Meeting planners prefer face-to-face engagement with convention bureaus because that’s how they get the most valuable insight to inform their destination sourcing decisions.

That’s one of the key takeaways from a new Development Counsellors International report: “A View From Meeting Planners: Winning Strategies in Destination Marketing.” The DCI study, which surveyed over 200 North American planners who organize both domestic and international programs, follows up on a similar DCI study from 2012.

The survey asked planners to choose the most effective ways to research potential cities for conventions from a list of ten options. The number one choice was: “Meeting with new destination reps at industry trade shows,” followed by “Knowledge from industry suppliers.”

About 75% of corporate planners and 64% of association planners ranked face-to-face meetings with bureaus as the top choice.

There was a surprising drop off among association planners, however, when rating the second most popular method for sourcing destination info. Only 47% of association planners rely on industry suppliers (beyond the convention bureaus) for destination knowledge, whereas 71% of corporate planners value interaction with industry suppliers.

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The Value of Face To Face

DCI posed a similar question asking planners which sources of destination information had the most influence on their perceptions of a destination.

Again, the answer most chosen was “Meeting with destination representatives” by 67% of respondents, which was up significantly from 58% in 2012.

That shift suggests a growing percentage of planners are seeking stronger relationships with convention bureau representatives because of the limitations of digital communications to effectively portray the differentiating nuances from city to city.

“I think that shift is also because we’re in a supplier’s market, whereas before in 2012 during the end of the recession, planners still had a lot of leverage,” says Daniella Middleton, director of business events at DCI. “Hotels and destination marketing organization are now getting a lot of requests for proposals. So planners know if they have a good relationship with those suppliers, their RFPs are probably going to get a little more attention.”

Another survey question asked planners to rate the value of specific industry trade shows attended by bureau representatives.

As expected, IMEX America was the most popular with 70% and 53% of corporate and association planners, respectively, ranking the annual Las Vegas event highest. That was followed by IMEX Frankfurt at 32% and 26%.

IBTM America and IBTM World in Barcelona, the Successful Meetings University events, and Destination Marketing Association International’s annual conference also ranked high, but mostly only for corporate planners in the case of DMAI.

The shows potential opportunity for DMAI or another organization to develop more research around how convention bureaus can better engage associations.

Another interesting data point was the lack of value planners attribute to social media for learning about new destinations. The survey shows that an average of only 3% of corporate and association planners rely on social networks for growing their breadth of knowledge of cities they haven’t visited.

An average of 31% of planners do access “online sources” to learn about new places. A much greater majority find value in “Dialogue with industry peers” (60%), “Business and personal travel” (63%), and “Meetings with destination” (67%).

That further supports the need for especially lesser known bureaus to attend more face-to-face buyer/supplier events.

Download the report for further details about how planners prefer to engage convention bureaus and source destination information.

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Photo Credit: Meeting professionals watch a London & Partners presentation at IMEX America 2015. IMEX Group