A Year of Living on the Edge: 10 Tips for Destinations

29th Dec, 2020

This year was longer than usual and, brutally, crushed ambitions and plans of many meetings professionals. The pandemic hit us hard and the burden we're asked to carry seems heavier by the day and, for this reason, HQ drew up a list of 10 tips to guide destination managers through 2021 and beyond...

1)    Technology is here to stay

Throughout the year, 'we value digital events, but they will never replace face-to-face meetings' was the most repeated quote in our newsroom. Nevertheless, this assumption is somewhat groundless: virtual events are not here to replace personal contact, but rather to be another working tool. Looking at the long run, smart digital transformation is needed. Look beyond the webinars and online events. Consider easily accessible communication tools online communities for your local partners, digital tourism transformation and creation of future meeting spaces.

2)    Site inspections are not city tours

When planning your next site inspection, try a different approach than just
a guided city tour. Of course, checking the best hotels, venues and restaurants should be still at the basis of any fact-finding visit, but don't let yourself be caught in unnecessary steps. Timeis money and it will be better spent on networking activities, business meetings and a specialised agenda so that your visitor can connect the dots for their next event. Try to know your entourage better and remember: city tours can simply be done by visitors themselves whenever a free afternoon is included in the programme.

3)    Back to the origin

The COVID-19 outbreak was a wakeup call for destinations to shift their attention back to domestic markets. Some of you might realise how they were not at the core of your strategy before the pandemic. Don’t sweat it: now it’s the time for you to develop these markets by bringing together local partners to find new survival ideas or, if necessary, even a short-term business model shifting idea.

4)    Rational, but not desperate

When talking about bidding for association events, indeed, we were taught to look ahead to three or five years from now. But think about it, are associations still planning their events so much ahead of time? Well, not all of them! Depending on the changing of policies, different organisations have different visions for their future events. A more dynamic approach such as 'call for RFP' should be implemented. Instead of calling with a strong destination-selling purpose, how about making it a more personal approach? No one will refuse a touch of kindness. But if you have a KPI to fulfil, well, this is the moment for your supervisor to reflect!

5)     Empower your research team

In order to adapt to this ever-changing world, we need to be constantly updated, act accurately according to the general needs and be a trend-observer. Devote part of your attention to the research team. If you don’t have one yet, it’s time to start thinking about it. In any professional sector, research is a vital tool for building knowledge, to increase public awareness and, mostly, to spot lies and root for the truth. Empower your researchers and trust their guidance!

6)     Lobbying is never enough

The pandemic also helped us realise that there is room for improvement in the way we lobby. While various tourist and event segments are determined to get new licenses and incentives for their activities, business events cannot be left behind.In fact, a professional sector valued at a staggering $1.5 trillion per year cannot afford to leave its services and impact unnoticed. Try to harmonise the best policies, highlight the economic contributions to your destination, protect the thousands of jobs nurtured annually. Yes, lobbying in the MICE industry is far from complete.

7)    Improve your industry ecosystem

Not everything is within the scope of your action, but, as a destination manager, you should have a say in strengthening your local event ecosystem. This is a unique opportunity to gauge the players you trust, redesign your city map, consider hotels, restaurants, venues, companies, institutions and so on. Remember that planning a meeting in a strange host city can be daunting and bumpy. By making sure that you direct the content of your meetings at the right stages and places, you are not only guaranteeing the success of your client, but also boosting the stakeholders of your local business. This is a win-win situation! So ask yourself: how can I look at my conference city as a whole and not as the sum of its parts?

8)    Act locally

Sometimes, we become so obsessed with our international exposure that we forget there is also a marketand valuable assets around us. The COVID-19 crisis also served as a reminder of an often unspoken rule: do not underestimate the power of your local partners. They can represent a potential ally in building your event destination. Opening the doors of your convention centre as a makeshift hospital is not just a good deed: it’s a commitment to the foundations of your business. This is the moment when CSR should play the main role!

9)    Building trust in the ‘new normal’

In these crazy times, we need to be prepared for constant changes. A more dynamic way of negotiating is needed when facing clients from non-profit organisations. Consider their point of view. Aren't we all seeking for goodwill and understanding during a tough patch? To carry this load, we must not forget neither the long standing relationships that we built in fat years with our clients, nor their struggle now. Crises like these are a ‘russian rou- lette’ because they hit us when we least expect it. Support your local associations, give them a voice and you will be surely rewarded.

10)   DMC's are here for a (good) reason

Are you overloaded with work commit- ments and bids? Is your team shrinking? 2021 will bring a long round of negotiations to the table, including searching for new sponsors, remodeling the client portfolio and reshaping of your staff. Share your workload and trust your partners. Outsourcing the event management could be the most suitable plan for a long-term solution. Whether for meeting planners or DMCs, delegating functions will serve to both unload your business burden and optimise quality service within your conference destination. DMCs have the expertise, cachet and necessary experience to put innovative ideas into practice and crack the puzzle within budget. Keep in mind, this is not just getting your own work done, but also solidifying others’ positions in the industry.

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Supported by the Union of International Associations (UIA), the International Association of Professional Congress Organisers (IAPCO) and the Interel Group, the global public affairs and association management consultancy, Headquarters Magazines serve the needs of international associations organising worldwide congresses.