Engagement + Marketing

What DMOs Are Doing to Stand Out

Why have some DMOs replaced their traditional name — the classic Convention & Visitors Bureau — with action words? And how has it worked out?

If you’re wondering when and why CVBs began adopting more artful, expansive names — Meet Minneapolis, Choose Chicago, Visit Salt Lake, NYC & Company — look no further than their own industry organization. It wasn’t so long ago that Destination Marketing Association International (DMAI) was called the International Association of Convention & Visitors Bureaus (IACVB).

But change comes from within. In 2000, the IACVB Foundation published The 2000 CVB Future’s Project Report, a comprehensive look at what issues destination marketing organizations needed to be thinking about for the coming years. One topic the report zeroed in on was branding — particularly as it related to consumers. Three years later, IACVB decided to look at the issue in greater depth, and commissioned focus groups and hired a researcher and brand expert to get a handle on what the DMO industry’s next steps should be.

The result was the Destination Brand Leadership campaign. “We looked hard at the industry,” said Kristen Clemens, until recently DMAI’s vice president of marketing and communications, asking essential questions such as “How do people know what we do? A lot of consumers use CVBs, but don’t have any clue what they do.”

Starting From the Top

The simple answer to the question of what a CVB does is that it serves as the official destination marketing organization (DMO) of its community. Therefore, a CVB’s brand strategy should always be focused on the destination itself, rather than on the organization — an idea that might previously have been regarded as conventional wisdom, but that was officially enshrined as a best practice with the Destination Brand Leadership campaign. IACVB underscored that point in 2005, when it changed its name to Destination Marketing Association International.

While DMAI never explicitly told its CVB members that they should change their own names, Clemens said, “We wanted to give them a green light that they don’t need to keep this [traditional] name just for the sake of it.” Still, “Naming should always be a secondary part of the strategy,” said Duane Knapp, the brand adviser who helped develop Destination Brand Leadership while working as a consultant for DMAI. “That doesn’t mean that some organizations don’t do it the other way around. But the whole point of a strategy for a brand is how you want people to feel about you. And just because you change your name doesn’t mean people are going to feel differently about you.”

Duane E. Knapp
‘The whole point of a strategy for a brand is how you want people to feel about you. And just because you change your name doesn’t mean people are going to feel differently about you.’

Another key finding of the work — detailed in Knapp’s 2005 book Destination BrandScience and its follow-up, Global Destination BrandScience, published last November — was that an organization known as the official destination marketing organization for its community, rather than as a “convention and visitors bureau,” would resonate more with the members of that community. And so, although this hadn’t been the original intent of the research, Knapp said, IACVB “decided then, based on the information, to change its identity … and really embrace this whole concept of destination marketing organizations worldwide.”

“For us,” Clemens said, “as far as looking at who our membership was, looking globally, a lot of DMOs don’t use that CVB nomenclature.” Remaining the International Association of Convention & Visitors Bureaus wasn’t the best fit in terms of focus, so the organization adopted a new name that dropped the CVB. Many CVBs themselves would soon follow suit.

Taking the ‘CVB’ Out of CVBs

Of course, DMAI never explicitly recommended that DMOs change their names — and in fact many haven’t. An estimate made by a Colorado Springs CVB executive in 2011 determined that 80 percent of DMAI-member DMOs still had the old-style names. Those bureaus that did change their names did so for a variety of reasons, in many cases unique to their own situation.


Melvin Tennant
‘Destinations are more than just a commodity. So what can you do to distinguish yourself from your competitors?’

The Greater Pittsburgh Convention & Visitors Bureau was an early adopter, changing its name to VisitPittsburgh in 2006. “The thinking was simply that ‘the Greater Pittsburgh CVB’ was long, it was confusing, and it gave the impression that we were a government agency and that we ran the convention center, which we do not,” said VisitPittsburgh President and CEO Craig Davis, CDME. And it sounded so bureaucratic.”

