by Shelly Archer, 360 Destination Group | July 21, 2014
It’s amazing how many things have to go right when you’re planning a meeting or incentive travel program, and how easily it all can fall apart. You made it to the hotel, but the CEO was taken somewhere else. The table linens arrived in the wrong color. The entertainment arrives, and you realize they are better suited for a wedding party than a corporate party. In corporate meeting and incentive travel programs, problems can seem compounded as meeting and incentive planners work to design and manage unique travel programs in an unfamiliar city.

No matter what size your company is, you have many tasks you need to balance as a meeting and/or incentive planner. When that meeting or incentive program is out of town, your responsibilities are doubled. You have to identify potential venues that suit your event size and purpose, and then narrow down the list to your final candidates. There are also caterers to contact and hire, as well as speakers to research and book. It’s possible that you’ll have to create an agenda and print out educational materials for the meeting.
At the same time, you have to be in contact with attendees and handle their needs. You’ll be working with hotels to arrange special event rates, booking flights, and finding deals on rental cars. In some cases, you’ll have to contact transportation services to take your guests to and from their hotels. Of course, it’s also necessary to coordinate meals, entertainment, and other special activities for participants.

On top of all you have to do, you need to be mindful of how the event location factors into the planning. The majority of your event-related tasks will be taking place from afar, so you’ll have to rely on pictures of venues and referrals for multiple vendors. Suddenly, your task list is longer than the latest Stephen King novel, and it’s completely impractical to do all of the planning without knowledgeable help. 

Why Use a DMC?
An accredited destination management company (DMC) is the solution to avoid the program disasters while planning events in unfamiliar locales. The “boots on the ground” knowledge will prove to save money and time for those meeting professionals that understand the complexities of organizing large events. 
Below is list of the important functions that DMCs can provide:

The Right Brain Side of Programs – Creativity
What makes a corporate program memorable? Of the countless meetings and incentives that today’s executive will attend, why do some stand out and other vanish like soap bubbles? It takes the perfect synergy of ideas to create and set the stage for enjoyment. 

A DMC will talk with you to gain an understanding of the meeting goals, group demographics, and other pertinent information, taking all of this into consideration. The perfect event is a recipe where the main ingredient is creativity. It’s a combination of venue, décor, entertainment, and logistics that will make a complicated event appear to be effortless on the surface.
The Local Factor
Being from out of town, you don’t have ongoing relationships with travel companies, caterers, hotels, and transportation services. You’re unlikely to benefit from the special deals, discounts, or perks that these companies are able to offer their local colleagues. In addition, you don’t have familiarity with the area. It’s hard to plan special activities for your event attendees when you don’t know the best attractions and restaurants around town.

A DMC is a partner that can manage many of these projects and act as your right-hand man. If you’ve never considered working with a DMC, it’s an arrangement that addresses all of these concerns and takes the complications out of corporate meeting planning. 

You will gain insight into the area by knowing an area’s unique characteristics such as travel flows, heavy traffic times, etc. Often times, this inherent knowledge is undervalued, yet could create such a hiccup it puts a sour taste on the experience. The value of DMCs is that they know which happenings around the city are must-sees. They can work with tour operators to give your attendees an architectural tour of the best sites, arrange a wine tasting for enthusiasts, or get you a block of tickets to the latest blockbuster at theaters. By having this intimate understanding of the area, these types of program disasters can be avoided.

Take Advantage of Professional Relationships
In essence, destination management professionals take on the same projects that planners do; they simply handle them in the city where your event is taking place. Consider all that you’re able to accomplish when making arrangements for a corporate event at home, and you’ll know the value of destination management companies in other cities. They have specialized knowledge of the venues that work best for your event, because they’ve booked conferences for clients in the past. These experts can arrange special facilities services for exhibit halls and coordinate moving companies for vendors. Many meetings and incentives require technical set ups or A/V equipment for presentations, so you’ll be covered for these types of support needs.

DMCs work with vendors repeatedly and thereby the DMC is considered a high volume and important customer in most cases. A good DMC will negotiate year-long or volume discounts with these vendors and pass along that saving to the client. If you are coming into a market once a year or once every two years, you cannot possibly know who the exceptional vendors from the flakes. Part of the value of a DMC is to engage the vendors that are tried and true and have a track record of doing a great job. 

The Left Brain Side of the Program – The Details
Naturally, it takes a lot of billable manpower in the preplanning stage.  If your DMC is not handling this, you, as a meeting or incentive planner, are handling all these details alone.  

The best ideas will not be translated correctly is the execution of those ideas falls flat. Impeccable operation is the second half to the corporate program equation. A good DMC will operate everything contracted flawlessly by using a “leave nothing to chance” logistical philosophy. If you, the planner, are putting out fires with speakers, A/V, executives, etc., you will not have time to focus on your guests. 

A DMC will handle contract negotiations with venues and caterers, and handle extensive supplier management as an assurance of quality with all event vendors. Additionally details such as insurance coverage, logistical time-lines and on-sight staffing are all typically done by the DMC. When you partner with an accredited DMC, you will be confident that the services you have entrusted with the DMC will be executed perfectly.  

Part of the details for any program involves billing. Prior to creating the final invoice a DMC will audit all final vendor invoices, making sure there are no hidden fees. Once that’s complete, the meeting planner will receive one centralized final invoice for all event-related services.  It’s simple — one contact, one contract, one phone call.

How to Separate the Best from the Rest
Selecting the right DMC usually starts with a referral. Referrals can come from other meeting planners you may know, hotels in the region or from the Association of Destination Management Executives (ADME). 

Think of a DMC as the general contractor for the party you want to build. Discuss your vision and collaborate. Meet them in-person and do a site inspection. Consider your budget and be realistic. Outline the range of services you will need. Consider industry experience and depth of staff. 

With everything on your plate as you plan distant corporate meetings, you need a reliable professional that you can rely on to make sure the event proceeds exactly as planned. The value of destination management companies lies in the dependable partnership you create with your long distance associate. The advantages are obvious, but choosing a company wisely will also impact your success. Review their qualifications, separate the best from the rest, and you’ll find the right fit for your business.

Shelly Archer has more than 20 years of experience in the incentive travel industry. As a partner at 360 Destination Group, she works in the Orange County, CA, office and focuses her efforts on marketing and sales. She has extensive experience in the field of destination management and is a well-respected voice in the DMC community. 360 Destination Group is a leading national DMC that was founded in 1978. It currently has offices throughout California, Florida, and Chicago.