Building a strong rapport with meeting planners is a challenge increasingly faced by many DMO sales professionals in mid-sized markets. The competition is fierce, and every town and city is working overtime to host SMERF groups, conferences and other events. And while sales can be considered a numbers game in some respects, meeting planners often look for several key components when choosing a destination to host their next event. And cost is not the number one deciding factor. Meeting planners are also evaluating possible meeting destinations based on Peer Reviews, Destination Familiarity and User Generated Content (UGC).
Peer reviews act as an unfiltered look at the experiences meeting planners can expect to have in a destination. These social, public reviews relieve some of the pressure of hosting an event in a new destination and offer the meeting planner peace of mind as they evaluate new places for upcoming events. Looking at the planning and evaluation process from this perspective should be good motivation to elicit testimonials from past clients and feature them on your meeting planner landing page and regularly in your marketing efforts.
While writing this article, I visited five tourism websites – specifically their meeting and convention landing pages – and only one destination featured a testimonial from a previous meeting planner. Adding testimonials to your own website could be the first step you take to encourage meeting planners to book their next event in your city.
How familiar meeting planners are with your destination is another important factor. This is why PR efforts are so important to your success overall as a DMO. When something new or exciting takes place in your destination, talk about it! If your city successfully hosted a large event, talk about it! Sharing stories, curating user-generated content and actively promoting your destination electronically and in print is important for familiarizing meeting planners with all your destination has to offer
Remember: familiarity is more than just name recognition. It’s about leveraging the experiences shared by visitors and travel groups to convey what meeting planners (and their attendees) can expect from your city. It can also help set your city apart from the competition. With social media specifically, anyone can help spread information about your destination. The goal is to encourage positive conversations about your city and curate them to build up awareness among meeting planners.
This leads us to a third decision making factor for meeting planners: what travelers are saying about your destination. We strongly believe in the power of TripAdvisor and the positive impact it can have on leisure and group travel. As you work on building up your online presence, consider re-purposing what you find on TripAdvisor and using hashtags related to your city — you don’t want everything on your website to come from DMO staff.
Integrating social feeds into your website using a tool like Candid is also a great way to curate user-generated content that can give an authentic “insider’s” look at your destination. Share Facebook and Instagram posts that contain hashtags related to your city. You cannot overuse other people’s good words about your city’s offerings, but make sure you always obtain permission before publishing visitor testimonials.
Pro Tip: Use Google Voice to generate a free custom phone number that meeting planners and attendees can call to leave a testimonial audio message. Google Voice will send you an email notification with the message already transcribed for use in future efforts.
Requesting peer reviews and testimonials, familiarizing meeting planners with your destination and curating user-generated content have become important steps for building the foundation of the sales process. It all comes down to what other people are saying about their experience at your place.