DMAI’s Rebrand: Q&A with President and CEO Don Welsh

Author: Michelle Russell       

DMAI President and CEO Don Welsh spoke to Convene about how the new name helps to refocus the organization.

What was the thinking behind the name change?

As a former member and currently in the job, I never felt as though DMAI is a consumer-facing brand. Our brand is intended to be a trade association and provide benefits and services for our members, which are CVBs. The word “marketing” somehow implies that you’re going to market either the product or the services you have to an external audience.

As far as priorities for the organization, the one thing we felt paralleled with our board’s vision was to look at international opportunities. There are international audiences who have an appetite for the research, education, products, and services we have. So once there was a determination that we were going to embark on an international growth strategy for the organization, we needed to do research, which our partners and friends at Miles Partnership helped us conduct. We looked internally, externally, we did surveys, we had one-on-ones and group discussions — all in terms of what is the most appropriate naming for the organization.

We traveled internationally, meeting with the ECM [European Cities Marketing] Group, ICCA [International Congress and Convention Association], and some Asia-Pacific groups, as well as in Canada and Mexico. That all went into this research funnel. Miles presented different options to Melissa Cherry, our chief marketing officer, who did a lot of vetting herself with a small group. As things became more fine-tuned in terms of options, we engaged our board. And then, with a recommendation from our marketing group and the Miles team, the board unanimously supported the name Destinations International.

When we presented it at the CEO Summit in Nashville a few months ago, we were all pleasantly surprised. When the brand was announced, there was a standing ovation from the 200 people in the room — which I think was validation of the hard work that had been done getting it to that point.

Beyond more fully engaging the international audience, what will the rebranding accomplish?

It more fully defines the focus of the organization, which is now education, research, advocacy, and community. Each of those will be standards across the board, but each of those can be adapted to the countries or the regions that we are serving, which gives us a bit more flexibility. And we carried on some of the same look and feel of the logo with very little deviation to the foundation to bring the two together.

It’s important to stress, however, that we’re not taking our eye off of the ball in terms of the 80-plus-percent membership makeup we have now in the U.S. It’s just a better platform not only to meet our members’ needs domestically but also globally.

What progress have you made internationally?

The Event Impact Calculator (EIC) broke 200 subscribers in the United States alone, and now [we’re having conversations with destinations in] Canada, Mexico, Colombia, and Europe. Everybody now is focusing on accountability — they need metrics. They need something other than opinion or self-generated reports to validate the performance of a meeting, event, or festival, and the EIC has done that. We’re going through the exercise right now of taking Canadian economic information and building that, and we’ll do the same for the euro, the Mexican peso, and the Colombian peso, because the demand’s there.

In addition to validating the economic impact of events and destinations, what are your members’ biggest challenges?

No matter whether you’re looking domestically or globally, funding to some degree seems to be challenged in many cities, states, or countries around the world, where traditional revenue sources back to the CVB are being either questioned or they are being redirected by the elected leaders in those areas. So to help our destinations, we have to make sure that we have tools and products and we can mobilize people — advocacy for our members is critical.

If you look at advocacy and funding as one, in many cases the support CEOs need is to have third-party data. The other side of advocacy is what we’re beginning to see with what we call the “weaponization of travel,” where somehow meetings and tourism that used to be apolitical are now being identified as political targets. We see the growing number of states and cities around the country that the state of California has boycotted [in terms of funding travel on state-sponsored trips to states with discriminatory LGBT laws]. And that list seems to be added to every day. Understandably, there are valid reasons for the concern, but we feel as though a broad-based boycott against a city or state can be handled differently to address human rights issues — which we totally support.

What we’ve tried to do recently, with the help of North Carolina and other interested parties, is to support Texas [with the bathroom bill debate that was taking place in the Texas legislature]. Hopefully, Texas lawmakers will not only look at what occurred in North Carolina [with its bathroom bill] in terms of economic loss, but also reputational damage.

We’re mobilizing staff as well as outside professionals. When Brand USA had its proposed budget cut by the Trump administration, we quickly helped mobilize along with U.S. Travel, supplementing and complementing their aggressive letter-writing campaign to elected leaders about what this would mean if somehow these cuts went through. We used a new technology on that — fill in the format, the letter’s already done for you, and off it goes to [elected officials] within seconds.

On the flip side, what would you say are the greatest opportunities for your members?

I think the work being done by the MMB [Meetings Mean Business Coalition], and having partners like PCMA, ASAE, MPI, and other industry organizations along with us sitting at the table now to talk about the significance and relevance of meetings, is gaining traction. The desire to expand the concept of MMB internationally excites us. Because one thing I’ve learned now in my one-year-plus on the job and a lot of travel is this: I don’t care whether you’re sitting in Atlanta or Athens, the importance of a meeting [cannot be overstated]. Not only in terms of its economic impact and what it does for the local community — the usual metrics like taxes, benefiting restaurants, those kinds of things — but what it does also for the image creation of that community. When a meeting comes in, participants might be thinking about opening up an office or relocating an office to a destination that is aligned with their business or cultural aspects of their company. Meetings are being viewed now in a very holistic manner. I’m encouraged by that, really encouraged.

What opportunities do you see in terms of Destinations International’s connection to meeting professionals?

One area that I think that we have an incredible opportunity to really expand upon in 2017 and beyond will be the value proposition that CVBs provide to a meeting planner or a decision maker in the meetings process. I think traditionally a lot of CVBs are involved when they’re citywides or there’s an annual repeat piece of business coming in.

But it’s our opinion that the destination should be the independent keeper of knowledge for their city. They know what hotels are under development, they are the authoritative experts in their respective marketplaces. If somehow a planner does not involve the CVB in the decision process, we believe they’re cutting short the benefits that meetings can derive — in terms of logistics, partners, or thinking about booking a meeting three to five years from now.

I think right now that there are certain organizations and industries that somehow have not used the CVB to that extent. There is a loyal group of users, but with organizations that somehow do not engage the CVB to the extent that we believe they should, there’s going be a lot of messaging starting soon on the value proposition for a meeting planner to involve a CVB.

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