by Nancy Mueller
After a bumpy two years in travel with crippling effects on the meetings and events industry, Destination Management Associations (DMA) in the Northwest are fast forwarding with renewed confidence and optimism to brighter days ahead.
Unquestionably, communities have been hard hit by a roller coaster of pandemic uncertainty, leading to numerous closures and cancellations, significant lost revenue and personnel layoffs, whether in transportation, tours, hotels, restaurants, retail or local attractions. Yet industry insiders cite positive recovery results gained through a can-do spirit of collaboration and creativity.
Despite the challenges presented by uncertain economic times, among DMAs an overall feeling of positivity remains. One benefit of the need to adapt to unexpected changing circumstances, according to Philis McLennan, Director of Marketing, Conventions & Sports at Eugene, Cascades & Coast, is that “Our relationships have grown with all venues and service providers as we have built a stronger sense of community weathering the pandemic together.”
Ruth Fitzgerald, Vice President of Sales at Visit Spokane adds, “There is a COVID silver lining, and that is an increased dialog between DMAs, even if they are competitors. We are all in it and it’s going to take a village to bring us through to the other side. The continuation of partnership and collaboration is one of the best ways we can build each other up during what can only be described as the most difficult time in the history of our industry.”
Debbie McCune, Director of Sales for Travel Salem, agrees: “Communication with our partners has been on over drive, and made our relationships even more valued,” while Andrew Heidt, Director of Sales for the Boise Convention and Visitors Bureau, finds: “One of the Boise CVB’s greatest strengths is in our partnerships. They act as a ‘force multiplier,’ expanding our limited resources in many ways.”
Asking the question of how DMAs can best help each other and local businesses navigate the present challenges has resulted in a variety of possibilities. Erica Lindemann, Director of Marketing at Visit Vancouver USA, notes that her organization is “shifting our current focus to giving support to local businesses to help them grow during this unprecedented time.”
Heidt points to the leadership of local partner, Greater Boise Auditorium District, as one such example of how his organization received support when needed most: “They stood by our side by maintaining our funding levels, which enabled us to retain staff. The District also added extra marketing support dollars so we could increase our leisure marketing which we knew would rebound faster and use the extra marketing dollars from the Greater Auditorium District to back an extensive meeting recovery effort, which is still underway.”
By partnering with Travel Salem, Chrissie Bertsch, General Manager of the Salem Convention Center, describes how her organization has been able “to sell our location, our size, our spaciousness, our hybrid models, and our town in the best way possible.”
Beyond partnerships with local entities, Fitzgerald invites meeting planners to be part of the recovery process: “I’m certain I’m not saying anything they haven’t heard before but holding in-person events vs. canceling is our fastest way to recover. Live events equal economic impact which leads to increased tourism tax collection which funds DMAs.” Fitzgerald assures planner partners that “We completely understand and are very empathetic to the hardships of making those decisions and what is at stake for the planner,” adding, “We would like to be a part of the conversation before the decision is made, even if it’s just to have a discovery interview to explore all possible solutions.”
Addressing Client Health & Safety Needs
Understanding that “The safety of our businesses and community members continues to be top of mind,” McLennan at Eugene, Cascades & Coast highlights one of her organization’s initiatives: “Last year, the Lane County community launched the #LoveLaneBiz pledge that invited businesses and community members to make a pledge to safely serve the community by following guidelines, staying informed and continuing to be kind, patient and respectful.”
The results? “The initiative had a high adoption rate and consumers continue to feel confident visiting the establishments and utilizing the services of the businesses.”
After coping with the pandemic for the last two years, DMAs have since implemented systems designed to reassure planners and clients that it’s safe to schedule meetings in their destinations.
McLennan says, “Like most destinations throughout the country, all hotels and event venues have implemented stringent safety and cleaning protocols that are likely here to stay,” citing the following examples: “All venues know their capacities for socially distanced room setups. Hotels and catering companies have developed creative ways to provide individually packaged food and beverage options. Video production companies have become experts at producing and streaming virtual and hybrid events and have developed strong partnerships with the convention hotels and event venues.”
While recognizing that “We may not get back to pre-pandemic ‘normal’ for a while,” Lindemann of Visit Vancouver USA suggests, ”We need to work within the environment that we are currently in and adjust to a format that can still be social and successful.”
It is essential to adapt to the uncertainty of the current environment while simultaneously moving forward. Addressing this strategy, Fitzgerald of Visit Spokane says, “It appears COVID will be here for a while whether we like it or not and demonstrating to planners that we can execute events safely is key to giving them and attendees the confidence they are looking for to hold in person meetings.” For Visit Spokane, this means “We are aggressively exploring ways for meetings and COVID to co-exist through systems and processes that provide the highest level of attendee care.”
McLennan at Eugene, Cascades & Coast recognizes that: “Meeting planners have ridden the roller coaster ride of surges while postponing, rescheduling and canceling events with uncertainty behind each decision. Our conventions team has the utmost compassion for our resilient planners, hotels, meeting venues and destination partners and we could not be any more excited about re-emerging from the pandemic stronger than ever—together.”
From Bertsch’s perspective at Salem Convention Center, “The good news is all clients want to meet again, and things have been picking up like crazy and we are ready to go!” Toward that end, DMOs are rolling out the welcome mat to attract planners to Northwest meeting destinations.
For example, McLennan cites: “no cancellation fees for an event that is postponed due to COVID-19 that is rescheduled at the same participating venue,” and planner rebate incentives of “$5/room night up to $2,000 on new events that are over 200 room nights when confirmed through Eugene, Cascades & Coast (Travel Lane County) and book and host the event in the region prior to June 30, 2022.”
At Visit Spokane, Fitzgerald notes: “We have provided incentives to large meetings that rewards the larger planner with complimentary convention center rental and signing bonus. As the booking window has changed, we are continuing to find ways to support our hotels through promotions and incentives for smaller groups that can fill short term gaps.”
Visit Vancouver USA wrapped up 2021 by “offering a $500 gift to any client/group that signs a contract by the end of this year, with 50 or more room nights.” In addition, Lindemann says: “We will be rebranding in January to create buzz and excitement about Vancouver.”
Media outreach is reemerging as a crucial element in moving forward. Travel Salem will be hosting a FAM Tour in May 2022. And at the Boise Visitor and Convention Bureau, Heidt notes: “Last year, we hosted more than 17 members of the media from all of our top-level targeted publications on a wildly successful virtual media mission we called ‘Escape to Boise’. This year we’re deploying a Social Media Tour of Boise, once again engaging media and influencers for a safe but stimulating experience of our city.”
In looking ahead to 2022 and beyond, Juanita Metzler, Senior Director of Conventions at Eugene, Cascades & Coast, encourages all DMAs to “Stay strong, stay safe and stay connected while we all work together to foster hope and inspire groups to meet again.”
For more information on all the exciting regional developments cited in this article, visit: