May 11th, 2016

DMC = Destination Management Company - or Disaster Management Company?

How many times a day do you ask yourself the question, “what if”? On a personal level, this sneaky, nagging question comes into play in everyday situations such as: “What if I can’t find a gas station and my car runs out of gas?” or even more scary, “What if my internet goes out while I’m streaming House of Cards?!” In your professional life, these questions can take a more serious tone, especially if you are a meeting professional. Those “what ifs” might sound something like: “What if the weather is bad during our networking cocktail hour on the beach?”, “What if that bad weather suddenly turns into a hurricane?”, “What if the hotel’s wireless network is hacked, and our attendee’s information is stolen?”, or even more severe “What if there’s a city-wide emergency or threat while our meeting is operating?”

All of these “what if” questions, and more, are important to ask throughout the meeting planning process since there is always the opportunity for things to potentially go wrong, and you need to be prepared with how to handle it. By choosing to work with a DMC, the one “what if” you most certainly can avoid is:

“What if I had chosen to work with a DMC? Could I have avoided this?”

The value of a Destination Management Company (DMC) is often misunderstood, even within the meeting industry. A recent study from the Incentive Research Foundation concluded that meeting planners believe DMCs’ top strengths are possessing local knowledge and saving time for planners. DMCs viewed their own strengths as helping to ensure events are of high quality, and handling unexpected requests and crisis management. Why is the latter strength often overlooked by meeting planners when there are many unknowns, and there are risks no matter the location or country? We need to change this perception.

Global DMC Partners understands how important it is to have all those “what if’s” covered, and in order to assure our clients that their groups are in the right hands, each Global DMC Partner must have a minimum of $2M in liability insurance and customized contingency plans in place. Taking it a step further, it’s important to be as upfront and open with our clients as possible about emergency preparedness, and there are many factors in today’s environment that you need to keep in mind. As the DMCs are the experts and tackle these situations on a daily basis, we asked them the important questions and are providing their global perspectives, addressing misconceptions, and sharing their practical, concrete advice on what risk and crisis management concerns you need to consider for future programs. 

1. Aside from a contingency plan, ask your DMC about general security policies and what private security options there are for your group.

Our DMCs will provide vital contact information to ensure that, aside from the staff onsite, you always have multiple emergency contacts to reach 24/7 when you are onsite with your program. This includes contact information for DMC team members, addresses and telephone numbers of the consulates/embassies, nearest hospitals and pharmacies. As part of their contingency plans, our DMCs have standard evacuation processes, and proactively contact their suppliers, including hotels, to make sure that each supplier has a written security plan in place that is available to share with clients.

In destinations and situations where it’s appropriate, DMCs also offer – and highly encourage – the option of private security for groups or safety officers at each event for an additional cost. These are teams of experienced security specialists, sometimes from the military and law enforcement, who manage the security of the physical locations to prevent any emergencies and ensure group safety.

“Our security specialists will design a customized plan for the group based on the group itinerary, starting from arrivals at the airport to establishing security procedures at each stage of the group operation. Our security team will inspect all venues, restaurants, excursions locations, and arrival and departure areas of the airport prior to group arrival, as well as providing hotel dispatch services,” says Robert Lee, DMCP, Director of Sales at Spaintacular DMC in Spain.

Security teams are also in close contact with law enforcement to ensure they are aware of any important closures, threats, or emergencies that might affect the group or program. “Our security company is in close contact with the police so they will be alerted in advance should there be any demonstrations or a foreign country high official (President/Prime minister etc.) visits; thus certain roads/routes would be closed,” offers Mustafa Yalcin, Owner of Universal Travel Services based in Turkey.

2. Contingency plans are not all equal. They will differ per DMC, destination and various circumstances.

Jordan Lambert, Manager of Operations for Dallas-based iDesignMeetings describes specific plans their DMC has in place for weather, “For springs rains and also for the crazy Texas tornado weather, we always make sure to have rain, hail, and tornado contingency plans in place. We have alternate venues lined up for each outdoor program, and monitor the weather constantly in the days leading up to a program. We make sure that the client is very comfortable with these plans and feels safe with our staff.”

Local governments focus their efforts on destination-specific threats of weather, viruses and violence and will even have preemptive actions in place.  “We have very loud weather sirens that can be heard throughout each city, which indicate tornado, hurricane, hail, and intense storms. These are great pre-cursors to damage or a rained out event, and they signal us into action. Regarding border control, the Texas government and Border Safety has cracked down on this threat over the last year and we hear of fewer attacks,” states Lambert.

