In July, I was a first-time attendee at Destinations International’s annual conference in Toronto, Canada alongside 1,300+ of my smart and enthusiastic tourism peers from across the globe. The three-day gathering (seven if you took CDME courses prior to the convention like me) was a chance to connect, learn and celebrate the hospitality industry. I’m already looking forward to next year’s conference in Dallas, Texas.

The event was jam-packed with information and best practices. Here are some of my favorite takeaways:

Dine BumpLive like a local
No matter if visitors are traveling for business, leisure or a sports tournament, people want to experience the destination like a local. Destination Marketing Organizations (DMOs) can be the key to unlocking that experience for guests. DMOs can work with residents to highlight all the things they love about living and playing in their destination and use that to drive a more authentic experience for visitors. Social media platforms like TikTok are popular tools being used to highlight destinations from a local perspective.

For meetings and conventions, in particular, that means seamlessly incorporating locally owned businesses and services into events. Whether it's local food and musicians or planning excursions for outdoor activities, meeting planners and attendees alike want to intimately experience a destination when attending a conference.

We’re proud of the work of our Visitor Experience team, which can easily connect planners with a local network of vendors. No one knows RVA better than us.

Building your bench from within
Professional development doesn’t always happen in the classroom. DMOs are filled with talented people – organizations can develop this existing talent by having a coaching culture. In a coaching culture, management is intentional about creating a pathway for success for those who have a hunger and desire to grow. It was specifically noted not to overlook the quiet individuals in your organization that may not lead out loud. To create a coaching culture, it’s important to have best practices around retention where a healthy work culture exists, staff feel like people, and team members are clear on the plan their leader has for their skills and abilities.

It’s been exciting to see the coaching culture within Richmond Region Tourism as our organization has grown and evolved.

The pros and cons of sports tourism
Sports tourism is a significant driver of tourism in the Richmond Region and across the country. Estimates suggest that nearly 60% of the country’s youth play organized sports, with families spending more than $30 billion per year on their kids to participate.

One of the panelists made the analogy that sports can touch any part of your community that needs a hug – meaning it’s the one market that can fill almost any need within a destination. Hence why sports tourism is the biggest market for most destinations, including the Richmond Region. While one of the session titles was “Your Market’s Shining Star: The Resiliency of Sports Tourism,” the sports market is not without challenges. DMOs are juggling short-term business, competition within other vertical markets for hotel blocks, rate changes/inflation, and educating organizers on the way the market has changed.

DMOs are crucial to helping put the puzzle pieces together and making a recommendation based on the community’s capacity to host events.  It’s our job to work with our partners to layer business appropriately and drive the most economic impact to our destination.

Community first
Putting the community first and being intentional about resident engagement was a common theme throughout the conference. Destinations must work collaboratively and not duplicate efforts while making sure what’s good for residents is good for visitors. We know that destination promotion is an essential investment that builds quality of life for everyone in the community.

At Richmond Region Tourism, we focus every day on community building as we work to market the region. We’re proud of programs like BLK RVA and OutRVA that highlight our community’s diversity while giving local people a platform to share why they call RVA home.

Sustainable tourism will continue to grow
We know a majority of travelers want sustainable travel options. We’re also seeing more

destinations embrace green practices. Destinations International created a panel of experts that talked about the importance of incorporating sustainable tourism into meeting marketing materials to help improve the connections between residents and businesses, as well as planners and attendees. Destinations can acknowledge and celebrate strides already being made (reducing waste and adding more recycling options, for example), while pushing for growth in sustainability practices.

Richmond Region Tourism recently launched a Net Zero Emissions conference program to give meeting planners and attendees an opportunity to host net-zero emissions conferences by off-setting carbon emissions from car, train and plane rides utilized by attendees, as well as the environmental impact of meals and the hotel and meeting space.

Are you interested in discussing any of these topics or learning more about the Richmond Region? I’d love to hear from you. You can email me anytime at