Destinations International’s annual conference pointed the way to the future

The big reveal at the annual conference in Montreal for the group formerly known as Destination Marketing Association International (DMAI) was a new look, message and name for the host, now to be known as Destinations International.

“We are fundamentally changing the way we operate,” said Don Welsh, Destinations International president and CEO. At the opening session, in front of 1,400 people whose job it is to bring groups to their communities, he stressed that the changes go beyond a new logo on business cards and polo shirts. “Destinations International represents a powerful, forward-thinking, collaborative association; exchanging bold ideas, connecting innovative people and excelling tourism to its highest potential,” he said.

Travel Wars

One way the organization advocates is through research. In partnership with PCMA Education Foundation and APCO Insight, Destinations International presented a study on the economic impact of the weaponization of travel. It showed that a steady barrage of travel boycotts launched against states such as North Carolina, Indiana, Tennessee, Mississippi and Arizona have brought attention to controversial issues and had an economic impact on the hospitality sector, but have not been consistently effective in changing policy.

The study surveyed travelers about their awareness of the bans and the potential impact on travel intent. One in three surveyed said they are less likely to go to a targeted state, compared to one in 10 who said a ban would make them more likely to go to that state.

Data showed that boycotts, bans and advisories that resulted from controversial legislation have, indeed, resulted in millions in lost state revenue from relocated conferences and stagnation in room rates. It noted that the Center for Association Leadership has encouraged members to include language in contracts to make cancellations an option if controversial legislation affects a meeting.

Next Steps

DestinationNext Futures Study acknowledged that while leisure tourism and business events have outpaced GDP growth the last six consecutive years and created almost 300 million jobs, the industry is under-valued.

It identified roles destination organizations could play to help event professionals and individual travelers as demand shifts to the experience economy. Delivering polished virtual reality video and a compelling social media presence are now the price of entry for selling a location. In addition to authentic experiences, travelers are demanding security, personalization and options for attendees to be entertained during white space in a program.

The study identified a convergence of tourism and business events with economic development as one of the major trends to look for in the coming years. In this new reality, destination marketers will play the role of curators, adopters, catalysts, activists and collaborators. That means they could be a valuable resource for insider tips on how to craft an experience that leverages the unique character of the destination, while understanding the limits of the resources available.

Room Boom

One more study offered on the final day of the conference was CBRE Hotels’ annual forecast. It showed that while hotel demand is up for 2017, developers are in the process of building 200,000 sq. ft. of hotel space right now. That means that even though the fundamentals (business investment and consumer consumption) remain attractive in a majority of markets, the scale of new supply in some areas could keep prices down there, while providing opportunities for new meeting experiences.

The locations of those new properties might surprise some planners, however. The cities with the most growth in supply on the horizon were identified as Austin, Texas; Charlotte, North Carolina; New York City; and Houston.

Sweet Couplings

One sweet announcement made at the conference was a partnership with James Beard Foundation to aid destinations positioning themselves as foodie places. The pairing will start with JBF Taste America events and grow from there.

This was in addition to strategic partnerships with Destination Marketing Association of Canada, and dialogue announced after meetings with The Tourism Industry Association of Canada, Meetings Mean Business Canada and Destination Canada.

Au Revoir

The three-day conference included 77 sessions and 100 exhibitors, and showed off the best of The City of a Hundred Steeples with an opening party at Terrasses Bonsecours restaurant. Now, all eyes are on Anaheim, California, as the location for next year’s big reveal.