. Destinations International’s Virtual Convention Tackles DMO Survival Strategies, Racism | Northstar Meetings Group

Destinations International’s Virtual Convention Tackles DMO Survival Strategies, Racism

The organization’s two-day digital event attracted more than 3,000 attendees from 14 countries.

Destination International's industry roundtable, Why Race Matters

Survival strategies for the devastated convention and visitor bureau industry as well as the timely topics of racism and inclusion were addressed during Destinations International’s 2020 annual convention, which took place July 14-15. The virtual event, which drew 3,024 attendees from 14 countries, offered two full days of roundtables, keynotes, recognition events and more than 20 educational sessions. 

Don Welsh, DI's president and CEO, kicked off the convention by laying out the hard truths of what destination marketing organizations and the travel and meetings industries are facing today. "We all entered 2020 with great hope, vision and enthusiasm. However, COVID-19 changed and halted this momentum for all of us; it is the great equalizer… And like you, our world was rocked.” 

Many of the sessions focused on how CVBs can survive the pandemic that decimated budgets and staffing at unprecedented levels. One of the key presentations on the topic was a roundtable that focused on new approaches to funding, helmed by Jack Johnson, DI’s chief advocacy officer. During the 45-minute session, Johnson told the audience, "What we are experiencing now is not the new normal, it’s the next normal.” He pointed out that though the pandemic caused CVBs such losses, it also brings opportunities for rebuilding a better CVB model. For example, he explained, rather than relying on the traditional model of funding — hotel taxes — DMOs should "consider who benefits from them in the community" -- such as local companies, airports, hospitals, universities and property owners -- all of which can be potential stakeholders and funding sources.

One of the most powerful moments of the convention was the debut of “5 Questions About Race,” a video featuring seven Black DMO executives who shared their experiences with racism in the hospitality industry. The video was introduced before a roundtable, "Why Race Matters," which featureed three Black industry professionals: Al Hutchinson, president and CEO of Visit Baltimore; Joy Bivins, head of collections for the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture; and Michelle Mason, president and CEO of the Association Forum. "If we are silent about race, we may be complicit," said Hutchinson during the candid panel.

Meeting planners from DI’s planner influencer board discussed their challenges and changing needs during a forthright “unplugged” session. Deirdre Clemmons, CMP, CAE, senior vice president of events and strategic partnerships for the Airports Council International – North America, urged DMO professionals to share accurate and honest information on cleaning protocols and what they are doing to keep meetings safe in their destinations.

Five outstanding DMO professionals were inducted into DI’s Hall of Fame: Bonnie Carlson, CDME, president and CEO of the Bloomington (Minn.) Convention & Visitors Bureau; Solomon and Gloria Herbert, publishers of Black Meetings and Tourism Magazine; Wendy Perks Fisher, retired president and CEO of Illinois' Rockford Area Convention & Visitors Bureau; and Karolyn Kirchgesler, the recently retired president and CEO of California's Team San Jose, who passed away on May 29. Joe D’Alessandro, president and CEO of the San Francisco Travel Association, was honored with the organization’s Destination Organization Leadership Award.

Also recognized were DI’s 2020 class of 30 Under 30, its annual list of promising young professionals, and 36 industry leaders became Certified Destination Management Executives, the tourism industry’s highest individual achievement.

Before concluding, DI announced its new 2020-2021 leadership: Butch Spyridon, president and CEO of the Nashville Convention and Visitors Corp., will serve as chair of DI’s board, and John Lambeth, president and CEO of Civitas, a destination and travel consultancy, will head the DI Foundation.

Mitch Albom, author of Tuesdays with Morrie, closed the convention on an upbeat note by sharing two personal instances of the life-affirming and life-changing power of travel. He explained how a one-off flight to Boston to see his dying former professor led to a rewarding weekly ritual, and how a philanthropic trip to Haiti led him to the little girl who became a cherished part of his family and who gave him "the best two years of his life."