October 02, 2018

Safety and security is a top concern among meeting planners, and a personal connection to a destination is key in their decision to bring a group there. Those were some of the findings in the Winning Strategies in Destination Marketing report from travel marketing firm Development Counsellors International, which surveyed 181 meeting planners about their current priorities and decision-making process when it comes to destination selection. 

This is the third Winning Strategies report DCI has released since 2012, and one of the biggest shifts this year's edition was an increased concern from planners with safety and security. In this year's edition, 37 percent cited this as the most important factor in selecting a destination, compared to 25 percent in 2015. Safety and security concerns were also the top response to the question, "Thinking about your organization's business events, what keeps you awake at night?" cited by 44 percent of respondents.

Daniella Middleton, vice president of marketing at DCI, told Successful Meetings that these findings weren't especially surprising considering the "increased focus on topics around global safety and security issue" in the corporate events industry.

"I think the biggest difference in the last few years is that before concerns around safety and security were usually centralized to specific destinations and regions of the world, versus now where we've seen that no destination is truly 'safe,'" she said. "Planners and decision makers have to have contingency and crisis plans for all of their programs, and destinations are also expected to have their own plans in place that can help organizations in the event of an incident or disaster." 

She pointed out that 70 percent of respondents indicated that safety and security plans should be a joint effort between the organization and host destination.

Winning Strategies also looked at the "Trump Effect" on group travel to the U.S., finding that two-thirds of respondents (67 percent) felt that their likelihood of planning events in the U.S. had remained unchanged since the inauguration of President Donald Trump. Twenty percent of planners said they were less likely to explore U.S. destinations for their events while about 30 percent said they have seen a decline in number of attendees at business events in the U.S.

Another finding in the report is the importance planners place on in-person interactions in helping decide on a destination. Among the respondents, 95 percent consider fam trips an important factor when considering a destination (up from 72 percent in the 2012 report). Meeting with destination representatives and visiting destinations (either for business or personal travel) were cited as the top two ways respondents form their perceptions of cities, countries and regions. The most influential ways planners learn about destinations are industry trade shows and leveraging existing relationships with suppliers, as well as colleague referrals. 

"The business events industry is a 'people' industry, one that is driven largely by relationships," said Middleton. "Many of the relationships, especially between suppliers and buyers, are formed offline, either during a meeting at a conference or through a shared experience on a familiarization trip. As an industry, we've been fighting to showcase the value of face-to-face meetings to our political leaders, executives at organizations, clients and basically anyone who has decision making power on whether 'to convene or not.'" 

As far as which industry events planners prefer, IMEX America was the most-attended event, with 56 percent of respondents indicating it as a trade show they attended in the last three years. This was followed by IMEX Frankfurt, the Society for Incentive Travel Excellence Events and SMU International (organized by Successful Meetings' parent company, Northstar Meetings Group).

Northstar was also well-represented on the question of which industry publications planners read most often, with Northstar's Meetings & Conventions and Successful Meetings being cited as the No. 1 and No. 3 most-read publications, respectively. 

The survey also asked planners to offer up their top meeting destinations, ranking them by region. Those selected were London (Europe), Singapore (Asia and Asia-Pacific), San Diego (North America), Buenos Aires (South America), a tie between the Bahamas and Dominican Republic (Caribbean) and Dubai (Middle East and Africa). London & Partners and NYC & Company were cited as the top destination marketing organizations, domestically and globally, respectively. 

The full report can be downloaded here.