Debi Kinney, DMCP
Debi is an award-winning business strategist and hospitality industry expert with more than 20 years in hospitality; she currently works as General Manager/Director of Sales CSI Vegas.
A DMC, or a destination management company, hold intrinsic value for meeting planners to leverage, but not all meetings need a DMC. As we move into the new normal of hybrid meetings, finding the right partner to help you plan and execute exceptional events has become more critical. How should you best assess a DMC partner, and how do you know if you even need a DMC partner to begin with?
What is a DMC?
The Association of Destination Management Executives International (ADMEI) defines the role of a DMC as “A professional services company, possessing extensive local knowledge, expertise, and resources, specializing in the design and implementation of events, activities, tours, transportation and program logistics.”
This definition is key because it covers off on the dual role a DMC plays in any client event – the vision and design for the event, and the execution and operation of it. When people ask what I do, I rarely say that I work for a DMC. My usual response is that I work for a company that produces meetings and events for out of town clients, sourcing the best experiences for the group based on their specific needs, and then operating those programs to create memorable moments for our clients and their guests.
What Services Does a DMC Offer?
DMCs vary from company to company, but in general they all offer similar services. From program design to site selection, to site inspections and program management, DMCs are a start to end source for meeting and event support. DMCs are tasked with being the experts in their own destinations.
Their teams must know the tried and true options as well as the hidden gems, and then on top of that they should learn the intimate details about every one of those experiences – everything from load in to load out, surrounding location, capacities, pricing, and any other nuances that will impact an event from planning to completion. Some specifics services you can source through a DMC include but are not limited to:
- Off site venue selection
The DMC will act as the liaison between client and experiences, saving the client time, sometimes money, and definitely helping with learning curve. Imagine the difference between sourcing a single venue one time in a foreign destination, or having the working knowledge of partnering with that venue multiple times for multiple events, and maintaining a relationship there because you have the same goals – satisfied clients.
Then multiply that experience by two, five or even ten different experiences that a planner will normally need to source for any given meeting, and the value of a DMC partner becomes apparent on the sourcing side. Having a single point of contact (the DMC) for multiple experiences (over multiple days) is a value in and of itself. To add to that, after sourcing the experiences for a client, then the DMC will act as a representative of their client, and be the point of contact for implementation and execution of the event.
In addition, DMCs are accustomed to working within local and state guidelines, laws, restrictions, etc. and will ensure that your meeting or event has all of the licensing, permitting, and other regulatory documents required. The more variables you have (venue, caterer, entertainment, transportation, decorators, the list goes on), the more valuable this is. And the better a DMC knows those partners, the smoother your event will go. Trust me, I state this from experience.
How to Select a DMC Partner
There are a number of factors that can and should influence your selection of a DMC partner. The below are all meaningful factors in determining the right DMC partner for you:
- Scope of work
- Longevity in business
- Company structure
- Virtual capabilities
The last bullet point, virtual capabilities, is a newer service to be aware of with your DMC partner. In light of today’s world and the ongoing adjustment to COVID-19, there are many questions about how a DMC can or can’t be involved with virtual events. That is going vary greatly from company to company.
Some DMCs will offer a variety of virtual options, from platform development and management to plug ins to existing platforms to virtual enhancements like entertainment or team-building, and some DMCs do not have any virtual capability.
If virtual is an important piece of your program, talk with your DMC partners to determine who offers the best services to create the virtual environment you are trying to build.
The DMC partner that you select should feel like an extension of your team and should be someone you will want to work with for an extended period of time. While some DMCs are destination specific, others have national (and even international!) presence and you will want their services and service areas to address the needs your company has.
In addition, you will want to work with someone you feel comfortable with – someone you would want to be friends with. If your initial conversations are dry and awkward, or you are finding that a company isn’t responsive or is otherwise difficult to work with, that typically will not go away during the course of the partnership.
Conversely, if you are playing off of each other, elaborating on each other’s creative vision and finding that you are looking forward to your next calls, those are good signs that you will work together well. It is very important to feel that you have a connection with the DMC that you work with – because there will be long hours and difficult decisions and you want someone you know thinks and acts similarly to you so they can best represent you and your needs.
This relationship becomes especially important if your company changes destinations for every meeting or event. You will want to partner with a company long-term who gets to know the nuances of your team, your attendees and your company. Creating a long-term partnership with a DMC saves you the time and energy of having to start over every year or in every destination. When you work with a DMC long-term, there can be additional partnership benefits or concessions offered that will help to offset overall costs and increase the value of the partnership overall.
