Trendspotting at DMAI’s 2016 Annual Conference

Earlier this week I headed to Minneapolis to join about 1,500 DMO professionals at Destination Marketing Association International’s annual conference. Led by new president and CEO Don Welsh, DMAI sought to make this year’s event bigger and better with the theme “It’s a Brand New Day.” This being my first time attending the show, I have no point of reference with which to compare—though the highly energetic opening session that saw Welsh shaking his groove thang to KC and The Sunshine Band’s “Boogie Shoes” certainly kicked off the conference on a high note. (That evening’s reception at the brand-new U.S. Bank Stadium didn’t hurt, either.) If you didn’t make it to the show, here are a few trends I picked up on that are worthy of note. Urban incentives will make a big splash in 2017, if Jerry Cito has his way. Of course, the senior vice president of convention development for NYC & Company is a tad biased. Indeed, there are plenty of new opportunities for giving incentive winners what they want—a one-of-a-kind experience they couldn’t get on their own—outside of a tropical locale. “It’s time to get them off the beach,” says Cito, citing VIP New York City-centric activities such as behind-the-scenes tours of Broadway, exclusive sample sales and private fun runs through Central Park. Hotel development has a huge impact on DMO marketing efforts, and Fort Lauderdale, Florida, is a brilliant example of that. Beginning in 2007 when a St. Regis (now a Ritz-Carlton) was erected in the city, many new, high-end hotels have come on board—including W Fort Lauderdale, the all-suite Hilton Fort Lauderdale Beach Resort, a Melia property opening soon, a Conrad in 2017 and a Four Seasons in 2018. This added infrastructure has been “transformative” for the city, says Christine Roberts-Tascione, CMP, vice president of convention sales and services for the CVB, as it’s allowed them to target more affluent travelers and convention markets. Airlift has been, is and always will be a major make (or break) for DMOs. When asked about what’s new in their cities, many CVB executives I spoke with talked about new flights the way a kid might share about his puppy. While it sounds funny to get excited about air travel these days, direct routes can be game changers for a destination—take a new direct from New York City to Sydney (coming soon, promises Paul M. Griffin, business events manager of Americas for Tourism Australia), for example. After all, even the most beautiful hotel at the most affordable price isn’t going to work if you can’t get attendees there. The business of sports events is bigger than ever. DMO professionals on-site frequently cited large-scale sporting events as major moneymakers; furthermore, they talked about the tremendous marketing opportunity those events provide. “You’re on the grand stage,” says Mark Vaughan, executive vice president and chief sales and marketing officer at Atlanta CVB, of events like the College Football Playoff National Championship (coming to Atlanta in 2018), Super Bowl LIII (2019) and the NCAA Men’s Final Four (2020). Likewise, the 35th America’s Cup, not taking place until summer 2017, has already been a huge boon for Bermuda, giving it credibility as a destination for other sports events, says Jamel Hardtman and Karin A. Darrell with Bermuda Tourism Authority. Smaller destinations sometimes face an uphill battle with hotel revenue managers, especially in highly seasonal regions, explains Mark Crabb, chief sales officer with California’s Sonoma County Tourism. “We’re competing with the transient industry,” says Crabb. “Business is being turned down for groups because they’d rather sell it to a visitor coming into town last-minute on a higher ADR.” Contributing to the higher room rates that often turn groups off was minimal building during the last recession, notes Crabb, which has led to hotel supply falling short of demand in Sonoma County. Photo credit: @meetDMAI