3. Don’t assume everything you hear on the news to be accurate – ask your DMC for local reports.

While your preferred news outlet might be your go-to source for world news, they might not always have all the facts straight. Sometimes, situations can be sensationalized in the news, and while it’s extremely important to make yourself aware of global affairs, you should always ask a local source – like your DMC – for local reports and updates to understand what’s really happening on the ground.  For example, Francisco Havas, President of Havas Creative Tours in Brazil says that there are many misconceptions about the Zika Virus that people obtain from the news, so it’s best to consult with the local DMC to find out the facts for yourself.

Stephane Satin, President of .::ECT::.[mice dmc] in the Dominican Republic provides clients with official reports from the Dominican Republic Health Ministry to ease client concerns of the Zika Virus.  He also outlines the specific precautionary actions that local hotels and venues are taking to prevent any outbreak from occurring onsite – for example, Satin provides reports of how often these venues are spraying down the premises with mosquito repellent.

There are similar fallacies about political demonstrations and internal conflicts in certain countries. Havas explains, “Regarding political demonstrations in Brazil, people abroad tend to think of them as political unrest or violence. In general, these demonstrations have been peaceful.” In Mexico, there are media reports of a country-wide issue of drug-related violence but Juan Carlos Villanueva, Associate Director of Sales at Tropical Incentives, describes how this can be misleading.

“Our country is a very large country, so the areas of conflict are located far from the main destinations for groups and incentives, but most of the time people do not realize this situation,” says Villanueva. 

The same goes for geographically nearby countries that are perceived as dangerous just because they are located next to a country that has been deemed unsafe. For example, Morocco and event Finland are perceived by some as risky to travel to, yet they are both safe and don’t have widespread violence or threats like the nearby countries they are being associated with.

4. Surprisingly, active threats can actually make a destination safer than ever, but ask your DMC what tours and activities they can provide in less crowded places.

Managing Director, Ola Kastensson, from Russian DMC Russkie Prostori explains how bomb threats before the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics resulted in enhanced security at the event and in public places around the city.

“As close as the day prior to the winter Olympics there were security warnings resulting from bomb threats and even warnings about threatening materials brought in to the event through toothpaste tubes. This caused groups and individuals to cancel, but also resulted in one of the most secure, safe and well-organized events in Olympic history,” describes Kastensson.

If there are still concerns about the level of safety in public areas, your DMC is absolutely essential for planning tours and offsite events that are in less populated, unique locations outside of the city. Ask your DMC for their expert recommendations for exclusive, one-of-a-kind opportunities for your attendees that take place in rustic or unpopulated locations that only the locals might be aware of. 

5. If a true question of safety arises and you must cancel your program, Global DMC Partners has many options for your “plan B”.

Depending on the country and situation, Force Majeure may be in effect if you must cancel a meeting. But if it’s not, and you are just not comfortable traveling to certain destinations, working with Global DMC Partners provides many more options to make choosing a new location easier on you.

Many of our DMCs already have options clearly defined in the contract so you’re aware upfront on how a cancellation is handled. “Our company policy is to look at what the client’s respective foreign department says about travel for safety in each region during the contractual period. Force Majeure is an option when the client’s country officials advise against travel to prevent the endangerment of its citizens,” explains Kastensson. He describes that along with evacuation processes and security measures, part of their “Crisis and Prevention Package” includes guarantees for repayment and cancellation assistance for rebooking within a specific timeframe.

It is extremely important to keep in mind that DMCs might incur additional costs for cancelling with their suppliers based on the program specifics. The benefit of working with a DMC is that due to their relationships with the local suppliers, they will do their best to negotiate on your behalf so that any costs are mitigated as much as possible. Cancellations are handled on a case by case basis, according to agreements with the single customer and suppliers involved in the arrangement, always keeping the best interest of the client in mind. Many DMCs will also be able to offer rebooking options which could also help mitigate costs in the future and reduce your exposure.

One of the benefits of working with the Global DMC Partners network is that you have access to DMC experts in other destinations if corporate or government policies advise that you must cancel a program in one destination. Your Global DMC Partner Advisor will work with you to find another amazing and suitable location that meets your needs. And, due to the nature of the Network, our DMCs can discuss your program needs directly so the transition from one destination to another can be as seamless as possible.

No country is totally immune from disaster, and it’s critical for you as the planner to know all the options available to you so you are as prepared as possible. The proactive efforts by our global DMCs—and their ability to know the specifics in their local destinations—guarantees that working with Global DMC Partners is the secure choice for the meeting professional and your stakeholders. Our DMCs keep themselves constantly updated regarding national and international security recommendations in their location and will always provide reliable information to our clients and partners at any time. There are so many wonderful destinations where it is safe for you to travel, so let us help you find those destinations and ensure you are as comfortable as possible when taking groups anywhere in the world. For more information about emergency preparedness and how we can help, please reach out to your dedicated Global DMC Advisor or contact us here.