With over 1,500 delegates gathering over seven days in a snow-bound city last week, Destinations Week in Washington witnessed a remarkable gathering across the travel industry -- from trade associations to research entities, from meeting professionals to DMO presidents, and from marketing master minds to James Beard Award-winning chefs.
My general impression is that when you bring this much diversity together, it's inevitable that you end up learning something new about yourself. Here are seven interesting takeaways that I found truly relevant not only to DMO sales professionals, but also to us as your trade association.
1. Take time to lay the groundwork before talking to planners.
Overheard from Sales Academies I and II, the most notable lesson for destination sales professionals these days is the importance of dedicated preparation and intelligent prospecting before connecting with a customer. That's because in this day and age, when customers are already 60% of the way to a decision before talking to someone, we have to make each interaction count.
Cold calls and gift baskets don't cut it when compared to telling a planner, "I know you hold several very sensitive meetings for high-profile individuals and require the most professional and complete security detail for your events. Let me show you what we've done for similar groups. Let's talk through some solutions we can provide."
2. Work beyond the tradeshow disconnect.
We are all seeing many changes to the traditional tradeshow. Nowadays there are reverse tradeshows and appointments, learning lounges and experiential discovery -- all designed to develop meaningful connections.
I say "develop connections" instead of "book business," because less than 10% of meeting planners actually see the tradeshow as an opportunity to discuss RFPs. Therefore, I imagine only a small number of destinations enjoy the privilege. What's encouraging, however, is that nearly 70% instead value it most as a chance to meet up with you and build on your relationships, which is something all destinations can enjoy. And even greater satisfaction ultimately came from the opportunity to network with planners at the Foundation Dinner or through the Hosted Buyers Program.
As Destinations Showcase Washington looks toward its 28th year, we can all take to heart what experiences that planners seek and facilitate the relationships that they seek to cultivate with you.
3. Solve specific problems that planners face.
We constantly ask ourselves, "What do planners want?" What I learned is that the most highly rated sessions at Destinations Showcase were those that tackled a particular challenge in a very specific way that demonstrated one's unique expertise in the matter.
For instance, one well-attended session was about the transformation of space to place. In case you missed it, the session was all about new and innovative design and the technologies that make for unique events. Planners face a specific problem these days of breathing new life into run-of-the-mill events in run-of-the-mill spaces, but by collaborating with an entire destination's meetings community, they can completely reimagine their meeting environments.
So, be sure to make the biggest impact when speaking to planners by directly addressing the specific problems that you're able to solve on their behalf.
4. If you're going to stand between a planner and a hotel, add value.
Problem-solving being said, we can look beyond just dates, rates, and space. There are plenty of services that we as sales professionals can provide that add huge value. We just have to make sure our planners know it.
I'll take the most highly rated "RFP Reconstructed" session as an example. In case you missed it, the session took a hands-on approach to improving the attractiveness of a planner's meeting by using actual planner RFPs and allowing DMOs and their hotel partners to tailor them for their destination. Planners are sending out generic e-RFPs that aren't getting adequate attention, but DMOs on the other hand, are uniquely positioned to tailor planner RFPs to their destinations and broker the right responses.
5. Look to your marketing peers to drive strategic sales.
Based on our preliminary feedback from both Destinations Showcase and the CMO Innovation Summit, about 3 out of 5 sales pros want to learn about marketing strategies and tactics. And guess what: 3 out of 5 marketing executives want to learn more about what you do, too!
There are so many cross-overs in what both sales and marketing do that the more strategic conversations you have with each other, the better you'll be able to communicate exactly how you destination creates value for the meeting planner. It's definitely something we at DMAI are eager to facilitate as well through cross-functional programs and industry initiatives in the future.
6. Represent your destination, represent your industry.
During one of our media ops with Keegan Gerhard, award winning pastry chef of D Bar, he mentioned that though he's constantly encouraging people to experience his restaurant in particular, the greatest honor of being a part of the Destination & Travel Foundation Dinner is the opportunity to be part of something greater -- to be an ambassador representing his city of Denver.
Likewise, as DMO sales professionals, you represent your destinations, but you are also part of something greater. You are an ambassador for the industry of DMOs, and each interaction that a meeting planner has with you either adds or subtracts value from his or her impression of the DMO channel as a whole. So take pride in your destination and take pride in representing your industry.
7. Never stop learning.
Lastly, if there's anything that rejuvenates the mind, it's the recognition that we will never stop learning from each other. As incredibly energy-consuming as last week was for all of us, taking in a diversity of perspectives and voices can fuel better practices and put new ideas in action, which is why Destinations Week in Washington exists for us all in the first place.