by Matt Alderton | February 05, 2016
Whether they're attending an incentive in Mexico, a convention in Orlando, or a board meeting in San Francisco, if you ask meeting attendees what they're most looking forward to about the event, their answer typically isn't the hotel. Rather, it's the destination the hotel is in.

That premise serves as the foundation for meetings and events at Destination Hotels, a Denver-based operator of more than 40 independent hotels and resorts across the United States. 

"Wherever you go -- whether it's Chicago or San Antonio or Seattle -- our properties are going to bring the outside environment and community inside so you can get a truly local flavor of authenticity," says André Fournier, executive vice president of sales and marketing at Destination Hotels, which hosts more than 16,000 meetings attended by more than 1.6 million people every year. "We want local artisans and curators to come in so you feel the local music, or the local style and fashion. We want you to get the vibe of Seattle."

It's a worthy goal, but employees weren't always achieving it. So, Destination Hotels three years ago began developing its new Destination Event Producers program, otherwise known as DĒP (pronounced "deep"). A certification program for its catering and conference services staff, its goal is teaching the art of creating and executing innovative, destination-inspired meetings and events across five brand "pillars": Authentically Immersed, Service with a Story, Unscripted Discoveries, Individually Empowered, and Consistently High Performance.

"We'd just assumed we were training and teaching our conference services people innovative ways to design meetings. What we found out, however, is that they're so busy that it's very easy for them to get mechanical in their approach and ordinary in their delivery," Fournier explains. "I said, 'Look, we can do better' … So over the last three years we've invested a bunch of money and thousands of hours in designing something we believe will position us to design truly extraordinary experiences and become the benchmark by which all others in this field are judged."

How It Works

Officially launched in January 2016, the DĒP program currently has 20 participants, each of which is engaged in a yearlong pursuit of certification. To enroll, catering and conference services professionals must have worked at Destination Hotels for at least three years and have produced at least 100 events for the company's clients. To earn their DĒP credential, each must complete a three-day event-design "bootcamp" followed by three quarterly "Keeping it Alive" (KIA) continuing-education webinars and 10 out of 12 KIA monthly modules focusing on topics such as healthy food and beverage and innovative meeting-room setup, among others.

Finally, participants over the course of a year must receive 10 raving reviews from meeting planners -- in the form of a survey, or even just a personal note expressing thanks for a job well-done -- and earn a score of 95 percent or higher on "likeliness to recommend" on Destination Hotels' post-event surveys.

"People who give you a nine or 10 on their guest satisfaction surveys are raving fans. Those people will tell 10 or 15 other people about their extraordinary meeting or event, and those referrals have the power to grow your sales volume and profitability exponentially," Fournier explains. "That's our best form of marketing and public relations, so it's really important for us to focus on creating those raving fans."

More Memorable Meetings

Although Destination Hotels won't award its first DĒP certifications until December 2016, when its inaugural participants complete the program, the company completed its DĒP pilot in November and already is seeing the fruits of its labor in the form of more memorable meetings.

"We were just in San Antonio at La Cantera Hill Country Resort, where we had a local company called Cavender's Boot City come in and do custom boot fittings for all our meeting attendees upon arrival," Fournier recalls. "At the same time, we had guys on stilts there with cowboy hats and chaps on. It really put people in that 'Hill Country' mood. And then, later on, we brought in a local beekeeper to curate local honey for one of our coffee breaks, and to do a little education on the bees and how they process the honey. It really shows you: You don't have to leave the building to taste the local culture."

With seven more DĒP "bootcamps" scheduled for 2016, Destination Hotels expects to rapidly fill its ranks with event professionals who produce unique, destination-inspired meetings. The result, Fournier hopes, will be a new generation of meeting professionals who turn to Destination Hotels first before other hoteliers.

"If it's big, if it's corporate, and if you can find it anywhere, Millennials, especially, want nothing to do with it," he says. "For that reason, everybody in our industry wants to be 'local' and 'authentic.' This certification will help us demonstrate that to meeting planners by creating extraordinary events that engage and inspire our guests by being true to a place and diverse by design."