Meeting professionals have long relied on destination management companies for tasks such as booking transportation or tours in a host city, but these agencies can provide much more than that. Today's DMCs offer a full and often surprising range of services, including risk mitigation and incorporating corporate social responsibility into a program.
DMCs make it a point to play off their inside knowledge of a host city, knowing the best vendors to work with, where to find the city's hidden gems and what to do in the event of an emergency. For overworked planners organizing out-of-town events, such agencies provide a lifeline to getting the job done.
"We're the boots on the ground in local destinations," says Dan Tavrytzky, managing director of the DMC Network, a consortium of independently owned DMCs around the world. "We know what's new, what's old, what's opening, what's closing, what's been successful and what hasn't been successful."
Being an extension of the planner's team is their specialty. "We're in an age where information is readily available at your fingertips, and I think many meeting professionals think they can do a lot of things on their own," says Robyn Bass, CEO of Maple Ridge Events, a Nashville-based DMC and member of Hosts Global, an international DMC consortium. "But we've seen some real horror stories with planners trying to do it all themselves in a destination they're not familiar with. And let's face it — these are live events. There's always something that doesn't go the way you want it to go."
Preparing for Every Scenario
Perhaps the most important mission for an event organizer is to keep attendees safe, but doing so can be tricky. A three-day conference, for example, requires an in-depth emergency-preparedness plan that addresses every possible disaster, including severe weather, speaker cancellations, transportation issues, acts of terrorism and more. Every day, the venue and all activities must be covered.
"You can't just have one major list that's good for every scenario," says Bass of Maple Ridge Events. "Every part of every event is going to be different, so you really have to drill down into each and mitigate the risk all the way around."
DMCs can help event planners identify a destination's top risks such as the potential for hurricanes in Florida during certain seasons or for fires in Southern California, how the risks should be addressed and who to contact. Bass notes that the plan must also account for off-site activities, which might require different emergency protocols and contacts than on-site gatherings.
"If you're taking a group to a place that's an hour and a half away, you need to know whether the same police force has jurisdiction there — or even en route — as at the hotel," says Bass. "Say an attendee had a heart attack while traveling — you'd need to know where the closest hospital is on that route" — information that a DMC can provide.
Of course, emergencies needn't be life-threatening to require a DMC's help. "There was one situation where the host hotel was finishing up construction, and it had gotten in trouble with the fire marshal, which caused delays, and the work risked not being finished by the time we were to begin the event," recalls Angela Cox, senior director of meetings and events at Northstar Travel Group, the parent company of Northstar Meetings Group. "So the DMC actually went down to city hall and pled our case to the powers that be, and got the approval process on a faster track. They were key in getting the hotel open and helping us proceed with the event on time. I've even had a DMC run down to local customs and retrieve event items that were delayed in clearing."
Crafting Responsible Events
According to research of 1,000 people from the public-relations firm Cone Communications, fully 70 percent of Americans believe that companies have an obligation to take action on social and environmental issues, and almost 80 percent expect businesses to continue to improve their corporate social responsibility efforts. This means your attendee pool likely has a strong stake in the well-being of others and the planet.
Events provide an optimal space for organizations to showcase their dedication to social causes and to create opportunities for attendees to give back to the communities where they are gathering. Finding creative ways to employ participants to the benefit of the destination has created a vital new role for DMCs.
"Increasingly, people don't want to attend a conference just to attend a conference," notes Bass. "Along with networking and educational opportunities, many also want to feel like there's a giveback opportunity for them in the communities in which they meet."
Here, too, DMCs possess the local knowledge needed to craft CSR programs that better engage attendees while tying directly into a destination's unique culture and community needs. Maple Ridge Events recently developed such an activity inspired by its Nashville, aka Music City, location. Led by a local singer/songwriter, attendees were divided into teams and paired with underprivileged music students from a nearby high school. The aim was for each team to compose a commercial jingle, with the singer choosing the best one.
"The students were told up front that the winners would wind up with the gift of their very own instrument," says Bass. "But at the end, the team leaders came in with instruments for every student. It was so heartwarming, not only for the attendees who got to be a part of that and know that they made a difference in a child's life, but also for the students and seeing how music enriches their lives."
But why stop at just one CSR effort? For its annual client meeting in Park City, Utah, last year, the DMC Network put together a program of several CSR activities designed to cater to various interests. Attendees were able to choose between assembling food-pantry packages, cleaning up mountain trails, planting a community garden, volunteering at a local pet rescue, and helping out at the National Ability Center, which empowers differently abled people through participation in sports.
"CSR is something that we include in literally all of our proposals now," says the DMC Network's Tavrytzky. "Clients want to feel connected to the communities where they're meeting, and they want to make an impact in those destinations."
Taking some of the chores off planners' plates is the true focus for these companies. "It really comes down to the fact that today, meeting planners are challenged more and more in order to succeed," says Catherine Chaulet, president and CEO of Global DMC Partners, which represents more than 65 independent DMCs worldwide. "We always say it takes a village, and a DMC is absolutely critical in this regard. They know the village, and they know the resources within that village, so they can help planners save tons of time and risk exposure." Not to mention helping them put on a memorable event that meets all the content and excitement objectives.
Whether you are booking a speaker or looking for on-site production assistance, DMCs can dramatically reduce an event organizer's workload, but it's up to planners to use these agencies fully and consider them trusted partners rather than simply another third-party supplier.
"If you are treating your DMC as just an order taker, saying 'I just need three buses' and such, then you're missing out on a valuable partnership and all of the ways they can assist you with your event," says Marty MacKay, president of global alliance at Hosts Global.
Tavrytzky encourages organizations to bring DMCs into the process as early as possible, so they can ease the workload throughout. "It's really about creating a long-term relationship," he says. "They're able to help the client at the very outset by noting, 'Here's what I think is best. I don't have a vested interest in if you go to this hotel or that hotel; I have a vested interest in knowing what your organization is about, what your goals are and how I can help guide you in my destination.'"
DMCs also offer a personal touch and can recommend intimate venues and family-run restaurants that help create a more memorable meeting environment with local flair.
"The DMCs we work with are passionate. They're in love with their destination and the restaurants and venues they recommend," says Chaulet of Global DMC Partners. "That's why they're not like any other vendor. A DMC is like a family member who wants to show you the best of the city."