There’s a lot of competition for meetings and convention groups in the South, so smaller regional CVBs like Columbia Metropolitan CVB in South Carolina are finding innovative ways to attract planners’ attention. For example, they’re branding their destinations as a more holistic travel experience and they’re partnering with a growing array of in-market stakeholders to develop new business relationships.
Jason Outman, executive director of Columbia CVB, says larger metros in The South are starting to promote themselves to smaller mid-size meetings than they have in the past, which is cutting into Columbia’s market share. In addition, association planners are more and more skipping site inspections, so they’re making meeting destination decisions without seeing the city.
That’s a challenge for smaller DMOs like Columbia because they’re not as well known among planners as the larger cities.
So Outman is one of many DMO executives relying on DMAI’s ongoing DestinationNEXT research that provides a scientific roadmap illustrating how the roles of DMOs are changing. The DMAI research highlights three “Transformational Opportunities” that help DMOs improve their effectiveness by developing: two-way engagement with meeting planners, more impactful destination branding, and new business relationships to drive product and economic development.
“We have to find a way through technology and new partnerships to really help brand our destination better, so that if people are going to make a site selection, it’s not completely blind,” says Outman. “That’s why DestinationNEXT is important. It’s something that we’ve talked about extensively on the sales and marketing committee.”
Some of the interesting new initiatives in Columbia based on the research takeaways include developing a suite of online destination content including videos, blogs and social media initiatives aimed specifically at planners. South Columbia is also developing more experiential branding to show planners all of the unique destination attributes, above and beyond just the meetings infrastructure.
“When I do my presentation to groups of planners, what we’re really highlighting is the attractions of Columbia,” says Outman. “We’ve got three rivers that run through our city, so we’re highlighting that outdoor adventure. For Columbia specifically, our brand is “The New Southern Hot Spot,” so we actually try to plug words in that play off of that, and tie it into something the city has to offer. It might be the new outdoor hot spot. It might be the new adventure hot spot.”
Also of interest, Columbia CVB is partnering with the new University of South Carolina/Columbia Incubator to engage startup companies located in the city, both to retain their talent and source new conference business. So Outman and his team will speak with the startup companies to better understand their emerging industries and how to support them. And then in turn, the startup companies can form local host committees to help reach out and attract conferences in those industries.
“Indirectly there might be some tie-ins for the meeting planner if there’s a product here that is hot in their industry,” explains Outman. “So we work with these startup companies because they might have a product that can help us start new conferences. It’s just like when we go after nuclear groups because we have a nuclear plant here. We go after nuclear groups because they then want to do offsite visits to the nuclear plant. It’s basically the same thing.”