Engagement + Marketing

Sell Your Meeting Like It’s 2019 (Not 1999)

Disruption. It’s a term used liberally these days in almost every industry, from video to transport to fast food. How does it apply to our industry?

Hand schiebt einen Stein in eine Linie aus vielen Steinen

Disruption. It’s a term used liberally these days in almost every industry, from video (Netflix) to transport (Uber) to fast food (Chipotle). It’s also upending the world of destination marketers, aka DMOs, who heard all about shaking it up during the 101st annual convention of the Destination Marketing Association International (DMAI) in Austin last week.

“Our industry is going faster than it ever has before. It will never go this slowly again,” said Greg Klassen, a veteran travel and tourism industry strategist, as well as principal of consultancy Twenty31, during a breakout session. “If you want to lament disruption in the tourism industry, know that it’s the reason our industry is growing so quickly.”

Greg Klassen
Greg Klassen

Quickly, indeed. The tourism sector is predicted to outpace overall U.S. economic growth in the next decade (4.4 versus 2.3 percent annually, according to new figures from the World Travel & Tourism Council). And with that growth comes an ever-growing roster of players: Wayblazer, Airbnb, and Couchsurfing, to name a few.

While it took the world 1,000 years of tourism to reach one billion travelers, said Klassen, “It will take only 19 more to reach two billion” — a tide of mostly hyperconnected, savvy travelers (and attendees) who consider where and when to travel, as well as how often, in ever-evolving, digitally based ways.

Klassen was just one of a handful of DMAI presenters who focused on disruptive forces in tourism, but his message of “risk equals reward” offers lessons for event marketers looking to distinguish their meetings and incite people to attend.

Use your brains, rather than a huge marketing budget.

Rather than pursue a billboard or “one more one-page ad,” said Klassen,”market like it’s 2019, not 1999,” said Klassen, who has worked extensively with the Canadian Tourism Commission. “Understand precisely the type of customer you need to go after.” Then, target them on social media, via video content or alignment with lifestyle brands, and through personalization of big data. The goal: To move away from focusing on brand awareness and toward an traveler/attendee’s consideration phase. “They don’t need us [DMOs] anymore unless we assert ourselves in a different way,” said Klassen. “Embrace these new tools.”

Consider previous visitors (or attendees) as part of your sales team.

Did attendees leave your last meeting energized and inspired? Then they can speak for your brand, via social media and word of mouth, more powerfully than sometimes “myopic” ad agencies, said Klassen. “Those millions and millions of people who visit destinations are your sales force of the future,” he said, so follow their digital footprints to know their behaviors and keep them engaged.

Find your local and authentic side, and promote the heck out of it (online).

Millennial travelers and attendees will dominate the marketplace by 2030, and they gravitate toward “bespoke, boutique, and curated experiences,” said Klassen. He broke these these down into three types: Boulders, or the physical, iconic tenets of a destination or meeting (think the New York City skyline); rocks, or the complementary experiences (a Broadway show); and pebbles — the subtle but distinctive experiences, such as a unique bakery (selling cronuts, maybe), that communicate authenticity. “Understand the unique selling points of your brand,” said Klassen, “and understand how to deliver them.”

Corin Hirsch

Corin Hirsch is a writer who specializes in food and drink.