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The new reality for... DMCs

by Laura Bickle

 

As the industry ponders what reopening will look like, every segment has its own unique challenges. Each week we will reach out to those sectors to get their insights.

Like much of the industry, destination management companies (DMC) have seen a dramatic shift and decline. This week, we spoke to three DMCs pros, both domestically and internationally, about how they are handling the challenges—and the opportunities.

 

The pro: Anita Carlyle, CMP, CMM, managing partner, MCC Destination Management, Toronto

Anita Carlyle

What preparation is currently underway for returning to business?

We are working on a few things:

• Converting any short term conferences that cannot be cancelled or postponed into virtual events; we are watching and evaluating many different platforms and pricing options.  We are also consulting with clients about how to make their meetings and events into hybrid events if they are proceeding in the short term.

• We have developed a series of team building and social programs that can be delivered virtually, everything from  pub trivia and bingo to wine tasting, painting and brewery tours. We even have a few CSR activities available that can be done safely with social distancing.  

• we are confirming that our transportation partners have strong sanitation policies in place and learning how they will be able to accommodate social distancing and back-to-back transfers.  Luxury Coach seems to be the furthest ahead by purchasing fogging machines and separating their luggage areas with plexiglass.

• Even though many of our planners are temporary laid off, we meet weekly via zoom to update everyone on the status of programs—are they a go, no go, or have they "lifted and shifted"?

• We have invested in new technology to ensure we can run 100% remotely currently and if needed, in the future.

How are you working with planners and partners to reschedule postposed events?

A lot of Zoom calls! Most planners and partners have been very flexible and we have been able to shift most of our events.  However, we have started to run into capacity issues for 2021. The clients that first postponed to the fall are now rescheduling for 2021 or further as there is compression from regular annual events that have been booked for next year already.

What are you doing to ensure attendee safety and confidence?

We are closely monitoring what the experts in the health field are saying and following their leads and recommendations. We are  members of Tourism Toronto and Tourism Industry Association of Ontario and watching what their recommendation will be on how to properly return. We are aligning our programs with our various hotel partners to see if we need to renegotiate guest room blocks (to ensure no shared rooms with people other than household members or accommodate an expected decrease in attendance) or to increase meeting space to allow for proper social distancing at events.  Currently this is all still hypothetical as we only have one client that has committed to move ahead with their event before the end of the year.

What will be the greatest challenges?

We are an agile company and we have had to pivot quickly in the past.  Even though we have had staff officially on temporary layoff, they have all insisted on remaining the main contact for their clients and work as needed.  The biggest issue for us is to ensure our partners are ready for us.  We have clients booked at hotels that are now closed and suppliers no longer returning calls.  We may have to find new partners, particularly in regard to off-site venues and entertainment options that may not continue with their businesses.

What guiding principles are you following in regard to decision making? 

SAFETY FIRST!   Then strategic negotiations.  We are all in this together, so any decision to cancel, postpone, re-structure or re-create should be in consultation with all stakeholders.

How do you think the pandemic experience will affect your operation in the short and long term? 

In the short term we are definitely being impacted financially, but I foresee a bump in our business next year as we will be working on executing postponed business, handling pre-pandemic confirmed business and reimagining all future events.  I feel that this horrible experience has made our team stronger as we have been more committed than ever to our regular scheduled team meetings and even having some fun evaluating online activities. 

 

The pro: Cori-Ann Canuel, planning and sales manager, MCI Canada, Toronto

Cori-Ann Canuel


What preparation is currently underway for returning to business?

Everything will depend on the public health guidelines and government regulations, in the meantime we are doing a lot of learning and up-skilling.

We are staying connected with clients, to understand their business and their needs then designing a strategy for their programs to ensure we continue to provide experiences that are safe and meet their objectives.

It’s also important to stay connected to our partners, venues, transportation providers and caterers so that we can all work together, share best practices, brainstorm and find innovative ways to offer clients safe ways to meet in person again.

We are creating more unique local experiences for our Canadian clients. Canada is such a big and beautiful country. As we re-open and people start to meet again, this will be a great opportunity to discover our own backyard.  The focus will also be on options for smaller groups.

We have also created Hybrid options, that will allow regions within an organization to have a unified experience and feeling of togetherness, even if they can’t all gather in the same destination.

How are you working with planners and partners to reschedule postposed events?
It is really one day at time right now. Therefore, we need to offer scenario planning strategies at this stage. Planning a hybrid experience is the best option for rescheduling events as it allows the event to move forward in person or if necessary, to go fully virtual if restrictions are in place. 

