Smart Talk: Q&A With Michael Gehrisch

Michael Gehrisch  is the Former President and CEO Destination Marketing Association International (DMAI)

Of all your accomplishments during your 15-year tenure as president and CEO of DMAI, what are you most proud of?

I’m incredibly proud of the efforts and outcomes that came with rebranding the organization from IACVB to DMAI. Rebranding your organization may not sound like a monumental achievement, but in our case we weren’t simply changing the name and logo of the organization, we were changing the role of our industry and the way that it’s viewed. We took the opportunity to move beyond the “heads in beds” mentality and changed the mission of the organization and the mindset of the industry. 

DMAI has spearheaded several industry studies that quantify the impact of DMOs on their destinations. Why did you make research a priority?

One of the most profound shifts in destination marketing today revolves around the role of DMOs to convince governments and stakeholders that tourism promotion should be viewed as an investment in a destination’s economic growth and community well-being, versus an expense line item for tourism promotion. That’s a dramatic paradigm shift from DMOs’ traditional role of merely marketing their destinations to drive transient spend, or “heads in beds.” Because of this, DMAI has made it a priority to tell the story of the full impact that DMOs have on their communities and provide our members and the DMO industry as a whole with empirical evidence to back this up.

In 2014, DMOs in the United States influenced a record 41.5 million group room nights booked for future years, for a growth of 2.4 percent over 2013. What triggered the growth?

It’s an exciting time. Nearly 300 cities and towns across the United States rely on DMO sales and marketing efforts to attract events to their destination, which is showing signs of growth. More and more DMOs are focusing on the meetings market as they become more strategic about the business they bring to their hotels and destinations. The increased share of group room nights that DMOs are driving to their destinations show the destination marketing industry’s contribution and commitment to growing the meetings industry.

DMOs are increasingly acting as brokers between meeting planners and the local hotels they represent. By bringing in key players such as local government, corporations, education institutions, nonprofits and other stakeholders, they are able to curate more sophisticated offerings and attractions for meetings and events. For that reason, DMOs are a planner’s best first point of contact to find the right fit for any size meeting. No other organized force, including technology companies, can make claim to the level of intimate and personalized local knowledge, passion for place and connectors of people and businesses than DMOs.

Why is the Destination Marketing Accreditation Program (DMAP) important?

First of all, the accreditation program sets an industry standard of excellence in the global DMO community. As we bring more DMOs up to that standard level of excellence, it raises the profile of the industry as a whole. Second, going through the accreditation program enhances the professionalism of the organization and staff, forcing DMOs to reexamine many of their strategic plans and practices and think about how they can become more effective and efficient. Finally, achieving DMAP accreditation positions a DMO as a valued and respected organization in communities and increases credibility among stakeholders.

What are your fondest memories from your time at DMAI?

What I have enjoyed most about my career in the hospitality and tourism industry are the friendships and spirit of collaboration that make this industry so unique. In principle, DMOs are competitors to one another. Yet even the most casual observer senses the spirit of camaraderie, openness and cooperation whenever leaders in our industry get together. And what makes this transition to the next chapter of my life gratifying is knowing that I will remain a member of that community wherever the road may take me.

Would you rather attend a Convention Industry Council meeting or an Ohio State football game?

I’ll be completely honest here. If it’s a Saturday afternoon in the fall, I’m going to have to go with watching my Buckeyes play in the Horseshoe (Ohio Stadium). In fact, if any CIC delegates want to join me for what I believe to be the best tailgating experience in college football, they have an open invitation.

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