Engagement + Marketing

Why DMOs Are Partnering With Economic Development Agencies

Earlier this year, Destination Marketing Association International (DMAI) released the findings of its annual Convention Sales & Marketing Activities Study

For the first time ever, the study posed questions to 150 destination- marketing CEOs about their relationship with their local government’s economic-development entity. “Based on the survey results,” said Victoria Isley, DMAI’s executive vice president and chief operating officer, “we learned that nearly half see the role and scope of [their] DMOs becoming more aligned with economic development.”

It’s something that Isley says has been popping up on DMAI’s radar more and more, overlapping with everything from how the roles of DMOs in their communities are evolving, to how DMOs are becoming more involved in destination development — or rather, Isley said, “becoming more involved with what investments or projects a community might make to continue to develop the destination.” In fact, it’s such a hot topic that DMAI, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, is exploring the trend in two additional studies. It will announce the results of one of the studies, Destination Next: A Strategic Roadmap for the Next Generation of Global Destination Marketing, at its Annual Convention in Las Vegas this July.

A close relationship between a DMO and its local economic-development agency isn’t anything new. According to Rick Weddle, president and CEO of the Metro Orlando Economic Development Commission and a fellow member of the International Economic Development Council, decades ago it wasn’t uncommon for a DMO to grow out of its city’s chamber of commerce or economic-development organization. For him, this full-circle loop back to a more cohesive relationship between the two entities isn’t a surprise.

“I think it’s a normal evolutionary process that is under way,” said Weddle, who has also led economic-development entities in North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park, Phoenix, and Toledo, Ohio. “They [both] started from that framework of a business- and government-led effort to improve and build a better economy and strengthen the quality of life in the area, so we were once kind of tied up as one.”

For many cities where tourism is a major economic driver, it makes sense that the DMO and economic-development entity would have a close working relationship. Both organizations often showcase the same assets to potential customers, whether they are meeting planners or business owners. “What makes a city a great place to live and work also makes it a great place to come for a convention,” said Scott Beck, president and CEO of Visit Salt Lake. “The local economic-development community says, ‘These site selectors are asking, where do people eat? What do people do when they’re not working? How do they get around?’ Those are the same exact questions meeting planners ask.”

Weddle thinks that it’s an important relationship for every destination to have, no matter how big a role tourism plays there. “We would misstate the facts to underestimate the strength of the tourism sector, even in places that you wouldn’t think of as major destinations,” Weddle said. “Not every place is a national or global destination. There are places that are regional meeting markets, there are places that are state meeting markets…. I’ve never found a city that it wasn’t important in.”

Like DMAI, Beck says he’s seeing the gap close between DMOs and economic-development entities — and considers that an important step for the meetings and conventions industry. “I believe that the reason meetings and conventions are still so relevant is that they are a good tool for developing business,” Beck said. But “I think it’s taken awhile for the economic-development community to realize that we are not party planners. Aligning ourselves with the business community has really gone a long way to raise our credentials as a destination.”

What follow are three examples of how DMOs and their local economic-development agencies have collaborated for the good of both their organizations — as well as their destination as a whole.


With tourism as Orlando’s No. 1 economic driver, it’s hard to imagine Visit Orlando and the Metro Orlando Economic Development Commission (EDC) not crossing paths. On one hand, the city’s tourism infrastructure is perhaps its greatest asset. Orlando is the most-visited destination in the United States, with the second-largest convention center — two factors that can go a long way in attracting companies that want to relocate there. Conversely, the region is strong in industries ranging from health care to modeling and simulation to digital media, which the EDC leverages both to attract business to the region, and to demonstrate that the destination has another side that’s very different from the theme-park wonderland that most visitors know it as.

‘There’s a natural potential for a relationship opportunity’ between Visit Orlando and the city’s economic-development community.

“There’s the natural potential for a relationship opportunity there,” George Aguel, president and CEO of Visit Orlando, said of his organization and the EDC. “[Visit Orlando] can be very supportive of helping [companies potentially interested in relocating] see a broader picture of how they might want to tap into the strengths of our local tourism economy. And it’s logical for us to partner with [the EDC], because as they seek to relocate companies to this area, we already know intuitively that [those companies] will generate business travel to the area, as they’re going to have their own conferences and business events.”

Last December, the two organizations took it a step further when, along with the Central Florida Partnership (CFP), a group of regional business and civic leaders, they collaborated on the first One Orlando Leadership Summit. The two-and-a-half-day event, held mainly at the Hyatt Regency Orlando, hosted 192 local leaders to give them a more in-depth look at the region’s economic assets. The schedule included VIP tours of I/ITSEC 2013 — the world’s largest modeling, simulation, and training conference, which meets annually at the Orange County Convention Center due in large part to Orlando’s being an epicenter for the industry — as well as networking sessions with site selectors who help businesses find office locations. And there were previews of in-the-works projects, such as SunRail, a new Central Florida commuter rail.

“[Sometimes] you don’t fully understand what you have in your own backyard,” said Aguel, who described the invitation-only event as an opportunity for Orlando leaders to get together and “set the direction for how we can work together to enhance the economy of our community.” He added: “One Orlando was intended to give everybody the ability to showcase our assets available across the destination, and see where we are in relationship to other communities, so we can keep enhancing what we do here for our citizens, conventions, visitors, as well as companies that might want to relocate here.”

