Creative problem-solving and exceeding client needs were among the themes emphasized this past week throughout the annual conference for the Association of Destination Management Executives International. Taking place at the Sheraton Puerto Rico Hotel and Casino in San Juan, the gathering of professionals from destination marketing companies offered several days of networking, education and activities focused on helping DMCs better deliver for their clients.
Organized around the theme "IMPACT," the event marked the 25th anniversary of the association. The gathering opened with Brian Ferrell, president of Oklahoma City's Factor 110 and past president of ADMEI, walking attendees through ADMEI's history, from its initial conception to the establishment of bylaws and best practices, and eventual expansion beyond North America and its most recent initiatives.
But the event was decidedly focused on the future, with keynotes and breakout sessions aimed at helping DMCs enhance and evolve their businesses. Entrepreneur and inventor Julie Holmes discussed strategies for bringing greater innovation into an organization by empowering team members and growing customer lifetime value. Event producer Michael Cerbelli previewed his annual Hot List with a high-energy presentation that included such creative ideas as custom pool floats, an "edible selfie" photo booth and art created with a magnifying glass and the rays of the sun.
One of the most enthusiastically received events came as the assembled DMCs got to hear directly from clients, during a panel in which three planners representing a cross section of the industry described what they look for in a DMC partner — starting with a proposal that hits the mark.
"I need it to be unique — something that I couldn't book myself," said Monica Sober DeNio, CMP, assistant vice president of meetings and events for National Association of Home Builders, who oversees several conferences and leadership meetings annually as well as the 65,000-attendee NAHB International Builders' Show. "I want to see that you heard what I was asking for and put that in there. You want to feel that it was made for you."
Conni Catlett, CMP, PMP, director, RBC and marketing services for Cardinal Health, who organizes the company's large annual conference and other events, emphasized the importance of timeliness in working with a DMC. She acknowledged that "it's not fair" that the planner can take as much time as he or she likes in responding to a DMC, "but when I ask you for something, it's because I want to do something with that information that day," and she expects a swift response. "Even if you just reply with 'message received, will get back to you ASAP,' that's OK, but not if I ask for something and it's two days of radio silence."
The third panelist, Becky Cornejo, CMP, CIS, CMES, incentive trips manager for Mary Kay LATAM — who organizes luxury trips for up to 500 sales representatives — stressed that she expected DMCs she works with to constantly evolve and be a step ahead in terms of creative ideas.
"It's important to have the most up-to-date information, to continue learning — if your staff knows one language, learn two," said Cornejo. "Don't stop — that's very important."
There was debate among the planners about how they prefer to have pricing broken down. DeNio expressed a preference for a "cost-plus" approach in which the DMC provides a dollar amount for each line item. She explained that this gives her the flexibility "so I can say, 'I can get another fire breather if I knock off two of the palm trees,'" and described a recent situation in which she realized that the price tag for one service included a delivery fee for A/V equipment, which she was able to pay for with money from a different budget.
Speaking from the corporate side, Catlett said she preferred to know what the final price will be, along with possible extras that could be added on if budget allowed — but did not want to see the specifics broken down in too much detail. This was in part to concern that it could lead the company's procurement department to second-guess particular event details and begin to interfere with logistics.
"If you are ever working with a corporate procurement department, don't ever mention [cost-plus pricing]," Catlett joked.
In addition to the client panel, attendees took part in numerous breakout sessions, diving into topics such as service agreements, strategies for sustainability initiatives and open conversations for those specializing in operations, sales and creative.
The host destination of San Juan was showcased through events such as an off-site social at the Bacardi Distillery and a CSR project by Musix for Good, in which attendees built musical instruments that were then brought to children at the local YMCA, complete with a two-hour music workshop. Puerto Rico's rebound from Hurricane Maria was also a topic of discussion during one of the education sessions, in which a rep from Discover Puerto Rico outlined general emergency preparedness strategies. She also discussed how the destination had helped to turn the page on negative news coverage — including the recent earthquakes — through messaging strategies that focus on Puerto Rico's readiness to host events such as the ADMEI conference.