While all of the information in this report illustrates how destinations and hotels are strategically expanding their industry networks to provide more value for meetings, there’s still a lot of areas for improvement in terms of how suppliers communicate those resources to buyers. Curated content marketing is exploding in popularity based on its ability to drive business, and while destinations and hotels are jumping on that to varying degrees, the group side is way behind.
Cincinnati USA is one of the few DMOs in the country with a robust blog dedicated exclusively to meetings and conventions. A lot of the content highlights both macro and micro industry trends independent of Cincinnati to help expand the DMO’s reach worldwide.
In 2014, blog page views increased 37% over 2013, spurred through aggressive social media including LinkedIn and the meeting-specific @CincyUSA Twitter account. Complementing that, Cincinnati USA developed three webinars for the first time in 2014. Topics revolved around creating high-profile events, innovative meeting design, and corporate sponsorships.
“We really took somewhat of an educational standpoint with the planners, not just selling the destination but providing knowledge on industry trends,” says Barrie Perks, VP of Sales & Services at Cincinnati USA CVB. “We’ve found that we’re acting as a huge resource, and planners are asking us what we recommend, and how would we go about something based on the blog. It’s quite remarkable, planners are calling us now and asking us questions.”
A primary end goal of creating event content online is to expand an event’s lifecycle pre/post. In effect, the event becomes a live and virtual hybrid content hub directing conversations around the brand beyond the scheduled event. IMEX Group has been at the forefront of content development in the meetings and events industry, where it’s been successful driving robust engagement and expanding the reach of IMEX America and IMEX Frankfurt worldwide.
“I think everyone is struggling with the amount of content out there, and they’re trying to filter out what’s good and bad and worth dedicating time to,” says Miguel Neves, senior online community manager for IMEX Group. “Events and organizations assuming the role as content hubs are helping provide that filter, and it’s becoming more important. So I think events and media are becoming a little interchangeable in a way.”
Event app usage is growing exponentially, and embedding destination content in event apps is expected to become standard in 2015. According to event tech provider QuickMobile, in-app city guide icons deliver users straight through to a destination’s DMO site. It amps up the information available to participants and creates additional excitement about the event with details on cultural and entertainment hotspots.
“Venues and hotels provide information on amenities, location, and features, creating a sense of comfort about where you and your attendees are going,” says Tahira Endean, CMP, manager of events at QuickMobile. “Apps can also provide information on who is attending so you can prepare for who you will see and who you may meet. You’re also more open to learning and sharing information because having destination information available in an app ahead of time sets the stage for a more relaxed and rewarding event experience.”
Darlene Smith is events director for Guidewire Software, who organizes the company’s annual user conference at Hilton San Francisco Union Square for 1,500 clients, partners, and employees. She’s seeing a shift in destination venues for offsite programs. Older attendees always want the dinner cruises and fine dining restaurants, but the younger crowd is seeking cool loft studio-style party venues like those on the Embarcadero.
Seeking to answer everyone’s demands, Smith will be using the Pathable native app for the first time this year so attendees can share recommendations and meet up on their own at night during off-schedule hours. The company already uses the Pathable web-based community platform.
“There are definitely different trends with Millennials, who want everything done digitally and through the apps,” says Smith. “For them, everything is much more casual and much more about fun, while the older audience likes the more traditional venues and the boat cruise. You need both because you have to make sure people can get the information that they want.”
When asked if it would help if more hotels posted up-to-date, in-depth online content about destination experiences, Smith didn’t hesitate.
“I think it would be a definite benefit, and very few do that, or almost none do that,” she says. “I think all planners would value more information about the destination.”
Shimasaki at DMAI says the organization is working to educate suppliers about the business value of content to drive attendance and excitement around a brand and event.
“The new marketing and sales approach is to use content to build relationships, and you need different types of content at different parts of the sales cycle for different types of potential clients,” she says. “We’re not taking advantage of this very well. Our missed opportunity at DMOs is not having created a library of experiences that salespeople can draw upon. I’m encouraging our DMOs to develop that library of customer experiences, whether they’re bite-size little video clips or in-depth case studies. That’s what we’re going to pull out of DestinationNEXT…. We have to help our DMOs with this conversation around content, and how to make it actionable.”