How to Leverage Destination Management Companies for Crisis Event Planning
As the pandemic has wreaked havoc on the meetings and hospitality industry, destination management companies have been particularly vulnerable to huge waves of postponements and cancellations. These on-the-ground experts, always ready to organize ground transportation, offsite events, team building activities and more, normally serve to connect meeting planners to the multitude of opportunities available in a given location. .
But with Covid-19 thwarting most face-to-face gathering plans, 65% of DMCs have had to cut staff, according to a recent survey from International Association of Destination Management Executives; others have been forced to give up desks as bookings dwindle. And in the worst-case scenario, some companies have ceased operations altogether, as was the case with the global company Pacific World.
“Everyone has been deeply affected by Covid-19, but it has been particularly painful for DMCs,” said Stephanie Harrispresident of the Incentive Research Foundation. “They rely on group activities as their main source of income, unlike hotels or other areas where there is a leisure component to this activity. It has really changed the conversation about how management professionals destinations play into this environment and the value they bring.”
Although many of these companies have suffered losses and continue to face challenges, DMCs are responding to the crisis with a mixture of ingenuity and moxie, developing new skills, expanding their offerings and revamping their business practices to become more enduring forces in the meetings industry.
When business is affected as it has been in 2020, savvy companies are finding new ways to serve their customers. ADMEI’s survey found that nearly two-thirds of respondents added expanded and non-traditional offerings to support their businesses. Topping the list of new offerings are hybrid events.
“We see hybrid events as an opportunity,” says Trevor Hankmanaging partner of Destination Group 360. Gatherings with in-person and virtual elements are here to stay for the medium term and possibly the long term, he adds, so it’s worth learning how to leverage that fact to one’s advantage. business.
Legal Notice Events Group, a network company DMC, for example, has expanded its entertainment production services with a digital division. Just as DMCs can provide expert advice on the best venues for a program, says Nicole Maraispartner at Imprint Events Group, they should also consider providing advice on which digital platform might best serve a client’s virtual or hybrid event.
“It’s about getting anything from a team-building incentive to general logins into this virtual platform and then walking [the client] through him to answer the questions, ‘What does it look like if he’s a hybrid? What is the on-site experience of attendees versus someone watching online, and how can you make it particularly engaging? “, She says.
Local eyes and ears
While virtual components will certainly play a bigger role in events, many organizations are still gearing up for in-person gatherings in the near and distant future: over 80% of ADMEI survey respondents have a meeting face-to-face confirmed for the second quarter of 2021 or earlier. But with many planners unwilling or unable to travel for in-person site inspections, DMCs are finding their on-the-ground expertise more important than ever to help clients become familiar with all the options available at a destination. .
“DMCs are almost more crucial than they have ever been, simply because the landscape has changed so much and the hotel staff you may have called over the past 10, 15 years don’t may not be employed by this property, or could be furloughed,” Hanks says. “People really need to lean heavily on the DMC as a local expert.”
He points out how for several late 2020 events his company hosted, including a 500-person event in Florida several weeks ago, the unpredictability of when or if venues would be open, or what restrictions might be in place, made his DMC services crucial. to planners.
“What everyone knew about a city in the past is changing dramatically,” says Cosimo Bruzzese, vice president of business development, global sales, for ARP, who also participated in the IRF panel. “Some amazing sites that were perfect options in the past may no longer exist in 2021, so the DMC has a crucial role to play in supporting our customers and knowing what’s going on.”
DMCs have always been experts in helping to keep visiting groups safe; now that includes specific health issues related to Covid-19.
“[We’ve] really becoming more of an extension of the planning team when it comes to site visits, virtual site visits and really understanding how to get people around safely, whether it’s bus or check-in,” says Marsh. She points out that DMCs have become essential in helping planners navigate rapidly changing regulations at the state, county and even site level “Using DMCs as your resources, as your local eyes and ears, is huge. .”
While each hotel, venue and destination may have their own specific measures in place, DMCs can help connect the dots and provide an overarching strategy to ensure every attendee is safe. “There’s so much bias going into program operations these days,” Hanks says. “Pre-cons go on for hours now because there’s so much protocol. There’s so many guidelines for social distancing, food preparation and food service – you really have to go through everything with a comb end, so everyone is on the same page and there is no doubt when the program will take place.”
It touches every part of the participants’ journey. “Now during pre-cons, you talk about the flow of people leaving the meeting room, going out into the lobby or the foyer,” Marsh adds.
For some DMCs, this exceptionally quiet year has been an opportunity to review their business processes and strengthen local partnerships. This is how Shawn Sawyer, president and creative director of Cacique Internationala Bahamas-based DMC, approaching 2020.
Cacique was able to retain 98% of this year’s business by moving bookings to 2021 and 2022. After rescheduling those customers, instead of checking in with them repeatedly, Sawyer focused on what he calls the “internal customers”.
“We took this time to really focus on our procedures, our standard operating procedure manuals and our software,” he says.
He and his team have also reached out to long-time local partners to find new ways to work with them when business picks up, to “improve our services for us working together and for the end consumer”.
Seeking support and collaboration
According to the ADMEI survey, the top resources DMCs currently need are industry advocacy, followed by access to a network of legal, financial, business or medical professionals to consult, and leadership to provide an organized and unified voice to the industry.
“DMCs are part of a much larger meetings and events ecosystem,” says Alaina Tobarregional general manager of PRA Northern California and President of ADMEI. “It is essential that we work together to raise our voices for the entire events industry”, ADMEI’s advocacy efforts are aligned with the Events Industry Counciladds Tobar, who is developing a broader strategy.
Hanks of 360 Destination Group adds that the challenges of the current crisis have provided DMCs with an opportunity to work together to develop best practices and update existing ones. citing the efforts of ADMEI, as well as those of the Live Events Coalition and the DMC Coalition.
As difficult as the market remains, Tobar is confident that meetings and events will resume – but things will likely be very different from what they were before the pandemic.
“We can’t go through something like this and not come out changed on the other side,” she postulates. “We need to learn from this and be stronger. We need to continue to evolve with the ever-changing landscape, refining our skills and expanding our offerings, so that we can continue to provide the same levels of service as our customers. expect us when we return.”