Each year, the Pure Michigan Governor’s Conference on Tourism, hosted by the Michigan Lodging & Tourism Association (MLTA), highlights one of the many unique destinations in the state. In 2017, it was Detroit’s chance to step into the spotlight.
“We wanted to focus on the great changes happening in Michigan’s largest city and the comeback that Detroit is experiencing,” said Deanna Richeson, president and CEO of MLTA.
The Detroit Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau (DMCVB) took the opportunity and ran with it. A spectacular welcoming reception at Cobo Center, sponsored by the DMCVB, set the tone for the rest of the conference. Highlights included live Motown music performances, fire throwers, and Cobo’s pristine atrium hall, with floor-to-ceiling views of the Windsor skyline and the Detroit River.
DMCVB President Larry Alexander delivered the opening remarks, followed by Tom Wilson of Olympia Development, who spoke about The District, a 50-block sports and entertainment project, including Little Caesar’s Arena, the new home of the Detroit Red Wings and Detroit Pistons, opening this fall.
“The DMCVB was proud to support MLTA in several ways regarding the Governor’s Conference on Tourism. We saw it as an opportunity to showcase our destination to other travel professionals throughout the state and worked closely with the group to help make it an unforgettable experience for the attendees,” said Michael O’Callaghan, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer.
Changing Perceptions, Gaining Support with EduTours
The group identified some challenges that, working together with the DMCVB, they were able to turn into opportunities.
“The first issue was overcoming Detroit’s bruised reputation. We wanted to convert our Michigan tourism experts and stakeholders into champions for Detroit as a tourism destination,” said Richeson. “The theme of our conference was Reinvention through Innovation. That gave us a framework to highlight specific examples where Detroit has creatively reinvented itself.”
Another issue was to keep the conference fresh to meet the high expectations of this group of tourism professionals and engage the audience so that they weren’t sitting, listening and taking notes all day.
“We had a history of an exciting conference with great speakers, but it’s been pretty self-contained at the host venue. We wanted attendees to experience other parts of the city,” said Richeson.
To solve both issues, planners and the CVB created EduTours, which took attendees out of the hotel and onto the streets to a variety of Detroit businesses, including Quicken Loans campus; D-Pop, a company that designs creative work environments; Z Garage, a 10-story parking garage adorned with street art and murals; and Little Caesar’s Pizza headquarters. Also the Detroit Institute of Arts; Shinola, maker of handcrafted watches, bikes and leather goods; and Third Man Records, originally founded by musical artist Jack White.
“These weren’t just one-way presentations. They were interactive learning experiences, touring the site and learning what’s been done to connect travelers to Detroit. They were very popular,” said Richeson. “The only complaint we had was that it was difficult to pull away from the great content offered at the hotel. We had several requests to not overlap the EduTours with the conference in the future, but offer them before or after so that attendees don’t have to miss anything.”
Outstanding Service for a Reenergized Conference
Another strategy MLTA used to energize the event was to hold conference sessions on three different floors of the Detroit Marriott at the Renaissance Center to get people up and moving and create some flow. They planned networking opportunities at breakouts. One morning, the Allen Park Marching Band surprised attendees with a performance to wake everyone up.
“Guest service at the Marriott was continually praised by our attendees. From the time they valeted to when they checked out, the hospitality was incredible,” said Richeson.
Marriott staff put together a stunning Stars of the Industry awards night that left everyone feeling like a VIP, from a red carpet walkway, navy velvet curtains, spotlights and even a crowd of paparazzi in front of the conference backdrop.
“The entire staff at the hotel really enjoyed hosting the conference this year. It was a great opportunity to allow the industry to experience all of the service and amenities this great ‘comeback city’, namely Detroit, has to offer, said Shonda Johnson, the hotel’s general manager.
Creative Strategies Lead to Nation’s Largest Tourism Conference
The DMCVB was a committed partner throughout the planning process. Registration 10 weeks prior to the conference was lower than the year before. The CVB staff developed a social media strategy and pulled in a bank of volunteer callers to drive up the numbers and get more participation from Detroit’s hospitality community. “They offered unique ways to fix our concerns,” said Richeson. “Our 2017 conference had a record attendance of 1,000 people. A new online component to our hospitality fair added another 400. We’re proud to say we were the largest tourism conference in the nation this year,” said Richeson.
“Buzz throughout the conference was high, energetic and intense. We heard over and over that it was our best conference yet,” Richeson added. “It was a phenomenal, collaborative effort on the parts of so many stakeholders. We knocked it out of the ballpark!”
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