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DMAI 2015 Annual Convention

Wednesday, July 27, 2015

Like last year, it’s taken a couple weeks to process the intel gleaned from the Annual Convention of Destination Marketing Association International. And, again…I probably came away with more questions than answers.

But, that’s a good thing…as it keeps us fresh, searching for answers in this increasingly disruptive world.

The DestinationNEXT assessment tool was unveiled…and it will be interesting to see how Organizations and Boards respond to understanding where they exist in the continuum of DMOs that rock their destination and those that can barely buy a clue. The best overviews we’ve seen (and encourage your read) are from Skift’s Greg Oates and Hacking the System’s Bruce MacMillan, who says, “There’s no secret DestinationNEXT formula for assured DMO success in here. It was never intended that way. It is a tool to inspire destination marketers to stop and take a look around at what others are doing today and see what they might be missing for tomorrow.”

Great research findings were also shared that quantify, for the first time, what many of us long believed…that Tourism is the “first date” for Economic Development and the work of DMOs has a clear and substantial impact on site selection. And, the networking between peers was, as always, sensational.

But, it was the 2015 edition of “The Great Debates” that, apparently, was one of the most popular sessions of the conference. Hosted by Adara’s Ted Sullivan, six industry representatives squared off to debate three questions: Are Millennials as important a market as they are made out to be, should DMOs be involved in product development and will DMOs be extinct in ten years?

To be sure, I drew the easiest assignment…arguing that DMOs will thrive in 2025 in front of an audience that clearly was supportive of the notion. Hell, a stuttering armadillo could have won this debate.

Sadly, it fell to Salt Lake’s Eric Thompson to argue that the audience should start looking for other employment. He didn’t have a chance in front of that crowd. But, he made some really insightful arguments:

• He polled the thousand or so members of the audience in real time to see if they had used the Austin DMO’s website or Visitors Guide to plan their trip. Not a lot of hands went up.

• He challenged the assembled for being hardly innovative over the past ten years despite our own research that begged us to be.

• He pointed out how outgunned DMOs are when it comes to the resources that Google, TripAdvisor, Yelp and the rest can bring to bear. And do on a daily basis.

He brought the relevance question front and center. I countered with “if not us, who?” Again…not a fair fight in front of DMO pros.

But, I wonder…if this was staged in front of a crowd of non-DMO pros, would Eric have kicked my ass?

As Coach McGinty (played by Gene Hackman) said in the The Replacements: “It’s nasty out there.”

While new research reaffirms the notion that DMOs are relevant…we can never become complacent. We can never assume we’re all that. While nobody in the room wanted to hear what Eric was selling…I heard every word.

If you want to see clips of the (often hilarious) debates, you can find them on our Vimeo Channel. For the full version of Convention presentations (including the debates), CLICK HERE.

The DMO world is getting weirder and weirder. Appropriate, then, that we were in Austin.

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