By Sarah Beauchamp, Assistant Editor, Katie Kervin, Assistant Editor, and David McMillin
This industry never takes a break and neither do we. Convene was on site to cover the Destination Management Association International’s (DMAI) Annual Convention, in Orlando; Meeting Professionals International’s (MPI) World Education Congress (WEC), in Las Vegas; and the Exhibit & Event Marketers Association’s (E2MA) Red Diamond Congress, in Chicago. Here’s our rundown of each:
DMAI 2013: ‘BETTER TOGETHER’ The Peabody Orlando, July 15–17
By Sarah Beauchamp
Convene sponsored futurist and social innovator Rachel Botsman's opening general session keynote at the 99th DMAI Annual Convention.
In the center of the table were markers, pipe cleaners, old magazines, poster board, scissors, and tape. Using these supplies, eight CVB representatives had to create an advertisement for a fantasy destination — with a pre-assigned name — as part of the new-member orientation at DMAI’s 99th Annual Convention. My group was tasked with marketing a destination with the unfortunate moniker “Nose Clip Earplug Province.”
Understandably, some members of the group were initially discouraged. “You can’t smell or hear anything at our destination?” one person asked. But this was quickly countered with: “Or, it could be that we have a lot of water, and everyone’s a synchronized swimmer.” From there, ideas flowed (much like the many waterways of Nose Clip Earplug Province), and soon our poster board was covered in blue pipe-cleaner waves and images of swimmers, suns, and happy beachgoers. Despite a seemingly impossible destination to promote, our team ended up winning the challenge. This collaboration was the first of many real-life examples I witnessed exemplifying the conference’s theme: “Better Together: Integrating Our Strengths.”
That message was carried throughout the convention. From inspiring opening keynoter Rachel Botsman — futurist, social innovator, and author of What’s Mine Is Yours: How Collaborative Consumption Is Changing the Way We Live — to more than 40 hands-on education sessions, the notion of fellow industry professionals partnering together was not only encouraged, it was shown to be mandatory if the DMO community is to remain relevant.
Collaboration is crucial for surviving in today’s business world, Botsman told a packed ballroom on Monday afternoon, in a presentation sponsored by Convene. She described how technology is making the world a smaller place by bridging geographical divides, and how it’s imperative to work with — not against — the masses, in order to get ahead. In the current collaborative climate, there are some key elements necessary to succeed, according to Botsman: crowd power, social design, real-time access, and peer trust. She emphasized the importance of providing — through mobile, social, and local technology — a simpler, more personalized, human experience for audiences.
During Tuesday’s general session, “Destination Marketing for the Next 100 Years,” straight talk from a panel of North American CVB leaders reflected many of Botsman’s ideas. The DMO executives outlined ideologies that are vital to adopt or avoid in a rapidly changing environment. “It’s important to focus on the things that lift us,” said Stephanie Brown, executive director of the Asheville (N.C.) Convention & Visitors Bureau, adding that it’s a good idea to weed out people who are dragging down your team, time, or resources.
The room rumbled with applause when Tom Norwalk, president and CEO of Visit Seattle, said that it was time to “stop complaining and whining about funding.” He added: “All of us are charged with finding a way to get the job done. Stop chasing services that may not matter.” In a world bombarded by new technologies and business opportunities daily, it’s important to remember the core goals of a project or event, and not dwell on the bells and whistles. “Stop trying to be everything to everyone,” VISIT FLORIDA President and CEO Will Seccombe said.
Later during the session, something Brown said stuck with me: “We’re connecting visitors to businesses, but now we need to start connecting them to experiences.” She stressed the idea of CVBs becoming less like the “white pages” and more like “storytellers.”
“The challenge is to integrate all of these things,” she said of the ideas discussed at the session, “to unlock these stories.”
While I was wandering the trade-show floor after the general session that same day, I was introduced to Oscar Morales, marketing manager for the Guadalajara CVB. As we discussed the panel session, he said to me: “Planners think, ‘What do I need a DMO for? It’s just brochures and things.’ But it’s much more than that.”
For example, DMOs can be advocates for stronger infrastructure in their cities, which was explored during the education session “Setting the Agenda: Destination Development in Transportation.” DMOs also work with planners and hoteliers to mitigate risk when it comes to unused room blocks, as discussed during the session “How Many Rooms Does This Convention Really Use?”
And DMOs must, as Brown pointed out, act as storytellers. This strategy was driven home during the final-day session “Telling the Story Through Personalized Content,” which covered how DMOs can employ everything from social-media tools to multimedia journalism to market their destinations. After three days at DMAI, it was clear that the sphere of their influence goes way beyond brochures.
MPI 2013: ‘WE CHANGE THE WORLD’ Mandalay Bay Convention Center, Las Vegas, July 20–23
By Katie Kervin
“When we meet, we change the world,” MPI general-session emcee Marvelless Mark — nicknamed “Corporate America’s Business Rock Star” — announced to 2,000-plus attendees at this year’s World Education Congress. And changing the world in big and small ways was the theme at the annual gathering of MPI members from around the globe.
Inspiring change was certainly the focus of opening general-session speaker Candy Chang, whose quiet yet powerful presence brought the ballroom to a hush as she told the audience: “It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day and forget what really matters to you.” Chang is a TED senior fellow as well as an urban-space artist and designer. Her project “Before I Die” started in 2011 on an abandoned house in her New Orleans neighborhood. She painted one side with chalkboard paint and stenciled the repeating phrase “Before I die I want to …,” with a blank line for people to write in their own words. The board soon filled with her neighbors’ aspirations in life — from “Swim without holding my nose” to “Own a house” to “See equality.”
After an overwhelming response, Chang created a kit for people who want to put up their own neighborhood walls. To date, more than 250 walls have gone up in 50-plus countries. WEC attendees got a chance to fill in their own version of a “Before I Die” wall set up in the Knowledge Hub — where participants could join small “campfire sessions” and find resources to strengthen their careers — and ended up scrawling more than 200 phrases, such as “Be happy with myself” and “Mentor thousands.”
Jeffer London leads a session on MEGA Conversations at MPI's World Education Congress. Photo courtesy of Orange Photography.
Education sessions at WEC were likewise designed to inspire change in the way participants approach their work. A large portion of