New Study Reveals Meeting Planner Insights On What Works in Business Events Marketing

What are the leading sources of information in shaping meeting planners’ perception of a destination? What are the best ways to reach planners on behalf of your destination? Which locations are viewed most favorably by decision makers?

winning strategies cover crop

Development Counsellors International has just released the second edition of A View from Meeting Planners: Winning Strategies in Destination Marketing. An innovative look at the decision making processes of the meeting industry’s “customers,” the study reveals and examines best practices in marketing places.

Winning Strategies in Destination Marketing offers valuable insight from 212 meeting planners and decision makers from the United States who have global meeting planning responsibilities. The study examines the best methods of communication with meeting planners, the most popular industry media outlets for reaching meeting planners, the top techniques for influencing a meeting planner’s perception of a destination and the best and worst locations for meetings. Results are compared to the findings of the original study conducted in 2012 and demonstrate how the industry has changed in the past three years.

Since the first publication of A View from Meeting Planners: Winning Strategies in Destination Marketing in 2012, the meetings and incentives industry has continued on the slow and steady path to recovery from the global financial crisis in 2008. U.S. business travel spending has increased by 38 percent from 2009. As the economy experiences continued growth, business travel volume and spending is forecasted to increase over the next eighteen months, with volume increasing 3.1 percent and reaching 499.1 million trips, and spending rising 5.4 percent to $318.9 billion.1 Complementing this growth is a surge of innovation and creativity in meetings design and bid strategies.

Today, competition among destination marketing organizations is strong. Emerging destinations in the Middle East and Latin America are aggressively competing for meetings and incentives, with new hotels and convention centers offering seamless technology and facilities designed in response to the demands of a new generation of meeting planners and leveraging local intellectual capital and industry knowledge clusters to attract association conventions and corporate meetings. Marketing and sales strategies must be adapted to the evolving business events industry to be effective, making it critical for destination marketing organizations to understand their audience.

It is with this aim that Development Counsellors International (DCI) conducted the second edition of this comprehensive survey of meeting planners with global meeting planning responsibilities. The 2015 survey expanded upon its original form to include questions about challenges facing the industry, allowing us to forecast future trends.

Key findings follow, based on the responses of 212 participants in the 2015 survey:

  • International meeting planners are most concerned about declining budgets, increased workload, and the responsiveness of suppliers when it comes to their business events.
  • Meeting planners cited introductions to new suppliers and destinations at industry trade shows, knowledge of suppliers in-destination, and referrals from colleagues as the most influential steps in the destination sourcing process.
  • The three leading sources of information influencing meeting planner perceptions of international meeting destinations are destination marketing organizations (DMO)/convention & visitors bureaus (CVB), dialogue with industry peers, and business/personal travel.
  • Meeting planners indicate that speaking to or emailing convention bureau staff is by far the most common form of interaction. A majority of respondents selected e-mail as the preferred method for convention bureau representatives to share information on their destination.
  • Meeting face-to-face, whether at trade shows, receptions or educational workshops, rated as the most effective means of influencing meeting planners who may be considering a destination that is new to them.
  • Meeting planners have a much stronger preference for communication to be done via email versus telephone calls when working with CVBs. The second preferred method of communication is meetings arranged with suppliers during trade shows. Advertising, destination e-newsletters and online webinars are cited as the least effective marketing techniques by meeting planners.
  • IMEX America is the most attended industry event with 66% of respondents reporting that they have attended this event within the last three years. IMEX Frankfurt and IBTM America rank a distant second and third place with 28% and 23% of respondents reporting that they have attended these events within the last three years, respectively.
  • Meetings & Conventions magazine is the most frequently read industry publication followed by Successful Meetings.
  • Online advertising is deemed the most effective type of advertising by 48% of respondents. However, a majority of respondents prefer reading printed versions of travel industry publications.
  • A majority of respondents, 88%, consider educational trips (familiarizations) as either important or very important in influencing their perception of destinations. The North American summer season is considered the best time to participate in education trips.
  • Cost is cited as top criteria with more than half of respondents reporting that this factor can influence a final decision. Flight accessibility from the U.S. and Canada and the destination “wow” factor are the second and third most popular criteria when making a final decision.

Development Counsellors International (DCI) conducted a survey of North American meeting planners with global meeting planning responsibilities in 2012, and a second edition in 2015, to determine the “customer’s perspective” on the most effective strategies and techniques in destination marketing for business events.

This survey targeted meeting planners with direct responsibility for planning meetings in destinations outside of North America. Audience selection was heavily weighted toward the following titles: association meeting planners, corporate meeting planners and association management representatives. The survey was conducted online and respondents were contacted via email and invited to participate in the survey during a three week period in July and August. In return for their participation, respondents were offered their choice of either a $10 Starbucks gift card or a $10 Amazon gift card. A copy of the questionnaire and email invitation can be found in Appendix A.

