Whether you call them destination management organizations or convention and vistors bureaus, the partnerships that planners develop with their tourism suppliers can go a long way to ensuring a successful event. In this roundtable discussion, CME asked destination partners from across the country about some of the top issues when it comes to destination management.
Richard Yore, Director of Sales, Meetings and Conventions for Tourism Vancouver
Julie Holmen, Director of Sales, Corporate and Incentive, Tourism Toronto
Hélène Moberg, Executive Director, Sales, Destination Halifax
What are some of the key ways of building or improving relationships with meeting and event planners?
Yore: Tourism Vancouver has many innovative ways of interacting with meeting planners, association executives and volunteer congress chairs in various markets. In 2007, we created a Customer Advisory Board made up of high-level industry experts in the U.S. corporate and association market. The board meets annually to advise Tourism Vancouver on industry trends, and also provides feedback and makes recommendations for our sales activities. Our “Be a Host” program allows us to interact with potential conference chairs from across Canada who we assist in bidding for, organizing and supporting meetings that will be held in Vancouver.
Holmen: One of the things that we have made a priority in Toronto is making sure that we speak to our local meeting and event planners. It continues to amaze me how much intel they are able to provide about trends they are seeing, conversations they are having with other supplier organizations, and directions that their companies want to go with their own events. All of the information that they pass on helps set our team goals each year and add some incredible back up to the strategies that we put in place to justify what we do. Reaching out to the local planner base allows them to share their knowledge and in turn they become advocates for our city with testimonials and introductions to other potential clients.
Moberg: The key is to establish strong working client/supplier relationships and to get know the meeting planners on a personal level. It can take time to develop these relationships, but it’s very important to keep in touch on a regular basis. I am a firm believer in face-to-face meetings.
What are some of the benefits, as well as the challenges, of working with event planners?
Yore: Planners are a valuable resource in facilitating the planning, promotion and execution of events, and their expertise and insight is always appreciated. It can sometimes be challenging to consolidate the different viewpoints of clients, the bureau and planners into one vision, but it is a challenge easily overcome with open communication. Ultimately, we’re all working toward meeting the client’s needs and goals, and maintaining that focus helps with keeping planning on track.
Holmen: Communication is both a challenge and a benefit when we can engage in a discussion. We receive numerous RFP’s with a 24-hour deadline for response. Sometimes we can’t provide the best offer possible as we cannot gauge the interest of the group, hot buttons, and competition. Our biggest and best wins are when we feel that we get the information on what it will really take to be chosen as the host destination. Equally frustrating is when the RFP needs immediate turn around and we never, ever, hear back from the client. It’s okay if you pick another destination – just let us know so we can track internally.
Moberg: As a DMO, the biggest challenge is that after having established a relationship with a planner in promoting a destination, the clients often book directly with hotels, convention centres and venues without the DMO being aware. This can be addressed by the planner advising the DMO and seeking the DMO’s assistance in conducting space searches and preparing bid presentations. The benefit of working with planners is that they are organized, very knowledgeable, and professional.
What are the most recent developments within your particular area of expertise as it pertains to event planning?
Yore: The expansion and success of our “Be A Host” program, which was possible due to increased funding by new partners, has allowed us to advance well beyond the borders of Vancouver and the province of British Columbia to find advocates for conferences in Vancouver. Ever since the 2010 Winter Olympic Games, we’ve received keen interest from world-renowned researchers and academics who wish to host world congresses in our city. They are looking to showcase the best Canada has to offer: a sophisticated, cosmopolitan, safe and welcoming city surrounded by spectacular natural beauty of mountains, forests and ocean.
Holmen: The need to embrace and understand social media is a day-to-day topic of conversation, not only in our office but with the clients who we do business with. We are now expected more and more to know how to utilize the various social networks not only into our own events but helping pull them into the events that we host in the community.
Moberg: We are experiencing a huge increase with associations and corporations using site selection companies and third-party planners when selecting destinations for meetings and conventions. Corporate Social Responsibility is not an industry trend, but has become an expectation for planners and suppliers alike. Our industry needs to embrace CSR in order to achieve sustainable competitive advantages.
What changes would you like to see take place in the meetings industry as it relates to your city or region?
Yore: As part of Vancouver’s new Tourism Master Plan, we intend to create or support annual festivals and signature events that take place throughout the year. This includes helping local festivals grow their attendance, securing high-profile events like TED, rebooking past conferences and offering multiple-year deals to organizations and companies to hold their meetings in Vancouver.
Holmen: We welcomed Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference into Toronto in 2012 where they experienced record-breaking attendance and country partner representation, a huge success story for Toronto. Coming across the border from the U.S. is seen as a headache, but if you involve the right partners it can be very seamless. “Taking your event across the border” education towards the event planner and conference influencers is critical to Toronto or Canada for that matter. In addition, working with all levels of government and having them understand the economic impact of the meetings and events industry when it comes to jobs and spending only helps open more doors to business opportunities.
Moberg: A new multi-level convention centre and luxury hotel is scheduled to open in Halifax in early 2016. This facility – which will be a part of the Nova Centre, a LEED gold standard, one-million-square-foot mixed use development – will feature 120,000 square feet of rentable space, including a spectacular 30,000-square-foot ballroom overlooking the city.