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By Padraic Gilligan, Managing Director, Ovation Global DMC

[First published in Kongres Magazine, December 2011]

According to a recent exchange on Linkedin the term “DMC” or “Destination Management Company” was coined by either Tom Risbecker, Gunter Roleff or Phil Lee. Tasso Pappas and Ralph Holt, both DMC legends in their own right, opt for Europeans Risbecker and Roleff respectively and date the coining of the term to the mid seventies. Chris Lee of ACCESS Destination Services then trumps them both with the credible assertion that Phil Lee (his Dad) actually first used the term in 1972. Two years later – and this is historically documented – Phil persuaded the San Diego Convention and Visitors Bureau to officially adopt the term as a means of differentiating the elevated value proposition of the destination expert from the ground services agency. If Chris is correct, and I believe he is, then 2012 marks the 40th anniversary of the birth of the DMC.

Two industry associations offer useful definitions of the term DMC. Industry Guru, Tasso Pappas, provides a useful summary of these on Linkedin (on the ADME Group). Site, formerly known as the Society of Incentive and Travel Executives, defines the DMC as “a local service organisation that provides consulting services, creative events and exemplary management of logistics based on an in- depth knowledge of the destination and the needs of the incentive and motivation market”. ADME, the US based Association of Destination Management Executives, offers this one: “DMC is a professional services company possessing extensive local knowledge, expertise and resources, specializing in the design and implementation of events, activities, tours, transportation and programme logistics”

But what does this definition mean in real, tangible terms? What is the true value and worth of the DMC? After 40 years of industry evolution what does the DMC bring to the table as its own unique, irreplaceable and indispensable offering? I believe successful DMCs build their unique value proposition upon the following 5 pillars.

1.    Wide Industry / Business Knowledge

DMCs provide destination services to the Meetings Industry but this is far from a homogeneous community. The Meetings Industry is truly multi-faceted and includes meetings, incentives or motivational experiences, conferences, events and exhibitions. Clients come from the corporate, association, government and not-for-profit sectors. Good DMCs will understand the diverse and, indeed, divergent distribution channels of each sector and segment. They’ll know, for example, how to reassure a medical doctor concerned about the scientific aspect of his conference or a marketing director in search of that elusive, indefinable “Wow!” experience. They will be well versed in the rules and qualification processes that determine participation on a motivational experience and will know the priorities for impactful delivery of Strategic Meeting Management Programmes.

2.    Local Knowledge

Another bedrock of the successful DMC, central to the definitions quoted above, is local knowledge. This extends across the entire gamut of possible destination realities from up-to-date product knowledge concerning hotels, restaurants, venues, visitor attractions, activities to in-depth knowledge of the language, history, heritage and culture of the location. Crucially it includes knowledge of local logistics – traffic patterns, parking protocols, motor-coach access, airport formalities – as well as knowledge of local customs formalities, taxation etc. It is wide ranging and multi-disciplinary and extends way beyond the one dimensional data that may be accessible on-line.

3.    Local Connections

The third pillar of the DMC value proposition is local connections. Successful DMCs are intimately connected in their destination to a broad and deep network of contacts. They’ll be on first name terms with the General Managers of all of the iconic hotels in the destination. They’ll be known by all of the major restaurateurs and will have the cell phone numbers of the key holders to various destination attractions. When the wife of the client CEO declares, during the site inspection, that she’d like to add some local samples to her collection of beer glasses, the good DMC will be able to direct her straight to the best local source and provide a personal introduction. The good DMC will sit on the many local boards both inside and outside of our industry and will have strong links to business leaders in the destination.

4.    Creativity

The first three pillars may be regarded as key elements in the “science” of good destination management. Essentially these are skills or competencies that can be acquired over a period of time by focused determination and effort. The final two pillars belong more to the “art” of good destination management and are God-gifted qualities with which you are born. The first of these is creativity and is a key differentiator for quality DMCs. Good DMCs contribute the essential creative spark particularly to destination events where their destination knowledge and connections fuse with client objectives to give birth to once off, unique experiences. They also bring their creative approach to bear on all destination logistics and always find new ways of doing all the old, standard things.

5.    Passion

The 5th pillar upon which good DMCs build their value proposition is also part of the “art” of destination management. This is the indispensable quality of passion which will always be integral to the DNA of the DMC. Good DMCs are in love with their destinations and this love is expressed by means of a tangible, palpable passion which, in most cases, is infectious and irresistible. You too fall in love with the destination because you start seeing it through the eyes of a true lover, the local DMC.

1972 was the year that Mark Spitz won an astonishing 7 gold medals at the Olympics in Munich. It was also the year of the invention, by Texas Instruments, of the pocket calculator. But for those of us in the Meetings Industry it was a watershed year that produced a specialized service category in our industry that helps corporations and associations to stage extraordinary meetings and events in destinations all over the world.


5 thoughts on “40 years of growth: the art and science of the DMC

  1. Jane E Schuldt says:

    Padraic: I recall attending what was formerly known as SITE Academy – the forerunner to SITE Universities – when held in New York – so perhaps 1980 or 1981 – when the moniker DMC, in use by that time in several arenas and by various personnel as you’ve suggested, was officially adopted by Site.

    1. padraicino says:

      Thanks Jane – there’s definitely a requirement for someone to write the definitive history of the DMC Industry before all the pioneers shuffle off to that great incentive travel programme in the sky!

  2. Pat Marks says:

    Love the way that you put it….before all the pioneers shuffle off to that great incentive travel programme in the sky!

    Yes it is so true, we are all in our comfortable little corners of the world, growing, building, surviving the economy and smiling.

    Some of the members of the major cities should step forward and take that trip down memory lane and put it in writing. There are some outstanding DMC’s in ADME.

    Pat Marks

    1. padraicino says:

      Pat – many thanks for the kind comments. Hope to see you at the forthcoming ADME event in February.

  3. Padraic, you have articulated well the “art and science” of our profession. Thank you (and ADME) for continuing to raise awareness of the value of Destination Management around the world in this 40th anniversary year!

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