Whether it's a gathering in Dallas, Boston, Seattle, or especially somewhere abroad, event profs have long looked for ways to infuse programs with local flavor and flair. In an unfamiliar market, it can be hard to lean on only your team or the hotel/venue to do this. That's where a destination management company (DMC) often comes in.
"Think of us as your best friend who is always 'on the scene' and can get you into the hottest new restaurant in town and will also take you on a scenic hike that only the locals know about the next morning," says Kesa Iskra, vice president of creative services for MC&A, a global DMC based in Hawaii. "But a DMC’s role goes beyond local expertise and logistics and into the realm of creativity and innovation."
From transportation to local musicians to event design, DMCs offer a wealth of resources and services. And although they're an added expense, when you know how to work with them well, their knowledge and network can sometimes save you money elsewhere—all while elevating your event experience.
We chatted with four DMCs for tips on how to get the most out of their partnership...
1. Be upfront about your budget.
Along with their objectives and preferences, event profs working with a DMC should share their budgetary constraints upfront. This allows a DMC to "offer realistic, yet creative ideas within the budget parameters," says Stephanie Luczynski, DMCP, director of sales and business development for Destination Concepts inc. (DCi), a San Diego-based DMC. "We want to present you with ideas that will blow your guests away that are also attainable. Even a high-level range truly helps to guide planners closer to their objectives."
Danielle Phippen—CEO of national DMC Access—agrees that budget transparency can lead to creative (and memorable) solutions. "Don't be afraid to share your budget with us early," she says. "It's not a restriction; it's a road map to success. We'll craft smart, innovative solutions that hit your price point while exceeding your expectations. And that’s worth its weight in gold."
An example from Luczynski: "Recently, we had a client who wanted printed Hollywood Walk of Fame stars on a wall for an upcoming event, but with 500 names, the printing and hanging was extremely expensive and over their budget. DCi came up with the idea to project the image, which was a quarter of the price and gave the client their dream with the same effect for less."
The last thing a DMC wants to do is propose an idea that gets everyone excited, but then learn it won't fit into your budget, says Iskra. "It’s hard to come back from that spike of excitement, and there’s so much we can do to create an unforgettable experience that doesn’t require a large budget," she says. "Even if your budget hasn’t been clearly established yet, sharing what you’ve spent historically, or even giving us a range that you know is digestible to your internal stakeholders, helps us tremendously and allows us to deliver a proposal that hits the mark from the very beginning."
2. Leverage a DMC's local expertise.
This might be a given, but it's important to know all the ways a DMC's local expertise comes in handy. Phippen says DMCs are no longer just here to provide basic destination-based services—they really aim to immerse attendees in what makes a certain locale unique.
In addition, local expertise can mean price negotiations. DMCs can often negotiate favorable rates or budget-friendly options for decor, entertainment, production, transportation, and activities, says Melis Feingold, vice president of creative partnerships for Falls Church, Va.-based CSI DMC.
"Planners should expect DMCs to negotiate with local suppliers on their behalf," Luczynski adds. "DCi leverages our ties to the local community and nationwide buying power to secure the best rates for planners from the best regional suppliers. This is the best way DMCs can help a planner stretch their budgets and fulfill every deliverable outlined in an RFP."
A good DMC will also have a high standard for the local vendor partners they use.
"Yes, you may be able to use the internet or social media to search for local tour options or a transportation provider, but is that historical tour accurately representing the local culture or people indigenous to the area?" asks Iskra. "Or does the transportation provider farm out their equipment during peak season, running the risk that their drivers are not familiar with the local area? Do they carry the appropriate insurance policy in case an incident occurs during your program? DMCs are invested in our local communities and supplier relationships and do the necessary research and due diligence to ensure that your group remains safe while enjoying a truly authentic destination experience."
3. Don't hold anything back.
Or as Phippen puts it: "Tell us everything!" DMCs come equipped with tons of resources—the more information they have to tailor to your needs, the better. "We want to know everything about your program from the first arrival to the last departure," Luczynski notes. "Knowing the full scope of the project helps a DMC provide ideas that align with the big picture of what planners are looking to achieve."
She adds, "For example, sending the DMC your program agenda is so helpful, and details like what has worked before or any attendee demographics, preferences, etc. We are here to support you, and given the right information from the start, a DMC can deliver a spot-on proposal that hits all of the hot buttons and be another set of eyes to prevent any last-minute hiccups. If the VP hates roses, certain themes are overplayed, the client company has sustainability benchmarks we need to hit, or any other details—we want to know about all of it."
This could even include information about your company's/client's culture.
"A DMC can act as a cultural bridge, infusing your event with local flavors and experiences unique to the destination, but it is important for us to have a greater understanding of your company culture so that we can help you design a program that resonates with your company audience," says Iskra. "Not tapping into this cultural exchange can lead to a lack of depth and engagement in the overall program."
And as planning gets underway, remember that "regular updates and feedback loops are crucial to ensure alignment throughout the planning process," Feingold says.
4. Make sure a particular DMC offers what you need.
Phippen says to make sure the DMC you work with has the resources to service your program, as there are a wide range of companies in the DMC industry. Her company, Access, for example, is a national DMC and offers an extensive procurement and risk mitigation process. Luczynski adds that event profs should be clear on what elements they want their DMC to provide versus what they prefer to handle.
"DMCs understand that there are elements of your program that will be kept in house with planners," she says. "Our role is to support planners every step of the way, and our contributions vary per program."
5. Being proactive can be key.
DCi is currently planning an Arizona incentive trip, taking place this November, for a longtime client. During the planning process for the 2024 program, DCi learned that Laguna Beach, Calif., will be the destination for November 2025. Knowing their needs and the destination, DCi was able to act fast to source an off-site venue for the group of more than 350 attendees, even though the destination can be limited on options for a group of that size.
"Being proactive, we confirmed venue holds and sent an initial proposal of ideas," Luczynski says. "The client appreciated it and said they can work to change their planning timeline because we provided this great insight into the destination. Had we not taken the initiative to support our client, there was a good chance the best venue options would not have been available."