By Kaitlin Dunn, Writer, Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International (HSMAI)
As travelers seek more authentic destination experiences, the traditional roles of destination marketing organizations (DMOs) and hotel companies are blurring. HSMAI hosted a ThinkTank at Destinations International’s 2019 Annual Convention in St. Louis that focused on how the two can best partner.
Moderated by Jenny Teeson, HSMAI’s director of chapter management and volunteer experience, the ThinkTank included a presentation by Todd Hotaling, vice president of revenue and marketing for Lodging Hospitality Management, as well as panelists from leading hotel brands and DMOs: Anna Dix, senior director of destination marketing for Hilton; Brian Hall, chief marketing officer for Explore St. Louis; and Margie Sitton, senior vice president of sales for the San Diego Tourism Authority. Here’s what they had to say about fostering collaboration, leveraging local expertise, and more:
Both sides want to see more collaboration. “We’re finally going to get rid of the blurred lines and get very clear that we are all in it together, and we can help each other,” one ThinkTank participant said. “We all want the same thing, and we’re the best at it. So, take the best of what the hotel community has, the best of what the DMOs do, and just run with it.”
Another participating added: “It’s amazing the relationships you can build. If you build those close relationships, we can figure out what your objectives are, what our objectives are, and how we can make sure that we do more for the city, for the community, for the hotels, and then for our mutual businesses.”
Hotels are evolving to create the experiences guests seek. Hotel brands can work with destination marketing professionals to create experiences for guests. Particularly in larger markets, where brands have many hotel units, it’s an opportunity to partner on a seamless, consistently delivered package. Destination marketing professionals are responsible for finding experiences, building relationships with local businesses, and presenting a plan to hotels, while the hotels package and market the experience to guests.
“As a hotel brand, we’re not just selling the destination,” a participant said. “We’re trying to sell our hotels, but if our dollars can go farther by working with some partners, we’re absolutely happy to do that, and we should do that.” Another participant said: “We’re not looking for someone in Dubai to write 30 articles for where to go in Chicago. We want to make sure that it’s locals, people that know things like, if you go in on Tuesday, you’re going to be able to get into the museum for free, or whatever it may be.”
One participant noted that it’s important to leverage not just DMOs to create a local experience, but also hotel employees who live in the area. “Yes, you can go to a journalist,” the participant said, “but at the end of the day, if there’s a concierge that has been in that neighborhood for the last 30 years that can tell us anything and everything to do in that neighborhood, we want to grab that information, package it up, and share it with our consumers.”
DMOs know their locations — and just want to bring people there. “We’re the destination experts,” a participant on the DMO side said. “No one can do it as well as we can, or should be able to do it as well as we can. We have guides to the good stuff.”
DMO participants said that while they like partnering with hotels and want to be more unified in those efforts, ultimately their goal is to bring guests to the area, not a specific hotel — something with which hoteliers agree. “It’s important to us that business comes to the city, first and foremost,” one participant said. “That’s what’s important. We want to showcase what we can do there. If they go to my competitor down the street, fair game.”
Creating content is an important part of creating an experience. One participant expressed surprise that many local freelance journalists are partnering with hotels to create destination-based content. “This is new,” the participant said. “Five years ago, this didn’t exist. Now, it’s a huge opportunity for destinations throughout the United States and internationally to team up with these hotel brands and collaborate in providing destination content and unique experiences to our collective guests.”
Hoteliers said they distribute such content through any and every channel they can, wherever consumers would be searching for information, including blogs, apps, and websites — both a hotel’s and specific travel sites.
Training programs can get both partners on the same page. One DMO participant talked about hosting a training program for the hotel salespeople, general managers, and directors of sales in a large U.S. city. During the program, they discuss where to find information and how to really understand the city. “We also do a program on how to do a great site experience and how to get your general managers engaged appropriately, and get your directors of sales to attend it,” the participant said. “It’s not saying, ‘Here’s the features,’ but ‘Here’s the experience you can have when you come to a hotel here.’ We talk about creativity and being a memorable salesperson, selling the story.”
NSOs also play an important role in drawing guests. Another ThinkTank participant sees value in aligning with national sales offices (NSOs) as well as with local hotels. “I think that having a training program is a great idea to make sure that all of your hotels are aligned with the DMO in reference to representing the destination, but in addition to local stakeholders in the form of hotels surrounding DMOs, we have the national sales office,” the participant said. “There are many meeting professionals out there that are brand loyal to their NSO, and they go to their NSO before they go to any DMO and are looking for recommendations on cities.”
Hoteliers said that it is situationally dependent on who can draw in more guests — the DMO or their national brand — because based on the targeted audience sometimes one can help more than the other. “You have NSOs that aren’t in market, that don’t necessarily understand your market,” a participant said. “They can’t sell your market unless you provide them with the tools to do that.”