These are challenging times for destination marketers, who face intense competition for group business amid the shifting needs of a demanding marketplace. What has worked in the past is passé -- and that's where these newcomers in the field are beginning to shine.
"Consumer expectations change so quickly, you have to be nimble," says Melissa Cherry, chief operating officer of Destinations International, the association for convention and visitor bureaus. "The younger generation brings that ability to an organization. They bring a different set of skills and perspectives. They grew up in the tech space, and they're passionate about the things they support, which they make a part of their day-to-day work."
Each year, DI offers a "30 Under 30" program to help up-and-comers learn about the world of destination marketing organizations. We asked some standouts in the class of 2018 to share their insights on the current and future of destination marketing.
Liana Acevedo, 26, convention and sports-services manager for Richmond (Va.) Region Tourism, has been with the bureau since 2014. In just four years, she has seen her organization's priorities, and those of DMOs in general, morph to meet the changing needs of groups and visitors. Rather than just providing guides or marketing materials, RRT now must be more of a "boots-on-the-ground resource for meeting and event organizers in the early planning stages," she says. This can range from securing food-truck vendors for an outdoor event to coordinating volunteers to assist with shuttle-transportation plans.
"Our priority, as it relates to services, is to be an extension of the client's on-site team," says Acevedo. "When we are able to collaborate with planners and connect them with our local service providers, attractions, restaurants, etc., we are able to deliver an authentic, memorable experience."
Such delivery is aided by RRT's embrace of new tech tools to help analyze the organization's impact in terms of search-engine optimization and online messaging, both of which are central to the DMO's current priorities. "There's a continuous effort to keep up with the latest CRM/CMS technologies," Acevedo says. "The destination's marketing strategies are vital to maintaining relevancy in this digital age."
Many bureaus struggle to justify funding for their efforts. Randi Morritt, 25, director of communications for Visit Aurora in Colorado, says advocacy is critical, as destination marketers must demonstrate their value to a range of stakeholders.
"With impending tax-revenue cuts, city budgets tightening and state aid disappearing, DMOs are tasked to continue successful tourism and promotion efforts with strained financial support," Morritt notes. "As an industry, we are discussing best communication practices with our elected officials and stakeholders to protect critical funding while conveying the important economic impact we bring to the community."
Despite such serious concerns, Morritt brings levity to the job. "'Get work done, have some fun' has become the mantra at our office," she says with obvious delight. "While our focus is always on enhancing the visitor experience, we also place a high emphasis on the energy that draws people to our organization and keeps them there. When the work is fun, the energy is contagious. Our clients and stakeholders can't wait to join in on an inspiring goal that they helped shape."
SALT LAKE CITY
"The new wave of planners is younger and more tech savvy than ever, and they demand a different user experience than planners of the past," says Chris Robinson, 30, executive meetings manager and sports sales manager for Visit Salt Lake, who joined the organization in 2015. Among his talents is finding innovative ways to use mobile communications when working with planners. For example, the CVB has recently created a "Show Your Badge" program that allows attendees to use their smartphone to receive discounts and specials at restaurants and local retail outlets.
"DMOs must be able to constantly shift and think outside the box on approaches to not only advertise and attract tourism opportunities, but also how to close the business," he says.
"Across the board, it seems like DMOs are fighting to prove their value and impact," says Elizabeth Robinson, CTA, who joined Cincinnati USA in June 2016.
"It's important that our community understands how a strong, healthy visitor economy can benefit businesses and residents," says Robinson. 27, the bureau's communications manager. "The more we can get our community to buy in, and even become ambassadors for Cincinnati and our industry, the better we'll be at creating positive, authentic experiences for our visitors."
As diversity and inclusion are a growing priority for meetings and conferences, those imperatives have come into sharper focus for DMOs, especially among younger team members. The U.S. will be a "majority minority country" in the next two to three decades, notes Robinson, making it all the more important for DMOs to "emphasize the importance of creating and supporting multicultural experiences and producing a welcoming environment for all."
KANSAS CITY, MO.
Increasing local awareness of tourism and its economic impact on Kansas City is job number-one for Ashley Patton, 26, community engagement manager for Visit KC. The position was created for Patton when she joined the team in May 2016, with the goal of cultivating residents to be "destination ambassadors" through the organization's Visitor Influencer Program.
"Knowing that the work we do truly makes an impact on our communities is what really excites me about this industry," Patton says.
She also is supporting Kansas City's efforts to meet the tech demands of the younger generation. "The increasing number of startup entrepreneurs who have come here, along with being named the first Google Fiber city, has prompted us to now be referred to as Silicon Prairie," Patton says with no small pride.
Christine Zetzl, 29, digital marketing manager at Visit Indy, oversees social media, analytics, web content and paid marketing campaigns. She expects to see DMOs thinking more regionally, working together to promote road trips, ale trails and other multi-city promotions that foster cooperation rather than competition.
Zetzl envisions how this approach would also mitigate the effects of over-tourism and establish "sustainable models that provide the economic benefits of tourism without destroying the culture of the community."
NEWPORT BEACH, CALIF.
Concern for one's community, on both a personal and professional level, is important to Colleen Costello, 27, marketing manager for Newport Beach & Company. "By leveraging all the assets the community has to offer, we build a better destination."
Costello also believes in the power of data gathering to learn "more about our visitors from before they make their decision, as well as their experiences in the market and ultimately how they share their memories, influencing future travelers."
GREEN BAY, WIS.
With all the talk of tech and data, some newbies to the DMO world still value traditional approaches. Cameron Teske, 29, director of the Greater Green Bay Convention & Visitors Bureau's visitor center, sees the role of the CVB as "offering tips and expertise from locals, helping sports planners find the perfect tournament facility or meeting planners to host their next big gig in a magnificent venue."
Teske is overseeing the development of a new visitor center -- a brick-and-mortar hub set to open in early 2020.
"We haven't really had a great, permanent opportunity to interact with visitors while they're in our market," says Teske of Green Bay's tourists and attendees alike. "This visitor center will be a way to fill that void. By engaging them while they're already visiting, we'll be able to expand their spend, extend their stay and encourage repeat visits."