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DMAI Turns 100

If an association makes it to its hundredth anniversary, it’s a good time to reflect on its history and look ahead to its future. And that’s just what DMAI (Destination Marketing Association International) did at its 100th Annual Convention.

As temperatures soared into the triple digits in Las Vegas, a record number of attendees — 1,300 DMO professionals — poured into the Aria Resort & Casino to kick off the convention on Monday afternoon. Before graffiti artist Erik Wahl took the stage for the Opening General Session, captivating the audience with what can be best described as a bit of motivational performance art DMAI paid tribute to its past.

Individuals who have shaped the DMO community over the past 100 years were named into DMAI’s newly minted Hall of Fame. A celebration of the inductees — “pioneers, champions, and influencers” — began by acknowledging Milton J. Carmichael, president/CEO/founder of the Detroit Convention and Tourists’ Bureau, who conceived of the idea of actively inviting conventions to meet in Detroit at the turn of the 20th century.

Other inductees who were awarded posthumously included Leonard Rolston, former president of the Greater Houston CVB; Peggy Flower, former executive director of convention sales for the Greater Omaha CVB; and George Kirkland, former president of the Los Angeles CVB. Rounding out the six awardees were Rossi Ralenkotter, president/CEO of the Las Vegas CVB, and Gary Grimmer, CEO of Gaining Edge.

In a nod to the future of the DMO industry, DMAI recognized its fourth list of “30 Under 30 Ambassadors” during the convention. And while talented individuals will no doubt carry the industry forward, an understanding of the trends that will shape destination marketing in the near future is essential. This milestone year was an apt time in the association’s history to embark on a landmark research project: DestinationNEXT: A Strategic Roadmap for the Next Generation of Global Destination Marketing, led by InterVISTAS and made possible by a grant from the Destination & Travel Foundation.

Tuesday morning, InterVISTAS Executive Vice President Paul Ouimet presented highlights from the survey, in which 327 DMOs from 36 countries across seven continents participated. Initial results indicate that DMOs face great transformational opportunities — and “there are three balls to keep your eyes on,” Ouimet told the group. The first is moving from broadcast to engagement — “from push [marketing] to pull,” he said, which of course includes the use of social media. Second is brand building — “that will be the major responsibility of the DMO of the future,” Ouimet said. The third element is the evolution of the business model, which will include the opportunity to play an expanded role in the community on economic development issues. Full results of the study are available on DMAI’s website.

On the final day of the convention, DMAI took full advantage of its host venue by featuring general session speaker Welby Altidor, executive director of creations, creative content division for Cirque du Soleil. Altidor talked about the power of storytelling from the stage of Aria’s Zarkana Theater, where Cirque du Soleil’s “Zarkana” is performed.

The closing general session later that afternoon carried through on some of the themes from the DestinationNEXT survey findings. Innovation expert and Leapfrogging author Soren Kaplan spoke about reinvention and the need for businesses to recognize that “they are in the business of creating outstanding experiences.”

DMAI members will continue learning about that evolving business next year, July 15–17, in Austin, Texas.

Michelle Russell

Michelle Russell is editor in chief of Convene.