Putting together a meeting or a conference in a new city can be a daunting task, and even the most experienced meeting planners need help handling logistics, getting special access or solving problems from time to time. When they do, they call on the services of destination management companies.
Destination management companies (DMCs) have been around for a long time, but many meeting planners aren’t familiar with them or what they do, said Fran Rickenbach, executive vice president of Association of Destination Management Executives International (ADMEI).
“I think the DMC is one of the best-kept secrets in the meetings industry,” she said. “A DMC can bring a ton of local expertise to a meeting planner and save them an incredible amount of time in finding the right vendors to put any kind of event together.”
What Are DMCs?
DMCs are on-the-ground, in-the-know experts in their respective destinations. While DMCs operate in the meeting and event worlds, they aren’t planners so much as location experts. They know which venues can, say, bring in a private car collection. They know which traffic routes shuttle drivers should avoid on opening night. They know that an upcoming festival will make it difficult for attendees to get to a particular hotel. They know who to call, and they know how to call in favors.
Rickenbach recounted how a past ADMEI president once said, “You need to know whether or not the venue comes with toilet paper.” Some venues, such as a museum, may require groups to bring their own toiletries because it isn’t in the museum’s budget.
“Think what a disaster it would be to not find that out until the night of the event; but that’s exactly the kind of thing a DMC will know,” she said.
With the meetings industry constantly growing and evolving, “you always have new people coming in, so it’s a constant education process of what we can do for somebody,” said Kevin Brewer, one of three principals of Memphis-based LEO Events.
Both Brewer and Lisa DeLeon, vice president of sales for Destination Tahoe Meetings and Events, said technology puts so much information at planners’ fingertips that they may feel like they know a city or a venue, but information does not equal understanding. And, much like Internet dating, venues, attractions and tours often look better online.
“Our biggest competition is not another DMC in our city; it’s the Internet,” DeLeon said. “A planner Googles a restaurant, and maybe it’s a fantastic restaurant if you’re a couple and it’s date night. But we know they can’t accommodate a group.”
To get the most out of working with a DMC, planners should bring the company in early, be up front about their budget and explain their expectations and needs.
“The earlier you can bring [a DMC] in, the better,” Brewer said. “The earlier we’re involved, the more information we know — what are the parameters, what are your goals for the whole meeting — it’s going to save the planner a tremendous amount of time on the back end.”
Time and Cost Savings
Planners sometimes balk at hiring outside help. Maybe they think it will cost too much, or they aren’t comfortable handing over their event.
Each DMC operates a bit differently, but most offer a la carte services. The DMC can handle all of the ground operations for a meeting or take on only what the planners want to piece out: transportation, entertainment, team building, group tours, venue selection and more.
Maybe a planner travels with a production company so they don’t need audiovisual support, “but you probably don’t travel with your own buses, so we can step in with transportation,” said Brian Ferrell, president of Oklahoma City-based Factor 110/Destination Oklahoma.
Hiring a DMC doesn’t automatically mean more money and may even spell savings.
“They view it as an additional expense, but they don’t realize we’re a volume service,” DeLeon said. “Even with our fees, we may be less than if they call direct.”
For example, a Lake Tahoe ski resort has a set standard group rate, whether for a corporate retreat or a family reunion, she said. But DeLeon’s company brings the resort more than 100 groups year-round, so she’s able to get a deeper discount.
Using a DMC can also save planners time. Because they’re locals and because they’re locale experts, they know who to call to make things happen.
“We can make one call and have a venue lined up for you, whereas you may make 15 calls and not get what you want,” Ferrell said. “We know what works and what doesn’t work. You don’t have to spend all your time searching for what doesn’t work.”
DeLeon recently had a group that wanted to put on a 5K race. Getting a city permit usually takes 90 days, but because DeLeon knows the planners and knows the process, she was able to get it done in only nine.
Many companies have downsized and no longer employ designated meeting planners, instead relying on administrators or assistants. A DMC “saves them so much time because it gives them a resource that we literally do everything,” DeLeon said. DMC employees can also act as on-site staff who can help with registration and gift bags, work that planners would normally need to bring their own people to do.
“The DMC staff basically becomes the staff of that planner,” she said.