The Greater Minneapolis Convention + Visitors Association also changed its name in 2006 — to Meet Minneapolis — as a result of the thinking that emanated from DMAI, both from the Destination Brand Leadership campaign and from the association’s own name change. “Destinations are more than just a commodity,” said Melvin Tennant, CAE, Meet Minneapolis’ president and CEO. “So what can you do to distinguish yourself from your competitors? We wanted to figure out a way to tell a story in our name and also create a call to action.” Hence, Meet Minneapolis. “It’s telling the visitor what we want them to do,” Tennant said. And “the double entendre” — speaking to both meeting planners (“Meet in Minneapolis”) and tourists (“Let us introduce you to Minne apolis”) — “made it really work for us.”

While the name change has been successful, Minneapolis more recently, in late 2010/early 2011, adopted a new brand — “City by Nature,” with “City of Water” as a close runner-up. That, Tennant said, “is really where we have gotten traction, as opposed to the name of the organization.”

Chloe Couchman
‘The mayor decided before [last summer’s] Olympic Games he wanted all of his promotional agencies to sit as one. We wanted to highlight how important our partners are to us.’

The Chicago Convention & Tourism Bureau’s (CCTB) name change to Choose Chicago, which became official in July 2012, was the result of a more mechanical process, according to Warren Wilkinson, Choose Chicago’s chief marketing officer. The goal was to consolidate multiple tourism organizations in the city, most notably CCTB with the Chicago Office of Tourism and Culture. “Historically Chicago had a bifurcated tourism effort,” Wilkinson said, “with [the Office of] Tourism [and Culture] handling leisure and CCTB focusing on meetings and conventions business.”

But after research and analysis by Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office, “We realized there was a lot of upside in consolidating efforts under one organization,” said Wilkinson, and “the CCTB team was selected as the agency to move forward as the consolidator.” But the bureau couldn’t go on operating as the CCTB, because its responsibility as an organization had changed so dramatically. As it happened, CCTB’s website was already choosechicago.com, whereas the Office of Tourism and Culture was using explorechicago.org. “What name resonates?” Wilkinson asked. “Choose Chicago makes all the sense in the world. It’s an actionable name, it makes sense for meetings, and it makes sense for leisure visitation.”

Visit London got its new name, London & Partners, by way of a similar process when in April 2011 it merged with two different organizations, Study London and Think London. “The mayor decided that before [last summer’s] Olympic Games he wanted all of his promotional agencies to sit as one,” said Chloe Couchman, London & Partners’ head of communications for business and major events. The new umbrella organization could have used the name Visit London, but “[the mayor] just felt like it needed a new name,” Couchman said, and that it “made sense to have a fresh start.”

Doug McLain
‘It’s important for DMOs to prove their value through economic development in the local economy.’

“London & Partners” was chosen not only to represent the three organizations coming together under one banner, but also to underscore the importance of the many different hospitality businesses — hotels, restaurants, tourist attractions — that are part of the city’s hosting efforts. “We wanted to highlight how important our partners are to us,” Couchman said, and also, as the British idiom goes, “to say what it does on the tin.”

Moving in the other direction, away from general tourism, the Melbourne Convention + Visitors Bureau recently announced that it would be known simply as the Melbourne Convention Bureau (MCB). “MCB’s sole responsibility is for the procurement of business events that attract delegates to [the state of] Victoria, including conventions, meetings, and incentive travel reward programs, and this has been the case for many years now,” said Karen Bolinger, MCB’s CEO. “Therefore, we needed the name change to disassociate ourselves with leisure tourism…. There were a few other names that were flagged as possibilities, but we felt that the term ‘convention bureau’ is used worldwide and most adequately reflects what we do.”

Craig Davis
‘The thinking was simply that “the Greater Pittsburgh CVB” was long, it was confusing, and it gave the impression that we ran the convention center, which we do not.’

