ACCESS Destination Services, a national destination management company (DMC), was recently ranked No. 2,779 in Inc. Magazine’s Top 5000 Fastest Growing Companies in America and was the only DMC that made the 2013 list. The company was also ranked No. 28 among the magazine’s Top 100 Travel & Hospitality companies.
Although the company has been around for more than 43 years, it started expanding into the national market just a couple of years ago. Rather than raising money and buying other companies, ACCESS representatives went to existing operators that were already strong and well-known in their region of the country. From there, they formed a licensing partnership, in which the company created a consortium of companies that operate under the ACCESS brand.
We spoke with Chris Lee, CEO of ACCESS Destination Services, to see what makes this DMC stand out to meeting planners and find out what direction the company is going at such a fast rate.
PREVUE: How do you feel about ACCESS being included in Inc. Magazine’s Top 5000 list?
Chris Lee: I’m very excited for us especially since we’re a company that’s been around for as long as we have. I joke with people that we are a 43-year overnight success. That’s one of the things that make us stand out on the list because so many of the other companies are start-ups that started with zero and have grown so rapidly. Since we’ve been around for a while, it shows that we’re still innovating after all these years. Our growth is more reflective of changes in the marketplace. We’re affecting the change by still standing after really being a regional company for so many years. Our clients have challenged us and encouraged us to become national and work with them across the country.
Why do you think ACCESS was included on the list and what does being one of the fastest growing companies mean for the future of meeting planners working with the company?
Really it’s just a continuation of the consolidation that’s been going on for a number of years in the meetings industry. A lot of meeting planning, both corporate and third-party, has gotten more complex with procurement, risk management and financial oversight. A lot of the big meeting-planning departments have scaled down and it’s getting harder to manage 20 to 30 independent suppliers across the country. Clients reported that it’s not as efficient to have 20 to 30 independent suppliers on the DMC space and they would prefer to work with three or four national partners.
We started having that conversation a few years ago. Unlike a lot of membership consortiums that have a high-degree of turnover, we started long-term partnerships with our destination management partners. For the benefit of our client, everyone is ACCESS Destination Services. We have the same insurance coverage and same high standards of customer service that sets us up across the board at all of our locations so there’s no weak link in our chains.
What do you find to be the most difficult part of your job, and how do you overcome those challenges?
In an industry that has very few barriers for entry, it’s easy for anyone to call themselves a destination management company. With a slick website and impressive sales people, you can certainly give the impression of being a national company that provides great service. Everybody claims what we’re claiming. The most difficult thing is communicating to clients the difference between ACCESS and some other DMCs that claim to be good. When clients look at a website and a proposal, it’s hard to distinguish who has the depth and the substance. I think getting clients to look past the superficial image that’s created and really look at the structure that’s created is our biggest challenge right now.
What are key factors for meeting planners to consider when looking for a quality DMC?
I would say you want a company that has a proven track record over many years. A lot of upstarts seem creative and flashy but there’s so much on the line when you’re planning a meeting—not just the financial investment but you only have one chance at it. Also, people like to work with the owners. We’re still a small business. A planner wants local ownership and someone that’s invested in their program in that city, not just from a satellite office. Creativity is also huge and finding a DMC that gets the goal of the program. Another key factor is being able to find a company that can give real references and testimonials. Clients should ask for testimonials from people who have actually done programs like theirs. One of the things we base our success on is that over 80 percent of our business comes from repeat customers and clients referring new clients.
What does the future hold for ACCESS?
We’re going to continue to stay close to our customers and service them but we’re going to expand into markets where our customers want us and will support us. That’s the big thing is expansion but not crazy expansion. It needs to be organic and will be based on customer input.