How Destinations Are Engaging Planners in the Age of Covid-19

DMOs are holding online buyer events, educational series and digital networking sessions to connect with their U.S. clients.

Visit Britain's MeetGB event went digital this year.

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Updated Nov. 9, 2020. Destinations are reopening to visitors following closures in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. While many groups from the U.S. might not be able to meet in international meeting spots like Great Britain, France and Singapore right away, or face hurdles to visiting domestic destinations such as Hawaii or Puerto Rico, the destination management organizations and convention and visitors bureaus for these places are coming up with creative ways to stay in touch with clients and share information about new health and safety measures, government regulations, industry trends and meetings offerings available to groups when they can travel once again.

Here's how these destinations are engaging planners with creative digital-marketing initiatives.

Visit Seoul


While bringing planners to this meetings hub was not an option for the Seoul Convention Bureau, the organization created a digital event that gave visitors the experience of being there in person. The September event brought planners to the Virtual Seoul Platform, which featured five venues that represented different facets of the city: a traditional palace, a modern cultural complex, a landmark tower, artificial islands and a green space. Each of these virtual venues housed some element of the event: a conference hall, workshop rooms, promotional booth, virtual-reality theater and lounge area. 

The "immersive" aspects of the event were enhanced with 360-degree VR videos that captured Seoul's landmarks and experiences such as riding a rickshaw to Hanok Village or visiting the Seoul Botanic Park. These virtual experiences were enhanced with educational offerings including the UIA Associations Round Table Asia-Pacific 2020.

Meet Hawaii 

In October, Meet Hawaii held I Mua Hawaii, a digital trade show for planners that combined education, networking and entertainment. Produced by Northstar Meetings Group, the event included 30 exhibitors and more than 50 planners.

Education sessions included an in-depth preview of the new Hawaii MCI Blueprint, an information hub that will provide real-time information on the state's health and safety guidelines and the status of hotel and attraction reopenings. The event also included a video presentation from photojournalist Dewitt Jones, who shared his experiences (and images) from two decades of capturing the beauty of travel for National Geographic and other outlets.

Attendees also took part in a virtual trade show, where they met one-on-one with dozens of exhibitors to learn the latest about the destination.

Discover Puerto Rico

To give planners a virtual overview of the island's offerings and safety measures, Discover Puerto Rico launched a pair of virtual familiarization trips.

The first experience took viewers through the destination’s tech-forward convention center and surrounding hotels and included a traditional bomba music performance at the historic Castillo San Cristóbal. The second virtual fam trip, which kicked off with lively pleneros and cabezudos performances, walked visitors through hotels and resorts including the Caribe Hilton, La Concha Renaissance and Sheraton Puerto Rico. Each property outlined its latest protocols and the creative ways they are utilizing their beaches and outdoor spaces.


VisitBritain couldn’t host planners from the U.S. and Europe in person for its 2020 MeetGB event (pictured at top). Instead, the DMO delivered Great Britain to European and North American planners with a digital version of the annual hosted-buyer show, highlighting the rich offerings of the region. 

The event — held on two dates, June 17 for U.S. planners, and June 23 for U.K. and European planners — attracted a total of 368 buyers who met virtually with 67 U.K. destinations, venues, hotels, destination management companies and other business event suppliers. In addition to one-on-one virtual appointments, the agenda featured a live exhibition, where U.K. suppliers showcased their products and services in virtual exhibition booths. The gatherings also included two state-of-the-industry panel discussions that delved into the effect the pandemic was having on Great Britain and the events industry. MeetGB, hosted on the 6Connex platform, was produced for Visit Britain by Northstar Travel Group, Northstar Meeting Group's parent company.

"As [we] tackle this difficult period, we wanted to support the industry and help them plan for the future, welcoming their events back to the U.K. when the time is right," explained Kerrin MacPhie, Visit Britain's head of business events. "Whilst we knew that we could no longer connect in person, we were excited to provide this digital platform and to continue to educate event professionals on the diverse offerings that England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland represent."

She added, "To make MeetGB Virtual a success within a very limited time-frame, we needed something reliable and easy to use, and we knew that the platform offered was what we needed from first-hand experience of our Americas team, who had used it for three previous virtual exhibitions." 

Kerrin continued, "We are delighted that our suppliers have received some exciting enquiries for future events as a result of MeetGB Virtual. We will work with buyers and suppliers during the coming months to learn how we can improve the experience and what other platforms we can offer to continue to forge business relationships between international planners and U.K. destinations and businesses."