The idea for One Orlando, Weddle said, grew out of the EDC’s habit of visiting other destinations in Florida and across the country to learn about best practices from its economic-development counterparts. Specifically, it came from a trip the EDC made to Austin. “One Orlando is a physical and operational manifestation of a larger, deeper, embedded framework of collaboration,” said Weddle, who added that Visit Orlando and the EDC also work together regularly in a number of other ways. For example, both Aguel and Weddle are members of each other’s boards of directors, and the two organizations’ leadership teams meet quarterly. Visit Orlando and the EDC also regularly partner for research purposes. “That grew out of a recognition that working together is really the best way to get things done,” Weddle said. “It sounds simple, but it is borderline profound.”


Forming a cohesive, destination-wide brand can help strengthen a city’s position as a place to do, bring, and start a business. That’s exactly what is happening with the Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau (PHLCVB) and its new campaign, “PHL: Here for the Making.” When the campaign debuted in 2012, it resonated so well with the rest of the city’s business community that earlier this year, PHLCVB announced that six other local economic-development and marketing organizations — the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, Select Greater Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation, the Pennsylvania Convention Center, the City of Philadelphia, and the Greater Philadelphia Hotel Association — had committed to adopting the campaign as their own.

What helps make the campaign work for such a broad array of organizations is its main catch-phrase, “Here for the Making,” which establishes a universal platform for all of the organizations’ missions — whether a group comes to Philadelphia for the making of a meeting, or a business locates there for the making of a new regional office. The six other organizations, called strategic partners, must commit a large portion or all of their advertising budgets to using the campaign’s creative assets and moniker in their own ad placements. Even Comcast/NBC, which is headquartered in Philadelphia, has shown support by pledging annual in-kind media placements.

The Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce and Select Greater Philadelphia, the chamber’s economic-development arm tasked with promoting the city and region, jumped at the chance to sign on as partners. Rob Wonderling, the chamber’s president, said: “We saw the campaign, and the opportunity to collaborate across many organizations, as a very supporting lead generator.”

“You have all of these organizations channeling their communications and advertising dollars into the umbrella [of ‘PHL: Here for the Making’], but underneath it, they’re crafting their specific message,” said Jack Ferguson, PHLCVB’s president and CEO. “Collectively, that common messaging has bonded all of us together to move things forward and make Philly a top-of-the-line destination for multiple reasons.”

But the collaboration between PHLCVB and the chamber goes beyond just advertising and marketing. “Select Greater Philadelphia has been very instrumental in analyzing North American Industry Classification System [NAICS] codes,” Ferguson said, “to ensure that we attract more attendees here than in other destinations.” How? The agency uses NAICS codes to categorize different economic sectors; analyzing them locally reveals what kinds of businesses make up the region’s economic landscape. “What we would do is use that data to see if there’s an installed base of [for example] wholesale food manufacturers,” Wonderling said. “If we determine [from] using those codes that this region has a significant portion, then it makes sense for Ferguson and his organization to sell to professional organizations that are in that sector, because there is already an installed base of members of that association that would be potential attendees.”

Since 1996, the Outdoor Industry Association’s (OIA) Outdoor Retailer Summer and Winter Market Tradeshows have taken over the Salt Palace Convention Center in downtown Salt Lake City every August and January, respectively. It’s the perfect type of event for the sports-happy destination, whose economy in recent years has been called one of the fastest-growing in the United States.

Black Diamond Inc., a major manufacturer of climbing, skiing, and hiking gear and equipment, moved to the city from Ventura, Calif., in 1991 after discovering the destination’s close proximity to the airport and the fact that a quick trip down the ski slopes was only 20 minutes from downtown. The company petitioned for a financial incentive from Utah to relocate, and the rest is history. That first big move, and the debut of the Outdoor Retailer shows a few years later, helped spur the relocation of dozens more outdoor manufacturers to Utah, including Amer Sports, Rossignol USA, and SCOTT.

Nowadays, Visit Salt Lake’s Beck works with the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development and the Economic Development Corporation of Utah (EDCUtah) to try to recreate those success stories as much as possible. Five years ago, he started meeting with representatives from both organizations every quarter to share resources and ideas, and the results have been positive. “We review target accounts from each organization relative to industry clusters,” Beck said. “EDCUtah will say, ‘We’re targeting composite manufacturers.’ We will say, ‘Here are our five target associations within the composites industry that we’re trying to recruit to Salt Lake for their national conventions.’ It’s amazing how those will line up, how there maybe a target company that is on the board of the association that we’re trying to recruit to Salt Lake for a meeting.”

Last summer, for example, when EDCUtah hosted a group of site selectors representing companies in the outdoor-manufacturing sector, Visit Salt Lake arranged VIP tours of the Outdoor Retailer Summer Tradeshow, and introduced members of the group to CEOs who had already relocated their companies to the state. The strategy works — within the past 10 years, 27 outdoor-manufacturing companies have relocated to Utah, which now is home to 60 companies within that sector. “The vast number of these companies weren’t here 10,15 years ago,” Beck said. “Without fail, every one of them has said that their exposure to the state through [OIA’s shows] is why they are in Utah.”

This collaboration has also benefited Visit Salt Lake itself, producing a number of what Beck calls “champions” for the destination. “We’re getting more opportunities to bid on conventions,… and it’s making us more appealing as a destination,” Beck said. “At the end of the day, we have to fight tooth and nail to raise awareness of the appeal of our destination. There are a lot of perceptions that are just not true about Salt Lake. Last year, we had gest year ever for site inspections — to me that’s a validation that these processes we put in place five years ago are really working.”

Jennifer N. Dienst

Contributing Editor Jennifer N. Dienst is a freelance writer based in Charleston, South Carolina.