While no one claims to enjoy booming business, many DMCs say both bookings and budgets are showing a rebound over the past year.
The past year has been a "great year" for Chicago-based Chicago Travel Consultants. "We saw a small uptick in number of programs, but what they were requesting increased dramatically," says owner Chris Baker. "The bigger events with the bigger spend returned to our market nicely last year."
While association business stays soft, Seattle-based SH Worldwide is seeing a rebound in corporate programs. And, says national account executive Carol Riddle, "The spending and frills trend is coming back for sure!"
DMCS are also seeing clients show a new appetite for new destinations.
"This year has seen more interest in cities other than the Big 3—Beijing, Shanghai and Xi'an," says Gunther Homerlein of Destination China, which is headquartered in Hong Kong. "This has been driven by new and renovated international airports and international flights." Hot spots in China now are Shenzhen, Guangzhou and Chengdu, he says.
CALLING ON CREATIVITY
Far from the days when a DMC's job was to keep the shuttle busses on schedule, DMC professionals today find that clients are challenging their event creativity.
Clients now ask for "less stage and set design and more interior design, using all the senses—lighting, furniture," explains Taya Paige of San Diego-based Access Destination Services. "More clients want to create a 'wow' factor and custom, creative events."
Stephanie Arone of Las Vegas-based Activity Planners agrees. She points to a "renewed interest in creating 'experiences' for guests rather than just providing bare-bones program development."
GOOD NEWS, BAD NEWS
The No. 1 complaint from DMCs in 2012 is the same one plaguing almost all special event professionals: painfully short booking windows.
"Many programs are going from proposal to completion in less than 60 days, and in some cases, less than 30 days," says Julie Krull of Destination St. Louis.
And, not all client segments are boosting their budgets. "Pharmaceutical clients are cutting costs again more than last year," notes Michael Kater of Munich-based Compass Tours Incoming/Top Tours Travel, "especially in terms of participation in congresses."
But Kater has good news as well: "Numbers are up in general, and especially from the USA."
Price-shopper clients—long a bane of the wedding industry—are now giving headaches to DMCs too. Hal Etkin of Orlando, Fla.-based ME Productions finds clients come to him with "preconceived prices" after their web-surfing sessions. He bemoans the dearth of "experienced meeting planners."
Other DMC managers note that some clients are trying to bypass them, hiring local suppliers and manpower on their own. "DMC services margins are decreasing as the market in Singapore is becoming more savvy with directly accessible information," says Stephanie Ong of Pacific World Meetings and Events of Singapore.
But she and her fellow DMCs are battling back. "DMCs are evolving to provide a full spectrum of MICE [meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions] services to remain competitive," she says.
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