Convene Attends DMAI in New Orleans

For the last two days, I've been on site at the Sheraton New Orleans for the 97th Annual Convention of Destination Marketing Association International, or DMAI.

Of course, any time one gets to visit New Orleans is a good one — but it’s even more fun to be here with 1,077 travel-promotion and sales executives (and exhibitors) from destination marketing organizations (DMOs)/CVBs from all over the U.S. (and nine other countries besides), and all in one hotel on Canal Street, right on the edge of the French Quarter.  On Wednesday night the Convene team had dinner at Dickie Brennan’s Bourbon House, where I had some killer (but very messy) peel-’em and eat-’em barbecue shrimp. Delicious.

On the way down to the Big Easy from the Big Apple, I got to see a little case-in-point regarding the importance and uniqueness of face-to-face meetings. As everyone was boarding the plane, a heard a guy behind me run into a business acquaintance he hadn’t seen in some time. It turns out that the two of them were both on their way down to a spirits convention/festival called Tales of the Cocktail. The first guy worked at Esquire, and the other was the new publisher at Spin. (I ascertained all this information by using the tried-and-true journalist’s method of 1) eavesdropping and 2) smartphone Googling.)

It turned out, in fact, that much of the plane was headed to Tales of the Cocktail. The back of the plane was like a mini-networking reception, with colleagues from various magazines catching up and swapping stories. As we were waiting to deplane, I heard my seatmate and another fellow discussing the hotels they were staying at; how the bar at one was closed for renovation; how the elevators at one property were intolerably slow; and so on. Clearly people were really looking forward to this meeting.

The following day, at DMAI, I attended a session outlining the organization’s new Event Impact Calculator, which is designed to help DMOs/CVBs justify to their stakeholders their value — how much tax and other revenue that a meeting they bring to town contributes to the local economy. It seems like this will be a really powerful tool for DMOs to make a case for their funding — or, as the DMAI leadership recommended rephrasing this during a general session yesterday, their “investment.”

At the end of that session about the Event Impact Calculator, Denny Edwards, president and CEO of the Greater Raleigh CVB, asked whether the new tool might could cause turbulence, if a meeting planner assumed that the value of his or her meeting in New York City (where costs are of course higher than in most places) would necessarily be the same in a less expensive city like Raleigh. The panelists said that DMOs/CVBs would have to educate their meeting-planner customers about that.

I relayed Denny’s question to Michael Gehrisch, DMAI’s president and CEO, later that day at the Annual Convention’s Media Roundtable. Gehrisch said that, yes, this would be an issue that DMOs/CVBs would have to address as they begin using the Event Impact Calculator and sharing that information with their meeting-planner clients. But, at the end of the day, the tool should help planners as well — after all, if the DMO/CVB they are working with has a better understanding of what their business is worth, that organization will be on stronger footing when it lobbies its board for incentives to bring that business to their city. Thus, a rising tide of more accurate and verifiable data lifts all boats.

Hunter R. Slaton

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