By Jeff Heilman, Meetings Focus Magazine -- Each year, the influential California-based Milken Institute ranks America’s most economically stable and vital centers in its “Best-Performing Cities” report. In the latest edition, published in January 2015, Utah appears twice in the top 10, with Provo-Orem at No. 3 and Salt Lake City at No. 6.
Branded the “Silicon Slopes” for its high-valuation, high-tech economy, the Beehive State is buzzing with growth. Count the meetings market in Utah’s well-balanced portfolio, too, as the state’s leading group destinations invest in continuing sweet success.
SALT LAKE CITY
Sector diversity in Utah’s capital city includes education, financial services, outdoor retail and the nation’s 15th-highest concentration of high-tech companies, creating a solidly reliable base for stability and expansion. Technology is a major engine, generating GDP growth 13 percent above the national average over the five years ending in 2013. Other attributes noted in the Milken report are the city’s young, highly skilled workforce, low business relocation costs and visitor- and business-friendly transportation infrastructure.
Tourism and group business are also pillars. According to Visit Salt Lake’s 2013 annual report, the former delivered $1.1 billion in economic impact, with $228 million coming from meetings and conventions bookings. For Scott Beck, the bureau’s president and CEO, the path to growth and enhanced visibility starts with strategic rethinking.
“From my perspective, one that is centered around a strong second-tier city with a very good reputation for being friendly and very service oriented but still struggling with an identity crisis, a major trend for Visit Salt Lake is our shift from being an organization that primarily communicates dates, rates and space to being a strategic marketing partner that adds value to the mutually beneficial goal of increased attendance,” Beck says. “At the risk of sounding simple, it is all about the attendance for both the planner and the destination.
Where organizations used to rely solely on their membership/stakeholder-based communications to drive attendance, there is a shift to utilize the DMO’s knowledge and expertise to partner on promoting attendance at the event, according to Bec “The organic, authentic voice of the DMO as it relates to promoting the destination is becoming increasingly important as planners look to maximize every available resource to ensure robust attendance,” he says.
For Visit Salt Lake, this has required a change in marketing perspective and strategy.
“Specifically, this has involved shifting resources from traditional PR areas into areas dominated by social media, microsite development and the all-consuming mobility of all things digital,” Beck says. “As we work on becoming better and more aware of this new role as a marketing partner, the reality that we must also shift our in-market focus is also creating new opportunities.
“Meeting attendees now rely on their handheld mobile device for nearly everything they need and want once in the destination,” he continues. “Accordingly, from a visitor services perspective, we are shifting from print and traditional event calendar tools to online tools built to fully integrate with an event’s own mobile platform, and to reach the attendee in new ways once they are in Salt Lake.”