Atout France 

In June, the French government reconfirmed its plan to allow gatherings for up to 5,000 attendees as of Sept. 1. To spread that welcome news and to entice Americans to come back to this ever-popular meeting, convention and incentive spot, the country’s national tourism organization, Atout France, organized a "USA Live" series of tourism webinaires.

The idea for the series, held on the GoToWebinar platform, came because of the "need to maintain contact with the travel industry (meeting planners, travel agents, tour operators, cruise companies), despite the fact that we couldn’t meet in person," said Anne-Laure Tuncer, director, USA, Atout France.

Besides keeping in touch and updating participants on the latest pandemic protocols, the webcasts were designed "to give our contacts ideas, so they can plan events when the time comes, create itineraries, etc., and to take advantage of the fact that everyone would be available to hear about our destination and its offerings," added Tuncer.

During the Paris webcast -- which had a live audience of 101 planners -- suppliers representing Accor, Air FranceParis Convention & Visitors Bureau and Viparis shared a glimpse of the new offerings groups can enjoy when they next visit the City of Light. Among these fresh offerings are the world's largest urban rooftop farm atop the Paris Expo Porte de Versailles, two new Accor properties — the Novotel Paris Porte de Versailles and Mama Shelter Paris West — and the renovated Pullman Paris Montparnasse. A second meetings-focused webcast, featuring four regional suppliers, focused on Nice; 42 planners registered and 19 tuned in for the live event.

In determining the success of these digital events, Tuncer said suppliers welcomed the initiative that allowed them to share news and the sanitary measures they've implemented. "No RFPs, but with these two webinars (Paris and Nice), more than 15 planners have expressed that they either had a program that they are looking to reschedule, or that they are monitoring the situation for a program that is already scheduled for 2021 or 2022," she said.

Looking ahead, Atout France plans to add a dedicated session for planners to meet suppliers during its annual travel-trade event, France 360, which will be held Oct.19-22. At press time, the tourism board had not selected a platform for the digital event.

Singapore Tourism Board

The Singapore Tourism Board has launched a new live webcast series for meeting planners, Next Stop Singapore, that explores the destination’s culture, history and arts. Guest speakers will share their expertise and stories with hands-on demonstrations. The first event featured Vijay Mudaliar, mixologist and co-owner of the celebrated bar Native, conducting a cocktail demo and discussing Singapore’s food-and-beverage offerings.

Conducted over Webex Events, each session aims to gather 20-50 attendees in an interactive, engaging experience. The most recent session, which took place July 8 at 1 p.m. EDT, focused on creative meeting design and featured meetings industry veteran Janet Tan-Collis of East West Planners and Patricia Bourdeaux of the Marina Bay Sands.

The next session, Next Stop Singapore @ National Kitchen, will feature renowned Singaporean chef and restaurateur Violet Oon will be conducting a cooking demonstration on July 22. Register for that here.

"These conversations are peppered with interactive elements as our guest speakers share their expertise, personal anecdotes and even conduct live hands-on demonstrations that one can replicate at home," said Rachel Loh, regional director of the Americas for the Singapore Tourism Board. "Through our Next Stop Singapore series, and with the help of technology, we hope to actively build and engage a closer community of our existing and new meeting planners, and inspire them through our specially curated content on Singapore." 

Hong Kong Tourism Board

On June 24, the Hong Kong Tourism Board hosted the online forum, "Beyond COVID-19: Global Tourism's New Normal." The digital event focused on the post-pandemic tourism prospects for Hong Kong and mainland Asia. In addition to HKTB chair YK Pang, the event featured seven speakers representing different sectors of the travel industry, discussing the latest consumer sentiments and behavior. Insights were provided by Steve Saxon, partner at McKinsey & Company; Gloria Guevara, president and CEO of the World Travel & Tourism Council; Kai Hattendorf, managing director and CEO of the Global Association of the Exhibition Industry; and Alexandre de Juniac, director general and CEO of the International Air Transport Association. Register to watch the on-demand webcast here

"The tourism landscape has been altered almost beyond recognition," said Pang. "By hosting this global online forum, we hope to pool knowledge and expertise from some of the world leaders in tourism, and draw on our collective ingenuity to navigate the uncertain months that lie ahead of us. For MICE planners the forum can be useful because it can highlight upcoming programs that may be on the horizon that would benefit their business and also share the latest hygiene measures taken in the destination."
The event used the Intrado platform, and more than 4,000 tourism industry representatives, journalists, and academics registered for the event.