100 Years of Advancing Destinations

A Tale of Three Cities: Driving Business with Destination Partnerships

Author: Joy Lin
Posted: April 23, 2014
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My colleague Terri Roberts powers a significant part of DMAI’s efforts to educate meeting planners about the value of working with DMOs. Incidentally, she also teaches Sales Academy I for DMO pros just entering the field of destination sales.

I’ve heard Terri mention many times that throughout her experience in teaching both buyers and suppliers in the meetings market, she constantly sees a sharp disconnect between how each party views the DMO industry.

On one hand, planners see DMO sales pros as part of a larger whole, much like individual hotel properties working with their national sales offices. On the other, DMO sales pros don’t usually see themselves that way. They’re often isolated and unique in their own destinations. Aside from meeting industry events, they don’t often have an opportunity to engage professionally with each other. And even then, the relationship isn’t exactly conducive to collaboration, as DMO sales pros are often competing for similar pieces of business.

This is why I’m always glad to see destinations come together to assist each other in winning business. When I go to TEAMS, I like seeing several destinations united under state or regional representation. I’m also happy to see my friends at events like those hosted by CVB Reps in Washington, DC. And it’s heartening to see 140 DMOs actively sharing meeting and event data with each other through the MINT Database.

One example of destination partnership really takes it to a whole other level though, and it’s been going on for about ten years and counting.

An Alliance is Born

At first glance, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, and Portland may not seem like they have a lot in common. They're not even located near each other. But senior sales executives at these three cities formed an alliance that provides planners “significant financial and logistical benefits to organizations booking any combination of the three cities.”

The motivation behind the so called "Three City Alliance" lay in the realization that all three destinations actually face very similar challenges in attracting meetings and conventions to their cities. They were and continue to be cities of a similar size, with comparable hotel packages and meeting facilities, and typically attract similar organizations and groups.

Therefore, these DMO sales leaders decided to capitalize on the opportunity to work together and do more through a partnership than could be done individually.

Meeting Planner Benefits

Meeting planners and organizations derive three major benefits from participating in the Three City Alliance program.

    • Financial Incentives. Depending on what combination of the three cities are booked for their meetings, a meeting planner can gain significant cost savings for their organization based on the number of cities selected together and the size of the group.
    • Logistical Efficiency. Sales pros from Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, and Portland share valuable information about the groups and their event needs to ensure that the transition from year to year is seamless and smooth for the customer. Meeting planners take advantage of the benefit of having two or three destination staffs that know their programs intimately.
    • Customer Confidence. Groups also benefit from knowing that they can expect a consistently high-quality experience in all three cities, and that each destination will be consistent in their approach to serving them. 

“The word has spread that we’ve got a strong partnership that benefits our clients, and that word of mouth is evidence of the strength of our partnership,” said Karl Pietrzak, Vice President of Convention Sales at VisitPittsburgh. “I’m looking forward to even more success going forward as we continue to find new ways to market our three cities together, align our appearances at trade shows, and refer clients to each other.”

Reasons for Success

I reached out to current sales leaders at all three destinations to inquire about the Three City Alliance and received enthusiastic responses from all three within 24 hours – even from those who were on vacation.

It’s obvious even after ten years, the spirit of the alliance is alive and well. Pietrzak shares three things that have contributed to its success:

    1. Trust. Each city knows the others well enough that they can trust each other to make decisions for the partnership. If Pittsburgh sees a good opportunity, they can generally speak for Milwaukee and Portland, and vice versa.  More than just partners in a business arrangement, the destinations are their sales pros are friends who have each other’s best interests at heart.
    2. Flexibility. The cities defined parameters for how they would work together and offer the right incentives to groups that would meet in their destinations. However, they have also been flexible to stretch those parameters when needed to book a piece of business, or even help a partner city out.
    3. Quality.  Lastly, there is simply a confidence in each other. Pittsburgh knows that if a group has met in Milwaukee or Portland recently, it should have had a good experience there. They then use that knowledge to help bring them to Pittsburgh.  The more organizations that have good experiences in each of our cities, the easier it is to pass the business along to the next destination.

“We keep open lines of communication on groups using multiple cities the whole way through the process.  We will share pick-up histories and meeting specs with each other after a group has completed a meeting in one of our cities,” explained Pietrzak. “More than a set formal procedure, it’s just the ability to pick up the phone or send an email to our counterparts at any time to get vital information about the needs of our shared clients.”

Looking Ahead: A Vision for Our Industry

I think we can take away some lessons from this alliance and see how we can work together to not only make it easier and more beneficial for meeting planners to work with us, but also encourage our industry of over 3,000 DMO sales pros to feel professionally connected and engaged.

Other cities have attempted to form similar alliances, with varying degrees of success, but none has lasted as long as the Three City Alliance, or seen similar effectiveness. “I believe [our success] is because our partnership started from a foundation of friendship and trust, and built from there, rather than forming just to take advantage of some business opportunities,” Pietrzak said.

The biggest lesson therefore, is that an industry-wide alliance has to start from a place of trust between destinations. Can DMOs count on each other to deliver a quality experience, to share relevant information about their groups to ease the customer’s transition from one place to the next, to refer business and make decisions in each other’s best interest?

I’m curious to hear what you think, and if this is a possibility, how could we champion this movement?

Many thanks to Karl Pietrzak for his perspectives included in this piece, as well as Jeff Baryenbruch, and Mike Smith, for their comments.