Magazine Online    The Authority On African-American Conventions, Incentives, & Leisure Travel
Issue: September/October 2011
DMAI Sets Goal Of More Diversity
By: Sonya Stinson

Having wrapped up a successful national convention in New Orleans, where issues like the relevancy and funding of destination marketing organizations and the cultivation of emerging travel markets were hot topics, Destination Marketing Association International (DMAI) is preparing to roll out two new initiatives aimed at fostering greater diversity in the industry’s workforce.

One program, called Rising Star, was described in a news release issued during the convention held at the Sheraton New Orleans July 20-22, 2011. Using a job-training and cross-training model, the pilot program will identify and train DMO professionals in leadership skills that can help them advance to senior and executive levels. Organizers hope to select one or two candidates this year. The need for a program like Rising Star was underscored when DMAI reviewed some of the data from its latest membership development survey, according to Jim Duda, executive director of the association’s Destination & Travel Foundation, which is underwriting the diversity initiatives.

“We learned a couple of things from that,” Duda says. “One is that ethnic minorities were underrepresented in terms of the national averages. We knew this going in, but the survey just sort of confirmed what we already suspected. . . . Beyond that, what we learned is that people are asking for more cross-training opportunities to be able to learn functional disciplines that they may not currently be getting. In some cases, there may be just a limitation of opportunity because of the size of the bureau, and they can’t get that training from within their own walls. So we’ve developed a program to [allow them] to get that experience at other bureaus.”

The second initiative is a student career fair program in which DMAI will partner with the National Society of Minorities in Hospitality (NSMH). This fall, the association will participate in a regional NSMH career fair. “Most DMOs don’t have a large enough office to warrant sending resources and staff to various universities to attend career fairs,” Duda says. “Our strategy is to use DMAI’s job bank – which is a collective job bank for the DMO industry – carry that to career fairs and have some of our members in the area represent the industry at those career fairs.”

Although DMAI’s diversity subcommittee met in New Orleans the day before the convention officially began, the group’s latest endeavor was not part of the main convention agenda, says Leslie Wright, senior vice president, destination sales and service, for Meet Minneapolis, who co-chairs the diversity subcommittee. “We wanted to get some legs to [the diversity initiative] before we begin to roll it out,” Wright says. She adds that increasing the diversity of those entering and advancing through the field “brings a new wave to this industry.”

“One of the big things for me, as an African-American in an industry where we really aren’t as well represented as we could be, is to get the industry excited about getting more minorities into it,” Wright says. She notes that college students often know less about career opportunities with convention and visitors bureaus than with the more familiar hotel and restaurant industries. Duda makes the same point. “We really want people to know that the job opportunities go well beyond hotels and restaurants and that travel and tourism and destination marketing are viable, long-term careers,” Duda says.

Support for Young Professionals
While the current focus of DMAI ‘s diversity subcommittee is on racial and ethnic diversity, Duda notes that DMAI defines the term to include elements like age, sexual orientation and life experience as well. At this year’s convention, the association launched its 30 Under 30 Program, which provided complimentary all-access convention registration and a three-night hotel stay for 30 DMO professionals under age 30. Sponsored by SearchWide, the program was designed to help young DMO pros advance their careers by giving them access to the convention’s networking and educational opportunities.

Arron Brooks, account director in the convention sales department at the Austin Convention & Visitors Bureau, was one of four African-Americans in the 30 Under 30 group. The selection process began in the spring with each convention and visitors bureau CEO nominating two candidates, who were required to submit an application that included an essay about their vision for their future role in the industry and produce a video in which they responded to three specific questions, Brooks says. Interestingly, Brooks first entered the meetings and tourism business from the client side.

“I totally fell into the industry by happenstance,” he says. “My first year out of college, I was working with the local African-American Chamber of Commerce. I supported the chamber by doing some special events and planning meetings. . . . I was working with the CVB on a special initiative they had to target minority conferences and travel to our destination. That’s how I got to know what a CVB does.”

When a sales position became available at the CVB, Brooks applied and landed the job. Today a staff member based in Atlanta is in charge of marketing to the African-American meeting meetings segment, but Brooks says, “We will often tag team so that if she needs a lead or some help on the ground, I’m here to assist with that process.”

Convention Takeaways
The convention drew more than 1,000 attendees from 10 countries, including over 710 Destination Marketing Organization professionals, educators, student and industry partners representing more than 274 nations, along with over 300 exhibitors from 90-plus industry vendors. Television journalist Lisa Ling was the speaker for the opening general session, while famed political couple James Carville and Mary Matalin appeared at the closing general session, where Grammy Award-winning trumpeter Irvin Mayfield provided entertainment. In between, more than more than 30 educational sessions were presented.

