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Doubling Down: Why DMOs Are Partnering With Economic Development Agencies

Published: 05/16/2014
By Jennifer N. Dienst, Convene Magazine -- Earlier this year, Destination Marketing Association International (DMAI) released the findings of its annual Convention Sales & Marketing Activities Study, which — for the first time ever — posed questions to 150 destination-marketing CEOs about their relationship with their local government's economic-development entity. “Based on the survey results,” said Victoria Isley, DMAI's executive vice president and chief operating officer, “we learned that nearly half see the role and scope of [their] DMOs becoming more aligned with economic development.”

It's something that Isley says has been popping up on DMAI's radar more and more, overlapping with everything from how the roles of DMOs in their communities are evolving, to how DMOs are becoming more involved in destination development — or rather, Isley said, “becoming more involved with what investments or projects a community might make to continue to develop the destination.” 

A close relationship between a DMO and its local economic-development agency isn't anything new. 

For many cities where tourism is a major economic driver, it makes sense that the DMO and economic-development entity would have a close working relationship. Both organizations often showcase the same assets to potential customers, whether they are meeting planners or business owners. “What makes a city a great place to live and work also makes it a great place to come for a convention,” said Scott Beck, president and CEO of Visit Salt Lake. “The local economic-development community says, ‘These site selectors are asking, where do people eat? What do people do when they're not working? How do they get around?’ Those are the same exact questions meeting planners ask.”


Since 1996, the Outdoor Industry Association's (OIA) Outdoor Retailer Summer and Winter Market Tradeshows have taken over the Salt Palace Convention Center in downtown Salt Lake City every August and January, respectively. It's the perfect type of event for the sports-happy destination, whose economy in recent years has been called one of the fastest-growing in the United States.

Black Diamond Inc., a major manufacturer of climbing, skiing, and hiking gear and equipment, moved to the city from Ventura, Calif., in 1991 after discovering the destination's close proximity to the airport and the fact that a quick trip down the ski slopes was only 20 minutes from downtown. The company petitioned for a financial incentive from Utah to relocate, and the rest is history. That first big move, and the debut of the Outdoor Retailer shows a few years later, helped spur the relocation of dozens more outdoor manufacturers to Utah, including Amer Sports, Rossignol USA, and SCOTT.

Nowadays, Visit Salt Lake's Beck works with the Utah Governor's Office of Economic Development and the Economic Development Corporation of Utah (EDCUtah) to try to recreate those success stories as much as possible. Five years ago, he started meeting with representatives from both organizations every quarter to share resources and ideas, and the results have been positive. “We review target accounts from each organization relative to industry clusters,” Beck said. “EDCUtah will say, ‘We're targeting composite manufacturers.’ We will say, ‘Here are our five target associations within the composites industry that we're trying to recruit to Salt Lake for their national conventions.’ It's amazing how those will line up, how there maybe a target company that is on the board of the association that we're trying to recruit to Salt Lake for a meeting.”

Last summer, for example, when EDCUtah hosted a group of site selectors representing companies in the outdoor-manufacturing sector, Visit Salt Lake arranged VIP tours of the Outdoor Retailer Summer Tradeshow, and introduced members of the group to CEOs who had already relocated their companies to the state. The strategy works — within the past 10 years, 27 outdoor-manufacturing companies have relocated to Utah, which now is home to 60 companies within that sector. “The vast number of these companies weren't here 10,15 years ago,” Beck said. “Without fail, every one of them has said that their exposure to the state through [OIA's shows] is why they are in Utah.”

This collaboration has also benefited Visit Salt Lake itself, producing a number of what Beck calls “champions” for the destination. “We're getting more opportunities to bid on conventions,... and it's making us more appealing as a destination,” Beck said. “At the end of the day, we have to fight tooth and nail to raise awareness of the appeal of our destination. There are a lot of perceptions that are just not true about Salt Lake. Last year, we had gest year ever for site inspections — to me that's a validation that these processes we put in place five years ago are really working.”