents report that New York City is their most favorable city in North America for business events, while a separate 16 percent indicated it as their least favorable city for business events in North America. The explanation is that a different segment of respondents prefer New York City than those that don’t prefer it — I would suspect that respondents who have lower budgets, such as association planners, could be part of the segment of respondents who ranked New York City as least favorable. Every respondent who wrote New York City down as their least favorable destination noted “cost” as the reason why.

This survey is a study of perceptions. For destinations that ranked on the least favorable list, it is important to know the main perceptions that are driving these rankings so that the DMOs can work to dial up positive attributes and in some cases, directly address any misperceptions that are reported. For example, San Francisco and Chicago were reported as having high labor union costs, which is why these two cities landed on the least favorable list. A suggestion to counteract this perception is perhaps educating planners through workshops on how to effectively work with labor unions and showcase the added value of labor unions in each of these destinations.

MR: One of the most interesting results was that face-to-face has risen in importance in terms of site selection, compared to the 2012 results. Namely, when identifying important sources of information, respondents ranked meeting with destination representatives,  business/personal travel, and dialogue with industry peers more highly than in 2012. And 11 percent fewer respondents cited online as an important source. Additionally, 88 percent ranked educational fam trips as a very important influence on their perception of a destination, compared with 72 percent in 2012. What do you make of this shift?

DM: We find this to be one of the most interesting results, too. In our industry, we are constantly reporting the importance of face-to-face meetings for corporations and associations, showcasing the incremental value that meetings, incentives, and conventions have on revenue and profits. To have meeting planners report the growing importance face-to-face interactions and business relationships have on the business they are conducting with suppliers is surprising — but only because we’ve been so focused on the meetings and events that they plan rather than industry events that are organized for them to meet with suppliers. As the number of these events increase, budgets increase, and we’re entering a supplier’s market — I think the shift is indicative of how important the supplier relationships are becoming for planners.   

MR: I was surprised that the potential for membership growth and/or customers ranked so low as a factor in making the decision on where to hold a meeting. Since the economy has improved since 2012, I would have thought that organizations would be investing in their growth, rather than still making decisions based so heavily on pricing. Your thoughts?

DM: I agree with you, as I was also initially surprised by these results. But then when we evaluate the responses in context, it makes sense that when ranking alongside really important issues — such as cost and safety and security — potential growth of membership is not likely to be the driving force for holding an international meeting if these other factors aren’t aligned with the organization’s expectations. From our previous research evaluating the Middle East as a potential business-events destination, we did report that growth of membership is an important reason American associations are looking to new regions to host their meetings. As a standalone question, planners will note the importance of growing membership, but when we ask them to rank this factor with more traditional factors, cost, accessibility, and safety and security are still the influential reasons one destination may be selected over another destination.

Overall, what surprised you about the results?

Daniella Middleton: Three years have passed since our 2012 study and social media is still not influencing planners when it comes to introducing them to new destinations. While I do think social-media platforms facilitate relationships between industry peers and supplier planners, the data doesn’t lie: It still isn’t received as a marketing platform. Additionally, while I hypothesized that printed marketing materials would receive a declining response in this year’s study, I’m surprised that only 6 percent of planners report using printed materials from DMOs. Death to the printed guides! While the number of printed materials has decreased at trade shows and events, I did a visual check of inventory of stands at IMEX America last week and some suppliers can’t seem to let go of their printed materials.

MR: What struck you as the biggest change from the 2012 results?

DM: How participation at face-to-face meetings industry events has increased. Attendance at IMEX America jumped from 25 percent to 66 percent between 2012 and 2015, according to our studies. While the show was relatively new in 2012, to see how much market share it has gained in the last three years is impressive — from both association- and corporate-planner participation. Also, almost a quarter (22 percent ) of respondents selected “other,” with many mentioning the smaller workshops, niche events, and appointment-based events. This is indicative of the number of face-to-face event options that now exist for planners (and suppliers). 

MR: What would be the one takeaway from the results from your perspective?

DM: Face-to-face and business relationships are the driving force of our industry, but creative events and customized content in publications will help get a destination’s branding messages across to the wider audience.

Most Favorable International Cities

1. London


2. Paris


3. Dublin


4. Barcelona


5. Amsterdam


6. Berlin


7. Rome


8. Dubai


9. Frankfurt


10. Sydney


Least Favorable International Destinations

1. Middle East


2. Mexico


3. Russia


4. Paris


5. Istanbul/Turkey


6. Greece


7. London


8. Rio de Janeiro


9. Barcelona


10. Sydney


Most Favorable North American Cities

1. San Francisco


2. Chicago


3. New York City


4. San Diego


5. Las Vegas


6. Orlando


7. Miami


8. Boston


9. Seattle


10. Vancouver


Least Favorable North American Destinations

1. New York


2. Detroit


3. Las Vegas


4. San Francisco


5. Chicago


6. Orlando


7. Miami


8. Dallas


9. Hawaii




Michelle Russell

Michelle Russell is editor in chief of Convene.