DCI surveyed more than 2,000 meeting planners from a proprietary database, which generated 212 responses, equating to a 10% response rate.

It is important to note that this survey is a study of perceptions. A perception is an attitude, belief or impression and not necessarily a reflection of reality. Meeting planners have certain identifiable opinions and beliefs about doing business throughout the world. Some of these perceptions may be accurate and some may be genuine misperceptions.

Most and Least Favorable Destinations for Places for Business Events

To determine which cities are winning the perception contest as the best locations to host a meeting, we asked respondents to name the most favorable international cities for meetings and the international convention bureaus that are most helpful to meeting planners, as well as the least favorable international destinations for meetings.

Although this study focused on surveying North American meeting planners who plan meetings abroad, we recognize that the same population of meeting planners is also frequently responsible for planning meetings within North America. We asked the same questions regarding North American destinations to better understand the most favorable cities and CVBs in North America, as well as the least favorable destinations.

Most Favorable International Cities

London 21.7%
Paris 12.5%
Dublin 8.2%
Barcelona 7.6%
Amsterdam 6.5%
Berlin 5.9%
Rome 4.8%
Dubai 4.3%
Frankfurt 4.3%
Sydney 3.8%

Most Favorable International CVBs

London 9.8%
Monte Carlo/Monaco 4.5%
Barcelona 3.8%
Dublin/Ireland 3.8%
Vienna 3.0%
Dubai 2.3%
Scotland 2.3%
Singapore 2.3%
Switzerland 2.3%
Canada 1.5%


Least Favorable International Destinations

Middle East 13.0%
Mexico 7.6%
Russia 6.9%
Paris 6.1%
Istanbul/Turkey 5.3%
Greece 4.6%
London 4.6%
Rio de Janeiro 4.6%
Bracelona 2.3%
Sydney 2.3%


Most Favorable North American Cities

San Francisco 17.0%
Chicago 15.2%
New York City 15.2%
San Diego 15.2%
Las Vegas 12.7%
Orlando 12.1%
Miami 10.3%
Boston 7.9%
Seattle 7.4%
Vancouver 7.3%

Most Favorable North American CVBs

Las Vegas 8.1%
San Diego 6.9%
Orlando 5.6%
San Francisco 4.4%
Chicago 3.8%
Vancouver 3.8%
Miami 3.1%
New York 3.1%
Boston 2.5%
Denver 2.5%
Portland 2.5%
Tampa 2.5%


Least Favorable North American Destinations

New York 15.6%
Detroit 11.1%
Las Vegas 7.4%
San Francisco 5.9%
Chicago 4.4%
Orlando 3.7%
Miami 3.7%
Dallas 3.0%
Hawaii 3.0%

As in 2012, this year’s Winning Strategies survey sought to determine the most effective marketing techniques that international destinations can harness to reach meeting planners. Respondents were asked to rate the effectiveness of eight conventional marketing techniques used by destination marketing organizations. Respondents rated each technique (advertising, destination newsletters, emails, educational workshops, hosted lunch or dinner receptions, articles in meetings industry publications, trade shows and webinars) on a 1 to 5 scale, where 1 is “not effective” and 5 is “very effective”. Similar to the findings in 2012, meeting face-to-face, whether at trade shows or hosted receptions, ranked as the most effective means of influencing meetings planners who may be considering a destination that is new to them.

This said, with the scores for various marketing tactics all averaging between a rating of 3 to 4, all techniques are considered influential among meeting planners and none should be ignored as part of the destination marketing mix.

Advertising, with an average rating of 2.9, was seen as the least effective marketing technique in 2015’s research and declined slightly from the average rating provided in 2012. While destination advertising is ranked as a slightly less effective tool, online advertising is deemed the most effective type of advertising with 48% of respondents citing this technique. This, however, represents a significant decline from 2012, at which time 73% of respondents viewed online advertising as the most effective type of advertising. In 2015, print advertising ranked a close second to online advertising, with 43% of respondents preferring this method of destination advertising. This is a significantly higher percentage of respondents versus the 2012 study which saw only 27% of respondents select print advertising.

It should be noted that association planners also provided a slightly below average rating (2.9) to destination e-newsletters compared to the corporate planner score of 3.18.

Diving more deeply into specific marketing techniques, meeting planners were asked whether they preferred single-destination educational workshops or multi-destination educational workshops. As was the case in 2012, nearly two-thirds of respondents noted that multi-destination educational workshops are preferred.