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October 19, 2008

RUN DMC:Are you getting the most out of destination management companies?

If you’re looking to hold an event in an unfamiliar location, finding the right destination management company can prove invaluable. Ian Whiteling investigates the services on offer and how you can get the most out of them.

With growing pressure put on corporate meetings and events planners and organisers, in recent years, to deliver more exciting, engaging and inspiring meetings, incentive travel programmes and events, they have cast their net wider to increasingly exotic and far flung destinations. Whether this trend will subside as sustainability issues rise to the fore and the credit crunch bites remains to be seen, but many destinations globally are witnessing growth in overseas events business, and many have aggressive marketing strategies.

Lithuania, for example, has recently appointed UK branding agency Saffron Brand Consultants to raise its profile globally, while Portugal is aiming to increase the contribution events make to its overall economy to 15% – and these are just two of many such cases.

Pushed to the limit
Holding an event overseas can be a great way to wow delegates, but an unfamiliarity with the territory really pushes organisers to the limit, from finding venues to sourcing suppliers. This is where destination management companies (DMC) have carved a niche.

“A DMC is a specialist service organisation offering unique local knowledge, expertise, creativity and, above all, contacts in countries all over the world,” explains Padraic Gilligan, managing director of Ovation Global DMC based in Ireland. “They are specialists in the depth of their destination knowledge, but also in their strategic understanding of the meetings and events industry.”

According to Christophe Verstraete of Euromic, an DMC covering 34 locations across the world, the term destination management company was coined in 1982 by one of his organisation’s Swedish members, Tom Risbecker, to distinguish the function of its members from those of ground service operators. “The DMC specifically aimed to serve the meetings industry,” he says.

Demand remains strong
Although the travel and events industries have changed much since then, and there has been a lot of pressure on companies to cut out the middlemen and book flights and accommodation direct, a rise in popularity of overseas events means DMCs have generally survived, with many still very much in demand.

“The importance of the DMC role has increased greatly over the last few years as in-house corporate meeting planners seek greater levels of strategic engagement from their destination partners,” says Gilligan.

“Procurement departments in corporations often demand that in-house meeting planners work direct in the destination without the support of an agency or third party. This elevates the role of the DMC accordingly, as it has to become cognisant and capable of delivering on corporate objectives and not just making buses turn up on time!”

There’s also the chance that this situation could heighten further as those companies that have followed a recent trend of taking their event management in-house return to DMCs. “With the current economic slowdown, the internal corporate event departments seem to be the first victims of downsizing, as companies once again turn to the outsourced intermediaries,” comments Verstraete.

For proof of this phenomenon, look no further that BMW’s announcement, recently, that it was slashing its internal events team.

More than destination details

So apart from local knowledge of venues and suppliers, what else do DMCs offer?

“In today’s demanding marketplace, time is often our most precious asset,” says Gilligan. “A good DMC can save a corporate meeting and events planner hours and hours of precious time – and money – by providing knowledge, expertise, creativity and contacts that match customer needs precisely and help to deliver solutions that meet corporate objectives.”

Meanwhile, Verstraete is keen to emphasise the hands-on nature of their role. “Don’t forget that it is the DMC that will be on site to make sure that everything is in place: buses, staff, equipment, rooms set up with the right number of covers, policies for beverages understood by restaurants and caterers, etc. And it is this quality control that often makes the difference between success and disaster.

“Through their experience with the location and the suppliers, the DMC can spot potential problems with services before they materialise, so that the participants will never even notice,” he continues. “This is probably the most the crucial service a DMC offers.”

Managing the relationship

Of course, there are ways that organisers can make the most of these skills.

“If a DMC is brought into the process early enough the full benefits of their expertise and local knowledge can be realised,” says Gilligan. “A good DMC will provide a lot more than mere logistical back up in a destination. They will engage from the ‘get-go’ and provide creative input, so that the destination is presented aligned with business and corporate objectives.”

For Verstraete, it’s all about working in partnership. “The relationship should be based on trust, understanding and communication,” he says. “Understanding the end client’s needs is a key element.”

Tracking down the right partner

Just like in any industry, DMCs do vary, and it can be difficult finding the right one to suit your particular purpose.

“While by definition, every DMC should offer full service from first proposal to departure – including ground operations, in depth logistics, special events coordination, room gifts, venue selection, and much more – not all companies do,” says Verstraete. “To offer high-calibre destination management, a company needs to have excellent industry contacts that offer favourable rates to the DMC.  However, most importantly, a DMC must have dedicated and knowledgeable staff.”

A DMC’s service offering can vary in line with the target market, according to Gilligan. “Some specialise in very definite market segments, such as automotive, financial and insurance, while others focus exclusively on key geographical territories, perhaps North America or Europe,” he explains. “The variety of service will vary according to the demands of each market segment.”

Where to start

A good place to start your search for the best DMCs is to consider their level of engagement with industry associations, such as SITE, MPI, ISES, ICCA, PCMA and others. Special Events magazine also publishes an annual Top 25 DMCs in the World survey, which is another indicator, as are the various industry awards, such as the SITE Crystal Award, the MPI Paragon Award and the ICCA Marketing Award.

Once you honed your list down to those that appear suitable for your event, contact them directly and ask for case studies and testimonials. This will also give you the chance to compare levels of expertise, the kind of services on offer and, of course, price.

The fact that DMCs are still very much a part of the meetings and events industry, despite the drive for cost-cutting, is testament to the valuable work they do. And as with all suppliers, the key is to get them involved with any project as early as possible, provide a detailed brief and keep the lines of communcation open at all times.

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