Brooks attended six or seven convention sessions, on topics including how to stay relevant in the marketplace and how to interact with third-party meeting planners. (“That’s such a hot topic right now.”)

“The biggest takeaway I got, since I’m on the convention sales side, was to make sure that I show the value added by working with our organization,” he says. “We are meant to be the experts for our destination but, besides giving information on our destination, what other value can we add for a meeting planner to make their job easier?”

Wright participated in a panel discussion focused largely on just that question. “Relevancy for the DMO Channel in the Meetings Market,” the session also featured panelists David Goldschmidt, manager, sales operations and revenue strategy at LA INC; Michael Clarke, senior director, conferences and trade shows at BBI International; Loren Gold, executive vice president, Great Raleigh Convention & Visitors Bureau; and Jason Fulvi, CDME, executive director of convention sales at Visit Pittsburgh. Christine “Shimo” Shimasaki, CDME, CMP, managing director of DMAI’s online event planning tool,, was the moderator.

In her session comments, Wright noted that customers are often confused about the services DMOs provide. She says her overall convention experience reinforced the need for greater clarity. “The best [lesson] for me is educating not just our customers but our staff on what we do,” Wright says. “We clearly need to make sure that we’re showing value to the customers and, from a staffing perspective, that we are showing value to what we can deliver.”

Monica Smith, president and CEO, Macon-Bibb County Convention & Visitors Bureau, attended her first meeting of the Destination & Travel Foundation Trustees as a new member of the group. She also brought some DMAI Convention newbies with her to New Orleans. “I decided to invest in the professional development of both our VP of convention sales and services and the VP of leisure travel by having them attend the convention for the first-time,” Smith says. “Their excitement and enthusiasm for the knowledge gained and creation of new personal relationships established as a result of attending the conference was personally very rewarding.”

For Smith, one of the most fruitful conference sessions was the one on the Destination Marketing Accreditation Program. “We have been considering the DMAP program for the past several months,” she says. “The information provided during the DMAP session was very helpful and we'll be planning to apply for DMAP accreditation within the next 12 to 18 months.” Lisa Simon, CTP, president of the National Tourism Association, say the convention gave her reason for optimism about the future of the tourism and hospitality industry.

“Just from my experience, I could certainly tell that the attendance was up,” says Simon, who heard lots of buzz at the Business Exchange about the growing number of Chinese visitors to the United States. “The sessions seemed to be very well attended . . . with good and timely information. And the mood of the delegation was extremely positive, and that’s a good sign, with what’s going on economically in the country and the DMO world. It’s nice to hear some positive expectations for the future.”

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“Diversity is the collective strength of unique experiences, skills, talents, perspectives and cultures that each employee brings to an organization to create a dynamic business environment. To value diversity is to advocate and foster inclusion and respect, and to embrace growth and opportunity in this area.”

“DMAI’s Diversity Initiative has been put into place to encourage diversity in the workplace. The educational and development core of this initiative will focus on identifying and training DMO professionals in the key core competencies of successful leadership at senior and executive levels. This initiative will also focus on the growth and recruitment of qualified professionals who may increasingly fulfill leadership positions working in the destination marketing industry. A particular focus will be placed on fostering more ethnic diversity in DMOs, which has been identified as an opportunity for growth.”

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The Event Impact Calculator – Launched at the convention, this online tool allows DMOs to measure the economic value of sales, jobs wage and taxes generated by an event. Developed by Tourism Economics, Inc. of Wayne, PA, it uses localized analysis to reflect data specific to each destination. Users can input information to analyze a variety of scenarios. For more information, go to

Top Three Issues for DMOs — In a session titled “Leading Issue Facing DMOS Today,” Mark Andreas of American Express Business Insights said a survey revealed the following concerns as top-of-mind:
  • Championing the relevancy of DMOs in the marketplace
  • Securing stable financing sources
  • Budget constraints on providing free convention center space and other major discounts or perks
  • New DMAI Destination Awards – The convention’s Thursday Industry Spotlight featured the winners of the new “Best of the Road” contest sponsored by Rand McNally and USA Today. The competition focused on “small town gems” with populations under 150,000. The awards went to:
  1. Best for Food, Lafayette, LA
  2. Most Beautiful, Sandpoint, ID
  3. Friendliest, Walla Walla, WA
  4. Most Fun, Glenwood Springs, CO
  5. Most Patriotic, Rapid City, SD
In another new contest, created jointly by DMAI and Americans for the Arts, Ventura, CA and Miami were selected as winners of the Arts Destination Marketing Award.
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