"DMO’s are not just here to offer dates, rates and space...we are here as your advocate and partner to enhance your meeting."
When you think of Washington DC, images of the National Mall, Congress and the White House probably come to mind. While all of those are wonderful features, there is so much more to DC that Melissa Riley and her team of destination experts would like to introduce you to. Melissa Riley is the Vice President, Convention Sales and Services with Destination DC and she shares with us how they work with planners to bring successful meetings of all sizes to the nation’s capital.
SUZZANNE: What makes Washington DC a great meeting destination?
MELISSA: Washington, DC is a great meetings destination for so many reasons for domestic and international delegates alike. I can talk about how easy it is to get here with our three major airports; or our world class hotels with a variety of options and price points; or I could mention our meeting facilities like the state of the art Walter E. Washington Convention Center. But more so than all of those combined are the unique options we have that can make meetings special. The access to Congress is something you cannot do in any other destination! This creates a very unique value proposition that can yield unique benefits to your meeting or convention.
SUZZANNE: What is the ONE THING planners are always surprised to learn about Washington, DC?
MELISSA: Washington has had a reputation of only being a political town. When people come to visit the city, whether for fun, business or a convention, they are surprised by how hip and cool it is. That was the impetus for our DC Cool campaign. We wanted to expose our guests to the city that exists beyond the National Mall too. We will always treasure what Washington, DC has in its monuments and memorials, but we want to share a city that locals experience on a daily basis. Our website washington.org gives access to the insider’s view of Washington, DC.
SUZZANNE: What concerns/complaints/frustrations are you hearing from planners lately? How do you think the services CVBs provide support them specifically?
MELISSA: DMO’s are here to assist customers in finding the best solutions for their meeting’s needs. If your organization needs to keep convention center costs low, the DMO can assist in offering dates or space that might be more cost effective. If an organization is concerned about their delegates’ hotel rates, again, the DMO can offer suggestions to pattern and seasonality that can yield far more cost effective options for the organization and its delegates. DMO’s are meant to be solution oriented and experts in their destinations. They work hand in hand with the global hotel sales and national vendors to ensure you have the best possible options available to you when looking to select a location.
SUZZANNE: What do you see trending in the meetings market? How is your DMO proactively addressing the trend or staying current?
MELISSA: DMO’s are not just here to offer dates, rates and space. We are here, yes, to offer availability as a first step. However, more importantly, we are here as your advocate and partner to enhance your meeting. It is in our best interest for you to have a memorable meeting and your delegates to have an incredible experience in our destination. We continue to enhance your experiences by making sure you realize and have access to the assets in our area that will grow your delegates, exhibitor and sponsor base. We act as the liaison between all those entities to ensure that we set ourselves apart as a destination and your meeting has more relevant content and connections to our area as a result of these efforts.
SUZZANNE: In what way do you think CVBs are most misunderstood by planners? What one planner perception would you like to change about CVBs in general?
MELISSA: Each DMO is set up and funded differently. However, most DMOs cater to and offer solutions to the customer’s needs. We will not send your lead out to every member in our database strictly because we are a membership based organization. We listen to what the customer’s objectives are and cater a search based on meeting those needs. Some meeting planners are still hesitant to use DMOs for site selection because they believe they will be solicited by hundreds of hotels and vendors for a particular destination. This is not the case in Washington, DC and most destinations.
SUZZANNE: What size/type of meetings best fit in your destination?
MELISSA: There is a common misperception that DMO’s only assist large citywide opportunities. At Destination DC we are nearly split in half with the amount of groups we assist that are hotel only opportunities. We are neighborhood, hotel and overall small meeting experts and are here to assist with meetings of all sizes. We appreciate and want to continue to grow our citywide base but we simultaneously want to assist all the other meetings that keep our city vibrant.
SUZZANNE: What are the latest developments/happenings/events in your destination you’d like to share with planners?
MELISSA: Washington, DC is continuing to go through a renaissance. We have over $9.5 billion in development underway right now. The city is growing in hotel inventory, retail, housing, restaurants and other necessary infrastructure. In 2015, Washington, DC added over 12,000 new residents into the District. This is adding to the vibrancy of an already robust destination. Long gone are the days when people would drive in to their government jobs from the suburbs and go home at 5pm. People now live, work and play all within the city limits and it is creating an urban revival whose full potential is still yet to be seen.
We are excited to realize some immediate high impact developments. The Watergate Hotel will reopen in Spring 2016 after a $120M renovation and we welcome the Trump International Hotel which will occupy the historic Old Post Office Pavilion in the Fall of 2016. Additionally, we are excited to introduce the newest Smithsonian Museum to the collection with the National Museum of African American History and Culture coming in 2016. 2016 also begins a year of celebration as we recognize milestones such as the 75thanniversary of the National Gallery of Art and 100th anniversary of the National Park Service.
SUZZANNE: Why are your services free?
MELISSA: Destination DC’s major funding source is through the hotel tax and our membership fees. Therefore, we have the luxury of not charging a fee for most of our services. This is commonly misunderstood and often planners will elect not to use a DMO because they believe they will have to pay for our services. We work closely with our local and national hospitality partners to relay the message that we are here to assist anyone from their first time planning a small meeting to a tenured planner doing their 25th annual citywide event.
SUZZANNE: What motivates you to provide the excellent service you are known for?
MELISSA: Relationships are at the core of what we do. For as large an impact that hospitality and tourism has on our economy, we are a small industry in that it is many of the same faces we see making an impact. I can honestly say I love coming to work every day. Yes, I get to sell the city I know and love but more so than that, it’s the people. It’s the team at Destination DC that make me proud every day; it’s the customers that have morphed into friends; it’s the front line employees that I know by keeping this city busy I am helping support families. Washington, DC is and will continue to be a first class destination because of the location, its coolness and the service!