Word Up: Takeaways from Destinations International 2019

Author: David McMillin       

Destinations International CEO Don Welsh takes the stage in St. Louis.

Destination marketers have big audiences to reach — event organizers, business and leisure travelers, journalists, and social-media influencers. But when more than 1,500 of those marketing professionals arrived at the Destinations International Annual Convention 2019 in St. Louis, July 22–25, Jack Johnson, the organization’s chief advocacy officer, told them that they needed to redefine who they serve. “Your residents,” Johnson said, “are your customers.”

Those residents include politicians, many of whom have seemed like unhappy customers in recent years, sounding alarm bells about accountability and calling for budget cuts to CVBs. Johnson, along with Andreas Weissenborn, the organization’s senior director of research and advocacy, reviewed footage from city council meetings, social-media posts, statements from elected officials, and news stories to get a better sense of how lawmakers look at travel, tourism, and meetings. The analysis revealed that attracting visitors can be a winning issue on either side of the aisle: New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, and former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican, emerged as two of the biggest advocates for the field. Finding more of those advocates, though, will rely on thinking — and speaking — differently.

“We need to stop saying things like, ‘We support X number of jobs,’ and instead, we should talk about the number of jobs we create in the community,” Weissenborn said. “A lot of times, people think it’s simple wordsmithing, but it’s not. It’s about creating an emotional hook.”

The importance of subtle language adjustments has already been a discussion topic among destination marketers. At its 2018 annual convention, the organization unveiled 10 words for a new tourism lexicon, but this year’s program included 10 additional terms designed to help members rewrite their mission statements and organizational visions. Megan Trummel, director of marketing and corporate communications at Visit Phoenix, included some of those terms in the organization’s updated mission statement: Visit Phoenix’s mission is to enhance the lives of our neighbors, support people at work within our community and contribute to the creation of economic opportunity in Greater Phoenix through brand development and promotion of the destination. “We’ve been so trained to talk about ROI, room nights, and heads in beds,” Trummel said in an education session in St. Louis. “These [new] terms are simplified for everyday conversation to highlight the benefit [we deliver] to the overall community.”

Johnson and Weissenborn want those benefits to be top-of-mind when politicians look at allocating funds. The expanded lexicon aims to elevate CVBs to the same level of importance as education, health care, and emergency services — the essential pieces of a community that no lawmaker wants to be associated with cutting. “This is about more than just [using] 20 words,” Weissenborn said. “It’s about becoming a community-shared value.”

Connecting the Meetings Ecosystem

As more destination marketers focus on appealing to their respective communities, Destinations International and PCMA unveiled an agreement to bring their members closer together with a partnership for the annual Destination Showcase event in Washington, D.C. The joint venture includes plans for an enhanced education program in 2020, followed by a complete redesign set to debut in 2021. “Content, creativity, commerce, and experiences will come together,” Sherrif Karamat, PCMA’s president and CEO, said in a press conference in St. Louis.

In addition to working with PCMA to organize a face-to-face event that connects event organizers with host cities, Destinations International is in the early stages of building a new technology platform called Event Edge to help CVBs manage their efforts to attract meetings and events. Machine learning and artificial intelligence will help organize data, reduce manual entry, and curate recommendations of ideal pieces of group business for specific destinations. CEO Don Welsh told the audience in St. Louis that the tool will mark the “next evolution of MINT,” the organization’s Meetings Information Network database, and will be “reengineered from the ground up.”

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