Inside the DMO-Convention Center Relationship

By Torie Robinette, October 12, 2017

Collaboration Bridges Gaps

Eric Blanc, Tampa Convention CenterEric Blanc, director of sales, marketing and convention services at Tampa Convention Center in Florida, can’t stress enough how important it is to present a united front between the convention center and DMO when attracting business to a city.

That means, for his team and those on the other side at Visit Tampa Bay, collaboration is everything; picturesque beaches and palm trees can only do so much.

“The relationship should be a partnership, not one where one person is subservient to the other in either direction,” says Blanc.

So, what’s the formula for that partnership? Although Visit Tampa Bay and the convention center are separate organizations, they work together under a contractual relationship. Blanc’s team is responsible for marketing and soliciting immediate business up to 18 months out, while Visit Tampa Bay handles business 18 months out and beyond. Each team is then responsible for assisting the other with the sales process in any way they can.

For the conventions team, that means being an expert on the building, and for the DMO team, that means being an expert on the city’s collective offerings. The detailed service and professional recommendations the teams are able to offer the client close the deal.

“It’s like a team sport,” says Blanc of this model’s efficiency. “We’re all either going to be successful or not together. At the end of the day, no one will care whose fault it is if we lose a piece of business; all that matters is that we lost it.”

Alex Kaptzan, vice president of sales and services at Visit Tampa Bay, agrees. “Both of our teams are trying to accomplish the same goal, but sometimes we’re tasked with getting there via a divergent path,” he says. “We challenge each other in somewhat of a ‘checks-and-balances’ situation that maximizes opportunities, economic impact and, most importantly, delivers a compelling package to our mutual customers.”

Customer Service Shines

San Francisco Travel is committed to booking business for the local Moscone Center. That means Lysa Lewin, senior vice president of convention sales for the DMO, works closely with the Moscone Center’s sales team.

While San Francisco Travel is charged with the larger mission of promoting the city as a compelling destination, the team has aligned its goals with those of Moscone Center. Working to net great business at Moscone Center is an integral part of the DMO’s larger promotional effort.

With common ground connecting them, Lewin’s team and the sales team under Moscone Center Vice President and General Manager Bob Sauter seem to have built a foundation for success. But they also recognize one essential element in winning and executing business: providing impeccable customer service. It’s especially important considering that 70 percent of their business is repeat business, according to Lewin.

A deft communication strategy, which involves keeping one another apprised of every client interaction, being available to aid one another in sales efforts, and ensuring that each side has the support they need, keeps the teams focused.

“We’re both singing to the same sheet of music,” says Lewin. “As long as we are all set on staying on top of service levels and understanding the importance of the customer, there’s no issue that we can’t overcome.”

The teams have also aligned on technology in an effort to simplify the customer experience. The San Francisco Travel team is currently working to adopt the same software used by the Moscone Center team. While Lewin recognizes there will be a learning curve and challenges associated with the new software, her team is committed to providing a united front for clients.

“We’ve got it down to a pretty lovely science,” she says. When asked about what keeps the two teams chugging along seamlessly, Sauter jokes that they have an incestuous relationship.

“For us, it’s simple,” he says. “It’s about partnering toward a common goal … from inquiry to rebooking, regardless of the issue, we work together seamlessly as a city toward exceeding customers’ expectations.”

Strong relationships between DMOs/CVBs and convention centers are the backbone of cities that successfully earn meetings business.

When both teams are valued for their expertise and entrusted with it, and when needs from both sides are understood and factored into the business strategy, everyone wins. Clients are encouraged to choose the city time and time again, and visitor dollars become an engine for its economic development.

With goals that are similar but often plot different paths, it’s easy for DMOs and convention centers to find themselves at odds. But thanks to best practices shared by cities who have overcome the typical pitfalls and found mutual ground, it’s clear that meeting eye to eye isn’t just possible; it’s simpler than it seems. Indianapolis, Tampa and San Francisco have illuminated three common tools that healthy teams leverage for success: communication, collaboration and a focus on customer service.

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