What are you doing to ensure attendee safety and confidence? 

We will follow public health guidelines and work with our partners to create best practices.

What will be the greatest challenges in reopening? 

The greatest challenges will also be the greatest opportunities. Human connection and interaction are a deep and necessary part of who we are. We know that meetings, conferences and events create connections, knowledge sharing, motivation and engagement that change the world.  So, as the world reopens, it will not go back to “normal” right away and opportunities for growth and innovation will come from that. We are already seeing the opportunities now with virtual. More attendees can participate in the conference, more knowledge can be shared and more connections, reconnections, collaborations, and partnerships are already happening during lockdown than before. When things re-open we should continue to grow and think outside of the box, like we have been forced to do over the past few months. It will be important to really consider the value of what the event has to offer the attendee. Will people still get on a plane and travel to an event just because this is the way it was done before? The challenge will be ensuring that the event, whether online or in person offers REAL value to the attendee, the company and the world.

What guiding principles are you following in regard to decision making?

We bring people together and build communities, and that can be done whether the platform/location is a hotel ballroom, a large conference centre, resort or an online community.  Therefore we always want to start by understanding our client (their values, culture and spirit), the event (why are they meeting, what do they want to achieve, success criteria) and the audience (who are they, how should they feel, and what is in it for them).

How do you think the pandemic experience will affect your operation in the short and long term? 

MCI Group has 61 offices worldwide and the pandemic has brought us all closer together. Not only across offices, but also across departments. DMC, PCO and Corporate divisions are all collaborating, sharing best practices, and creating processes that every office can benefit from. In a way, this pandemic has created an even more unified, global office for MCI. In the long term, these relationships will only become stronger as we all learn from one another and draw from our shared global knowledge so that we can implement it anywhere in the world. 

 

The pro: Catherine Chaulet, president and CEO of Global DMC Partners (GDP)

Catherine Chaulet

What preparation is currently underway? Global DMC Partners’ DMCs all over the world are following health and safety protocols for their staff, vendors and clients as indicated by their state or country guidelines. In addition, in some countries, they are testing visitors upon arrival and using COVID-19 tracing solutions and mobile apps to track the health of visitors. Each of our partner DMCs is working with their local vendors and suppliers to ensure that health protocols and sanitation guidelines are clearly outlined, tracked and being met. GDP is maintaining a comprehensive document that will be available to our clients that includes information such as when state and country borders will open, when the destinations’ hotels, restaurants, and activity options are expected to be open and at what capacity, the criteria for international travelers to enter the state/country, the percentage of flights are currently coming into the destination, and more.

How are you working with planners and partners to reschedule postposed events? The GDP team is working very closely with our DMCs to help their planner clients review the contract terms and reschedule events to new dates in 2020 or 2021.

What are you doing to ensure attendee safety and confidence?

We are working to educate our DMCs on how live events will look moving forward in the “new normal” with physical distancing limitations, limiting the number of individuals on activities, adjusting minimums on transportation, reworking room set-ups, ensuring catering companies/restaurants provide safe food options, requiring that staff and attendees wear masks, having hand sanitizer stations readily available, reworking registration queues/lines, etc. In turn, our DMC partners will be educating and working with their vendors to ensure that these certain health, sanitation, and safety guidelines are met.

What will be the greatest challenges in reopening? 

According to a recent survey that we just released – GDP’s May 2020 Meetings & Events Pulse Survey – fear, lower attendance and travel restrictions are predicted to be the top three challenges for the meeting, events and incentive industry

What guiding principles are you following in regard to decision making? 

While face-to-face events are not fully replaceable by virtual events and will make a comeback in 2021, a clear outline of health and sanitation protocols throughout the entire event supplier chain is vital to restoring confidence for the future rebirth of face-to-face meetings and events. 

How do you think the pandemic experience will affect your operation in the short and long term? 

In the short term, we are seeing a huge impact to companies in the meetings and events industry. According to our survey, 97.3% reported that their 2020 meetings and events were impacted by the crisis. 56.2% predict they will operate only 25% or less of their 2020 events. 88.2% predict that at least some portion of their 2020 events will be or are already postponed to 2021. In the long term, we do expect live events and travel to come back in 2021 and especially by 2022. According to our survey, the majority (64%) of respondents are predicting that they will host live events sometime between August 2020-January 2021.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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