by Alex Palmer | February 12, 2018
Further international expansion and enhanced education for destination management company members were among the priorities laid out by the leadership of the Association of Destination Management Executives International (ADMEI) at its 2018 Annual Conference. Taking place at the Renaissance Chicago Downtown Hotel from Feb. 8-10, the event, titled EVOLVE, brought together some 250 DMC executives for networking, learning, and strategizing about the future of the organization and group-travel industry more broadly.

"We have a lot of great momentum right now with the association and the industry, and we want to leverage that," said board president Marty MacKay, DMCP, president, global alliance at Hosts Global, as she and the 2018-2019 board of directors were officially inducted on the morning of Feb. 10. 

In her remarks, MacKay outlined the organization's goals for the year ahead. This began with deepening ADMEI's education offerings, especially its comprehensive Emergency Preparedness Certificate Program, which has proven popular and valuable to members seeking to develop their emergency-response and risk-management skills and earn a formal certification. This year will see the first European session -- at IMEX Frankfurt in May -- as well as four U.S.-based programs throughout the year. The organization also plans to continue offering regular ADMEiXchange webinars, featuring special guest speakers, and offering information sharing between members.

The second pillar MacKay emphasized was "global growth," further expanding ADMEI's appeal to international DMCs. Among the tactics for accomplishing this are new membership guidelines and encouraging all members of a consortium or group to join the association, and for all global DMCs to list each country in which they provide services in ADMEI's Find a DMC database.

Finally, the organization would continue its focus on "industry awareness" -- partnering "with more organizations to ensure ADMEI's visibility," as MacKay put it.

The organization's focus on all three of these goals was on full display throughout the conference, as leaders emphasized ADMEI's recent successes and future plans, while also providing attendees with big-picture perspectives on changes in technology, law, and economics -- and how that will impact their destination management work. 

The opening session, led by Christopher Kuehl, managing director of Armada Corporate Intelligence, looked at macroeconomic trends and what these long-term shifts and up-to-the-moment market changes might mean for the group-travel industry. One morning breakfast session became a free-flowing discussion of legal issues as five attorneys from Barnes & Thornburg, LLP, a sponsor of the event, each set up at a table and offered answers to DMC questions relating to different areas of the law: insurance, liability and litigation, taxes, labor and employment, and corporate.

The event's breakout sessions tackled topics such as teambuilding, DMC agreements, and contingency planning. (The last of these topics was very appropriate: A snow storm rolled in on the conference's second day, requiring a late venue change from the Adler Planetarium to the spacious 19 East Event Gallery for the Friday evening event.)

The general session addresses took a broader approach to DMC concerns.

"The biggest shifts that are occurring are not the technology, it's the way we as consumers experience the technology and what that means for new expectations," said JP Guilbault, president and CEO of Community Brands, who delivered a keynote session on the importance of shifting to "experience-driven" approach to business. "People don't remember what you do," he added. "They remember how you made them feel."

Guilbault outlined the major changes taking place in technology and customer service and urged DMCs in the audience to apply those lessons to their work: to seek new ways to "surprise and delight" attendees and help create memories that will last for years. These points were affirmed by Crystal Washington, a technology marketing strategist and author who provided a high-energy exploration of how DMC executives can leverage fast-changing technology to enhance their business. "Gone are the days where you could communicate with everyone the same way," she said.

Ryan Hanson, chief visionary for Be Events, took his own approach to these questions in his address to attendees, stressing the importance of "putting the attendee at the center of the experience." This means giving attendees more choice in their activities, and crafting programs based on specific requests from the participants. "Let guests pick what they want to play," as he put it. "Let them gravitate to the things they care about."