Securing and hosting a large meeting or convention can be the pinnacle for a destination. How you go about it can range from using the latest technology tools to reach meeting hosts digitally or keeping it old school and building fruitful relationships with a wide variety of meeting planners.

“No amount of technology replaces the relationship side of the business, understanding the client’s needs and translating that into what needs to be delivered on the ground,” said Andrew Weir, executive vice president of destination development for Tourism Toronto.

For Toronto, the fourth largest city in North America, the meetings market in 2018 represented an economic spend of $565 million and more than 500,000 delegates.

Weir indicated there has been much discussion with planners and within Tourism Toronto’s Business Events Toronto team towards increased awareness and interest in meeting delegates leaving “a longer lasting legacy” and having the meeting or conference as a “way of sustaining a presence around that group and creating more meaning for the event.”

He cited examples of meeting delegates volunteering their time at a local charity or a community project and donating items to the community. Delegates leave their mark, a lasting impact and distinguish the destination and the meeting from previous ones held.

Enhancing the marketing tool kit, Tourism Toronto has introduced a Leader’s Circle association of more than 200 Canadian professionals with expertise in leading edge technologies, medical and life science, commerce, academia, and other key sectors.

Tourism Toronto utilizes this global leader network with members introducing and enticing leaders in those sectors to choose Toronto as their meeting or conference destination. Build strong and beneficial relationships. Have an impact on the community. Marketing to planners in the future – it’s more than a meeting.

Targeting Planners

Some destinations still rely on familiarization trips to attract planners.

Experience Scottsdale offers an “Our Site See Fly Free” program which provides qualified planners an opportunity to fly free and inspect the destination.

According to Kelli Blubaum, vice president of sales and services for Experience Scottsdale, 44 percent of planners that participated in the program booked their program in Scottsdale.

Similar to Toronto, Blubaum values face to face contact with planners “to ensure our relationships are solid and Scottsdale is top of mind.”

She adds Experience Scottsdale focuses its efforts on niche high-value markets such as medical meetings and Canadian based companies and incentives and uses big events like Major League Baseball’s Spring Training and the PGA Waste Management Phoenix Open to add-on to the meetings.

Let’s Meet and Be Well

Many destinations see planners incorporate wellness activities in their meetings, as events turn to healthier activities as a selling point.

Discover Long Island is seeing an increase in business from the meetings sector in incorporating yoga, fitness workouts, and other lifestyle components to the business meetings and functions.

The organization, which welcomes over nine million annual visitors, highlights leisure offerings when it targets meeting planners.

Due to its proximity to New York City, Discover Long Island formed a strategic partnership with NYC & Company for certain marketing activities as a way to leverage resources and piggyback on big events such WorldPride in New York City or the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black.

Kristen Jarnagin, president and CEO of Discover Long Island, finds planners are seeking destinations that can deliver “more wow-factor experiences that immerse clients in a place such as beachside bonfires, one-on-ones with a winemaker, surf lessons and culinary-focused adventures.”

Destination marketers are discovering it’s no longer just a meeting. Leisure, social and community elements factor in now when hosting meetings. Forging strong relationships and face-to-face contact with planners is more important than ever. No tech tool or artificial intelligence program required.

Photo Credit: Attendees at the Fortune Global Forum in Toronto in October 2018. Fortune Global Forum / Flickr