by Padraic Gilligan, Managing Director, SoolNua
Last week’s post focused on how buyers select destinations and presented three of the considerations or criteria generally used for destination selection by meetings and events professionals – Access, Infrastructure and Value. Here, in no particular order, are another four – Appeal, Financial Support, Safety and MICE Infrastructure.
Appeal – Number 4
Destinations, clearly, will always be selected on the basis of how appealing they are. But therein the conundrum: what does this actually mean? What is it the causes one destination to have “appeal” and another one not to?
What informs our impression of a destination is often random, personal and deeply subjective. Just think Las Vegas. For many it’s a highly desirable, inspirational, hugely appealing destination but for some it’s pure root canal i.e., they’d prefer to go for root canal treatment than go there.
That said, destinations can try to control how they’re perceived by clever and sustained marketing communications. This is where Destination Marketing Organisations (DMOs) must ensure alignment between the messaging aimed at leisure visitors and that aimed at MICE. Remember every MICE visitor is a leisure visitor too and vice versa.
Destinations must be consistently visible in their key target markets, building brand presence through traditional and non-traditional marketing and PR. You want to arrive at the point where the Chair of the conference organizing committee announces at home around her dinner table that the 2020 conference is considering Dublin to an immediate positive response. Her husband has read a great article about the city in The New York Times travel supplement and her kids have seen some good stuff on YouTube videos.
For new and emerging destinations, building positive “appeal” is a marathon not a sprint, it happens as a result of a long term strategy where all departments within the DMO – indeed all the stakeholders vested in building the nation brand – are aligned and committed to a long term vision.
It’s not easy to achieve either because, like an expensive Patek Philippe watch, there are many moving parts.
Financial Support | Subvention – Number 5
How we select destinations in the MICE industry is best understood as a business partnership between the corporation or association sponsoring the event and the city, region or country hosting it. MICE programmes, typically, bring immense benefits to destinations across many metrics, not least financial – a meeting participant, incentive qualifier or conference delegate will spend 4 times more in the destination than her leisure counterpart. This justifies having a strategy around financial support or subvention that tips the balance in favour of your destination being selected.
Supports and subventions come in many shapes and sizes but in all cases provide some special benefit to the event promoter in exchange for placing the business in the destination. In-kind benefits such as after hours, private access to publically owned period buildings are popular “incentives” for incentive planners while complimentary city travel cards add tangible, bottom line benefit to the budget of an association operating a large city wide event.
Some DMOs will partially fund the marketing of the event in order to maximize delegate attendance – clearly a win | win outcome for the conference organizer and the destination and some have a simple contribution metric whereby they give a fixed sum per delegate to the association budget.
A number of years ago, the subvention conversation was turned on its head and widely disrupted by an innovative, audacious initiative on the part of the City of Glasgow. To lock in commitment to the destination, the city developed a model whereby it invested seed capital in start-up events that had the potential to grow over the years into large city wide conferences. The city became a de facto angel investor, partner and stakeholder in the event providing liquidity for the event to pay out deposits, cover early expenses etc but, ultimately, locking the event into the destination for a period of years.
MICE Infrastructure – Number 6
Another criterion in the destination selection process involves auditing and evaluating the in-destination MICE infrastructure. Meetings, incentives, conferences and events require specialist handling and this may only be provided by a highly professional MICE community. But how is the professionalism of this community measured?
Buyers often select destinations by connecting with the convention and visitors’ bureau in there, usually a division within the wider National or City Tourist Board. In established destinations, the CVB will be high profile, its leadership active and visible within the industry at MICE trade shows, industry association conferences and other events. The buyer will use the CVB as its first point of contact in the destination to find other local suppliers – DMCs, local PCOs, AV companies, accommodation providers, off-site venues etc.
For such buyers, the overall professionalism and efficiency of the CVB will play a key role in confirming the choice of destination. Buyers always rely on in-destination support to successfully execute their events so if the CVB is unprofessional and inefficient then for such buyers that destinations is just not an option.
Other buyers rely on direct relationships with DMCs or accommodation providers that have been cultivated over many years in and through participation in industry associations such as SITE, MPI, PCMA, FICP and so on. Thus if destination suppliers are well represented within these associations, the profile of the destination benefits too and this helps to drive choice.
Safety – Number 7
Geo-political and socio-economic cycles have a huge impact on how we select destinations particularly in relation to the priority filter that’s front and centre at any given time in the rotation. When companies and individuals are struggling economically, then price and value will rise to the top of the funnel while in stable economic cycles this alters somewhat and destination appeal may become the priority.
At present we’re undoubtedly in the midst of a new cycle where safety and security are at the top of the funnel. This means that any destination perceived as unsafe will struggle to win or even to retain meetings and events business.
The safety | security criterion spans everything from terrorist attacks (Paris, Nice, Brussels, Istanbul) to pandemics (ZIKA) to acts of God like earthquakes (Italy) and is as connected to the perception of there being a security issue as it is to its reality. The mere perception of “danger” is sufficient to instill fear and insecurity in relation to the destination and there’s little that can be done to combat this once it takes hold.
These are the 7 filters that have been used for many years by event organisers in how they select destinations. They remain central to the entire process and destinations intent of growing MICE business must self-evaluate again them.
*A future post will look at new ways for destinations to achieve differentiation in a crowded marketplace by highlighting the destination as a knowledge hub
Pádraic Gilligan, Pat Delaney and Aoife McCrum run SoolNua, a specialist agency working with destinations, hotels and venues on strategy, marketing and training for the MICE industry