Back in the United States, Tampa Bay & Company — previously the Tampa/Hillsborough Convention & Visitors Authority, then the Tampa Bay Convention & Visitors Bureau — changed its name in 2007 to help position the organization “as one of the lead economic development drivers in the … region,” said Doug McLain, Tampa Bay & Company’s vice president of marketing and communications. “It’s important for DMOs to prove their value through economic development in the local economy. We create 70,000 jobs here, and a lot of wages — but a lot of that is not seen as a specific industry.”

Now, though, Tampa Bay & Company has yet another name change in the works, as part of a larger rebranding effort. According to a spokesperson for the DMO, “The trend five to seven years ago was to brand the actual CVB, and like many other destinations, we are now refocusing on branding our destination.” Although Tampa Bay is still “in the deciding phase” for its new name, a January column in the Tampa Bay Times cited McLain as saying that a name change to something with “Visit” in its title “immediately alerts people to what the agency does.” The newspaper columnist put his money on “Visit Tampa Bay.”

That Went Well

How have these new names landed, with both meeting planners and the general public? Pittsburgh considered Discover, Experience, Travel, and Tourism Pittsburgh before settling on VisitPittsburgh, and “the new name stuck right away,” Davis said. “It was one of the most easy transitions I’ve ever experienced.” While there may have been some initial confusion when the first few CVBs changed their names, Davis said, “By the time we went that direction there was a nomenclature in the business that people knew what it meant.”

Amy Long

‘Meeting planners couldn’t care less what the name is. They just want to get their information.’

In Chicago, the new DMO wasn’t too much of an issue for meeting planners, because CCTB was already tied to Choose Chicago via its web address. The general public “gets it a bit more now,” Wilkinson said, “… and if the general public gets it, our customer will get it.”

Wilkinson also noted that, like many DMOs that have changed their names, the Chicago bureau still legally remains CCTB — but really just for technical reasons, tied to revenue that the organization receives from the state and in order not to invalidate certain contracts. Tennant echoed Wilkinson, saying, “It’s really just a technicality. Some people locally remember us as the Minneapolis CVA.” As for meeting planners and tourists considering Minneapolis, Tennant said that leisure visitors are looking for some of the same attributes that meeting planners are in terms of destination appeal, so the new name speaks to both groups.


It’s Not For Everyone


But not all DMOs have experienced such a no-fuss transition. Experience Colorado Springs at Pikes Peak ran into enough trouble with its new name, which it adopted in fall 2005, that last year it decided to switch back to the Colorado Springs Convention & Visitors Bureau.

‘We looked hard at the industry. How do people know what we do? A lot of consumers use CVBs, but don’t have any clue what they do.’

Colorado Springs is a long city name to begin with, according to Amy Long, the CVB’s vice president of marketing and partnerships, and adding another long word like “Experience” in front of it was “kind of a burden, from talking about it to putting it in your email address.” She added: “If you are going to stay on brand, it’s just a really long name.” Colorado Springs also encountered problems at trade shows, because when it submitted its name to be listed in the exhibitor directory, it would be appear under the E’s instead of where people would expect to find it, under the C’s.

Kristen Zern, executive director of the Association of Travel Marketing Executives, agrees that the change to the “Action Verb-City Name” format seems counterintuitive. “It seems like most of them should be starting with the name of the location,” she said. But Zern can understand why many bureaus have elected to go down this road for the simple reason that most DMOs “got a better response when they did that,” she said. “It just gave it more of a marketing spin, made it more fun, and made it sound less like a government-based group to support the destination.”

As for Colorado Springs, “It just wasn’t worth it,” Long said. “Meeting planners couldn’t care less what the name is. They just want to get their information. And those who know how to use the CVB to their advantage are very familiar with the term ‘CVB,’ and we don’t want them to not be able to find us at a trade show or stumble over our name.”

Hunter R. Slaton

Contributing Editor Hunter R. Slaton is a writer and editor based in Brooklyn.