Let destination management companies help you look good

In early April, Meeting Professionals International began promoting Going Local, a new certificate program. The three-hour course is designed to help planners create an event environment that authentically reflects the host destination. It teaches best practices for incorporating local food and beverages, culture and subject experts.

Going Local is being echoed by hotel brands, which are positioning themselves as “experience curators.” For instance, Marriott International is trying to differentiate its 30 brands not only through architecture, decor and amenities, but also by facilitating unique experiences on property (or nearby) that match the interests of that brand’s guest profile.

So, does that mean planners should only rely on themselves or local hoteliers to infuse their gatherings with local flavor? Not necessarily. There has long been another option—a destination management company (DMC). Yes, they charge for their services, but they might end up costing no more and delivering a better experience.

A Simple Solution

Planners can hand off time-consuming duties to a well-connected local DMC which, in turn, can provide a seamless experience—a good first impression, in particular. Val Lenington, co-founder of Ultimate Ventures in Dallas, says half her business is transportation-related. A destination arrival, she says, sets the tone for an entire event.

“Because of the size and layout of an airport like Dallas, group coordination can be very challenging,” Lenington says. “We simplify the process to make that impression exceptional.”

Jack Hardy, owner of Arizona Creative Events in Phoenix, agrees that putting the right number of knowledgeable locals at the welcome area—and then stationing them at off-site venues during the meeting—is reason enough for planners to turn over their event-transportation plan to a DMC.

“We also plan out alternate travel routes that might have to be used at certain times of day, which can preserve a good attendee experience,” he says.

A Cultural Experience

Another key benefit DMCs provide is insider knowledge of local history, culture and trends, as well as the most unique—and reliable—event options in their destination. DMCs are often able to offer choices meeting planners wouldn’t normally be able to have on their own, Lenington says.

Hardy says a DMC should ask a lot of questions about the meeting’s objectives, as well as the group’s demographic. “Our job is to become an extension of the client in the destination,” he says, “and that entails much more than simply picking up the phone and making reservations, like a concierge.”

Even something straightforward, such as an opening-night, off-site dinner, can tax planners’ limited local intelligence. “They have to book catering, decor, entertainment and other vendors, which is what we do in our destination every day,” Hardy says. “And we can do it at reasonable cost. We have relationships with vendors.”

A Creative Touch

Popular client experiences Lenington has seen of late include bucket-list items, such as sunset horseback rides or playing touch football in a pro stadium. Hardy favors team-building with a social-responsibility theme. “We recently organized a wheelchair-building competition, and the ones they built were donated to a local children’s hospital,” he says.

Most DMCs add a percentage to the total budget for each event element they manage—say, transportation or special events. To minimize the added service cost, some planners try low-balling their budget when hiring a DMC, but Lenington says that can be counterproductive. “We really appreciate clients who share their true budget,” he says. “DMCs pride themselves on creativity, and want to give the client the biggest impact for their spend.”

Hardy adds, “We can secure the most interesting venues or locally-based entertainers—even the big names—for much less than planners could get. So, when the final price is calculated, the group is paying roughly the same as if they coordinated it themselves—but we did it for them.”

Key Planner Questions

How to choose a DMC for your meeting or event? A good place to start is the website of Association of Destination Management Executives International (ADMEI), whose members meet competency criteria and carry at least $1 million in insurance coverage.

Or, get a list of local DMCs from the convention and visitors bureau, and ask them if their staffers have earned destination management certified professional (DMCP) certification from ADMEI.

“Always ask for references from the most recent clients, rather than ones cherry-picked by the DMC,” Hardy says. Lenington offers a final word: Don’t forget to ask about contingency planning in case the original plan goes awry.

Rob Carey is a business journalist and principal of Meetings & Hospitality Insight, a content marketing firm for the group-business market.