Relationships also drive the core of the DMC business in each of their destinations. It can be a full time job to keep current on new company openings, closings, points of contact and other details for each experience in a given destination. Layer that in with companies who can photoshop their photos online, or who might otherwise misrepresent themselves to a contact who can’t just drive across town to see it for themselves.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve driven to a venue to take photos or video for a client – so they can “see it” for themselves. We work in a visual world and the more accurate information we can provide, the better setup for success we will be in the long run. In addition, what services are provided doesn’t speak to how they are delivered. If you are managing multiple vendors for your event and even one of them has attitude, doesn’t do what they say they will, or any other common pitfall found in planning events, it makes for a very challenging program.
When you work with a DMC, they manage the relationships for you, and assuming you have a solid relationship with the DMC as noted above, then you have the single point of contact who you know is advocating for your best interests. DMCs are in the destination long-term and can weed through any vendor discrepancies pretty quickly whereas a client from out of town could potentially be seen as a one and done customer, and these two scenarios can carry different weight at times.
The DMC should always advocate for their client while making sure what is being asked of the vendor is fair (and legal, of course). In managing the relationships, the DMC is able to negotiate best outcomes in deliverables.
Fact or Fiction?
1. Rumor has it that it is more expensive to work with a DMC. True or false?
The answers is: it depends. Apologies to not deliver a more clear cut answer to this question, but so many variables impact this answer. Money can be an awkward topic to discuss, so I encourage you to address it up front. It is okay to ask how much a DMC charges (flat rate, mark up, percentage of total for service, etc.) and how it is charged (bundled in, line itemed, etc.).
It’s also okay to negotiate rates. Ultimately a DMC always is seeking a win win situation – happy client for a long term partnership – so if negotiating rates or terms is what it takes to get there, then do it.
Here’s what’s not okay. It’s not okay to expect the DMC to work for free. DMCs are for profit businesses, and they spend their time and talent researching, investigating, exploring, and working with local vendor partners every day so that your group will have as close to a perfect experience as they can deliver.
Putting time and effort toward vetting these companies, creating magnificent proposals to bring your vision to life, and negotiating DMC discounts that then get passed on to clients are all in a day’s work for a DMC, and they earn their pay for the time and energy they put in.
It’s also not okay to take the concepts, ideas and packages a DMC creates or presents, and then go direct. The majority of DMCs do not own any product – everything is outsourced in order to keep overhead low and creativity high. One of the reasons clients book through DMCs is to benefit from their local relationships, so the DMC does the sourcing and layering together the services of many into one distinct, unique experience.
Taking the concepts a DMC puts forward and then booking it direct as if it were your own concept would be like asking someone to send you a manuscript to edit and then publishing the book as your own. There is value in the creative concepting, there is value in the existing, vetted relationships that a DMC brings to the table, and there is value in the DMC executing the hundreds of calls, emails and other operational management pieces that go into bringing an experience to life versus the client trying to create that experience from scratch, without the ideas, relationships or experience to bring that concept to life to its fullest potential.
2. There is a common misconception that using a DMC is more expensive than booking direct.
While this can be the case, it isn’t always. Some DMCs have pre-negotiated rates or national rates that are lower than a client would get by booking direct, and once you factor in the DMC rates you might be getting that experience for lower than or the same as booking direct – with all the benefits of the DMC doing the legwork.
It is important to enter a relationship with a DMC knowing that you will pay for the services, and to be realistic about what you are willing to pay for the added value services that DMCs provide – and if you, or your company, isn’t willing to make that investment in the event, then better to know that up front and start the needs assessment on your own so you can build the relationships, vet the vendors, and research the destination thoroughly.
3. Every meeting and event needs a DMC involved.
This is a false statement. So, when don’t you need a DMC? Typically if you need a single service – let’s say an Elvis impersonator or a single car from the airport to the host hotel, a DMC is not going to need to be involved. It doesn’t mean a DMC can’t or won’t assist, but where DMCs really earn their keep is in the multi-faceted events where there are a lot of moving pieces to manage on behalf of the client.
DMCs should go the extra mile to help their clients get the service they need even if their event won’t directly result in business for that DMC, and each DMC should be transparent with clients about whether they should be involved or not.
Bringing It All Together
DMCs are local experts who are equipped and excited to share the best experiences in their destination. Their services, style and selections should enhance your program, and the partnership should be one that adds value creatively, financially and operationally. There are many companies to choose from when looking for a DMC partner, so be sure to use the above as a guide to find the right DMC partner for your next event.