(After ‘El Amor en los Tiempos del Cólera’ by Gabriel Garcia Marquez)

Hugo Slimbrouck looks into how the DMC can remain relevant and use this time to up-skill and offer added value to clients.

Fifty years, nine months, and four days. That is how long Florentino had to wait, after first declaring his love to Fermina, to finally marry her. The book by Gabriel Garcia Marquez was written in a style called magical realism. The surrealistic novel that we all ended up in six months ago will hopefully not last that long. But by the end of our book, it looks like the world in which we now live will be different from the one in which we felt comfortable only half a year ago.

DMCs – the need for a new business model?

With the drastic reduction of international events, one of the questions we have been asking ourselves lately is whether the key roles of a DMC can retain meaning. Local logistics and production, creative events and even run of the mill activities such as transfers and dine arounds are not happening. Should we change our business model?

Digitalizing DMCs and Events

At the start of 2020 our company had just come out of the two most successful years of growth and profit in the history of the group. There had been a plan, years ago, to move to digital – and our most recent version of this plan put even more emphasis on digital transformation. Given current circumstances, we may hit our target well ahead of time. However, until Covid19 hit, clients did not easily follow our recommendations into this digital revolution. Nowadays, they absolutely do, and it has been a complete pivot from live to virtual for many of the events we’ve managed over the past few months.

Most people agree that a virtual event cannot replace the Face2Face experience. A virtual meeting requires different planning and new assets. One also needs to upskill on online learning and engagement techniques; skills that a traditional meeting planner does not possess. The format is different, and one needs to safeguard the value proposition and experience for the participant. In terms of marketing, they are easier but different to promote, and more likely to reach much bigger audiences.

Hybrid – the golden opportunity

Hybrid events, I believe, are the trend for the future post Covid19. In hybrid events, the virtual part is basically an extension of the Face2Face. One mixes participants present in the destination, with those who are remote. In this scenario, DMCs can add to the flavour of the destination so that even those who are not present still get a taste and touch of it. A friend of mine has recently created a chocolate and wine tasting team event. The chocolate and wine are shipped to the virtual participants in advance. The event then takes place as a day filled with multiple sessions, followed by a Michelin-star pastry chef taking participants through the chocolate and wine pairing experience. This is a great example of improving engagement, virtually.

The Power of Virtual Connections

I believe that the innovation happening in terms of Virtual/Hybrid events is the new opportunity for DMCs to discover. Both in the way they manage their own business, as well as in the services they provide to clients. It starts with a virtual site inspection or fam trip. Here it is important, in my opinion, that all ‘incoming’ players play the game together. Selling and promoting a destination is a joint task for hoteliers, major venues, convention bureaus and DMCs. Sell your destination first remains the golden rule! As long as the RFP has not been sent out, we all have the obligation to work and partner together to promote our destination above others. One fine example of this was a short video I got in my emails last week, showcasing Slovenia. Another one was the virtual site inspections that the Faroe Islands did two months ago, and a live virtual venue showcase from Norway which focused on sustainability – including a DJ setting the mood, a walk on the beach and an incredible food display. Destination videos are of a prime importance now and I have seen that most DMOs have invested in this recently. Virtual site inspections are the next thing. With the right technology, a destination specialist can tour venues and hotels on behalf of their clients, even being directed by the client if they wish. However, the quality will not come from the technology alone. If you do not have a story to tell, it is not worth the investment.

“For virtual site inspections to replace an actual client visit, it is important not only to deliver your message and show places of interest, but to give the client a true sense of orientation. This includes distances, timings and a suggested flow of events, so the client can feel safe in their knowledge and can get answers to their questions in real time.”

Heidi Legein of The MICE guru, Norway

The crisis has forced companies (both agencies and DMCs) to become more efficient and agile. Virtual site inspections, done right, save all parties crucial time & money and are better for the environment. And, while face to face sales and marketing will always play an important part in the future of our profession, the budget for doing so today is unrealistic. A better balance between digital and in person sales will become inevitably crucial for the financial health of a DMC.

“The crisis has forced all of us to re-evaluate the need for large offices and such fixed overheads, instead investing in better yield projects like training & upskilling our employees, getting certified and updating technological abilities.”

   Eda Özden of MEP Destination Business Solutions, Turkey

Virtual Data

From virtual conferences we should learn that short messages work best, clever, and multiple short presentations have more impact. The feedback you get from these virtual connections and conversations gives you data that was never available before. Short digital conversations, Q&A sessions and surveying will give you lots of data from, and for, your clients. Data is the new currency of the 21st century enterprise, offering yet another a new ‘service product’ that a DMC or event agency can monetize in order to create new revenue streams. In this respect I had a conversation with Joost de Meyer of First Incentive Travel who said the following:

“We should concentrate on millennials and their needs. In our industry millennials are not only clients but also team members creating proposals for their clients. They want different experiences from other generations, for example going to unique & trendy 2nd and 3rd tier destinations, meeting locals, paying attention to sustainability & well-being and having a good life-work balance.”

Joost de Meyer of First Incentive Travel, Florida

To expand on this latter point about 2nd and 3rd tier destinations, virtual technology offers a fantastic opportunity for this type of destination. With current distancing requirements, this may be the chance for the not so crowded city or resort destinations to go for it – but it will, of course, require a good showcase to sell the destination first.

Hybrid Realities

While virtual offers endless opportunities, clients who continue to travel and take events abroad will need the tools to make their event hybrid. DMCs can create new revenue streams by consulting clients on which technology tools are best to use in their local destination, depending on the event/product/service needed, stretching from registration and event apps to virtual team building games. Without guidance, the client will get lost in the maze of technology on offer, so for the DMC, it is an opportunity to find out and test in advance what works well in their destination. For DMCs these are times of re- and upskilling. If you are a DMC, spend some time on this and bounce your ideas off loyal clients to see what can work and what won’t. We still have a few months to do this, unfortunately… so make it fun! Gaming and virtual treasure hunts can certainly be a part of this.

The Evolving but Fundamental Future Role of the DMC

The role of the DMC is certainly changing. DMC team members need to be brought up to par when it comes to organizing virtual and hybrid meetings. Constant learning is important and taking certification programs will broaden team experience. DMCs continue to play an important role in the selection process of the destination but are also more than ever involved in crisis management, working closely and intimately with airlines, hotels and third parties. In essence, while the DMC role is evolving and expanding, it remains as relevant, if not more so, than ever. As David Sand from IwinUwin says:

“I have no doubt that quality DMC’s are even more relevant in a post Covid-19 world and in the future of incentive travel, than in the past. Destination safety, security, confidence, connective networks, and creativity will be key reasons why companies will come back. No fancy advertising campaigns will ensure that, but instead the hard work of real experienced DMC people on the ground, who know how to deliver excellence.”

David Sand of IwinUwin, South Africa

One of the key differentiators of a DMC is its high levels of creativity. For this reason, for most DMCs, it should not be too hard to discover what new services we can offer to our clients, both for those who travel to our destination, as well for as the new “remote” participants. The future is full of opportunities.

Hugo Slimbrouck, CITP, Director of Strategic Partnerships for Ovation Global DMC & Past President of SITE and JMIC

Hugo Slimbrouck, CITP, Director of Strategic Partnerships for Ovation Global DMC & Past President of SITE and JMIC