All in a Year’s Work
Convene asked Don Welsh to reflect back on his first
year as president and CEO of DMAI, and to share — as the
organization prepares to make its new name and brand
identity official — what comes next.
What has surprised you most about your first year at
I think probably the biggest pleasant surprise has been
the total commitment at the board level and [among] our
members to take this organization to the next level. We’ve
been working to really get the organization structured.
The team we’ve pulled together in the last six to nine
months is really some of the brightest, hardest-working,
and most experienced people I’ve ever worked with.
What you’re seeing now is a group of people that has
bought into the mission. Clearly they knew what they signed
up for. Our staff knew they were going to be working long
hours, it would involve hard work — in some cases fixing
things — but more importantly, reimagining the association.
What has been your goal by going out and meeting
with members since you came on board?
For the members, I think it had gotten to the point where
there was not full clarity on what we were and what we
provided. When you don’t have clarity in the eyes of your
members or your corporate partners, they formulate their
own opinions on what you are or what you’re not. We’ve
had a lot of very honest, direct counsel from some really
good people in the industry, helping us redefine who we are.
We are going to be an organization that is member-centric,
member-driven, and we are going to build products and
services that our members want and they need. We’ve been
defining our mission a bit clearer. What came up as being
important to our members: advocacy, research, data, best
practices, and providing tools and resources for our members to help them continue to validate investment in their
communities. As a result, we’ve come up with our four new
pillars — advocacy, research, education, and community.
One of the assessment tools, DestinationNEXT, allows destination organizations to have various stakeholders assess
the importance and the status of their destination and how
it can continually improve. It gives empirical data on the
performance of a convention or a meeting, and we’ve now
included festivals and sports events. Every time our members are involved in its use, it now gives them a report so
they can go back to their stakeholders with a report card.
What is the one thing you think business-event
organizers should know about DMAI?
Somehow we need to communicate more effectively and
more consistently the value proposition that a destination
organization provides to the meeting planner. Because
there had been far too many cases where somehow — be-
cause of either distribution or the business models of cer-
tain organizations that represent the meetings industry —
planners are bypassing the destination organization or CVB,
which we believe is not to the full benefit of that meeting.
The destination organization is the destination expert in
their marketplace. They have information about their destination that no one else has, partly from being involved
with their mayors and their city councils on development.
Let’s say a planner has a big, complex meeting coming up
in five or 10 years. Who do you think has the knowledge
of the inventory that’s under development? The CVB. At
the end of the day, I think it’s more about efficiency and
reducing the expense to a planner.
We’ve got a lot of work to do to clearly communicate to
members of PCMA and ASAE and MPI and others why you
should always begin your planning of a meeting by involving the destination organization or CVB. Ours will be a
B-to-B message. I think there’s a whole new generation of
planners — they may not do this for a living, they may be
in the corporate space, they may be given the responsibility of putting together an event, they may not be aware
of the fact that destination organizations are the resource
that they should tap into. Our focus on the meetings
industry will be to convey to both the known channels
and the emerging channels of planners that every event
begins and ends with the destination.
— Michelle Russell