by Lisa A. Grimaldi | May 17, 2016

Senior editor Lisa A. GrimaldiUnder the leadership of new president and CEO Don Welsh, Destination Marketing Association International's annual convention -- taking place Aug. 1-3 in Minneapolis -- will have a different look and feel. Welsh spoke with M&C about the changes delegates can expect, as well as the new goals he's outlined for the event.

Don Welsh, president and CEO of DMAIWhat were the main criticisms/strengths of the old convention format?
I think the most prominent feedback we have received is that the association hasn't adapted the annual event to engage our members the way they want to be engaged. All destinations are evolving, and many are dealing with past and/or current challenges. The greatest strength of our association will always be the collective knowledge of our members and industry partners. So it is essential that we deliver an event that allows for collaborative knowledge-sharing and strategic networking.

How did you decide what changes to make?
We gathered a lot of member feedback in determining the direction of the event. We have examined survey results from last year's event, and it was pretty clear that changes needed to be made. We also included our own observations from attending some of the best and most innovative events in the country, including SXSW [South by Southwest] and Dreamforce. These organizations are pushing the envelope of face-to-face meetings, and it is time for our industry to join them.

What are the main changes that will debut this year?
This year's event is going to have an incredible amount of energy and plentiful engagement opportunities. The DMAI team has adopted the philosophy that unless it educates, informs and inspires, we are not going to do it.

Our goal is to ensure that DMAI's Annual Convention delivers a meaningful experience for all attendees. Expect dynamic general sessions, additional space for networking and an overall energetic atmosphere. We also will present the work that's been conducted to date on DMAI's strategic plan, being created in partnership with Soren Kaplan, founder of InnovationPoint, a strategic-innovation and strategy-development consulting firm.

We've been working hard with Melvin Tennant [president and CEO of Meet Minneapolis] and his team on the social aspect of the convention. Thanks to a lot of creative input, we anticipate our attendees will be very pleased with what we have planned, including our opening event at the brand-new U.S. Bank Stadium.

Will any new sessions or formats be introduced?
Expect a wide variety of session formats at this year's event. We have heard loud and clear that our members want more education tracks specific to their disciplines, including the CEOs; this was an ongoing topic during our most recent CEO Summit in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

This year's event will feature more general sessions. We have invitations out to a wide range of potential keynote speakers. We will be working closely with the presenters and moderators for all of our sessions to determine what the takeaways should be, and then what is the best delivery method to achieve that desired outcome.

Will the meeting still have the numerous breakout sessions based on the size and budgets of DMOs?
We will still be holding our discipline-based roundtables; however, this year we are putting a lot of effort into the structure and content of these roundtable discussions. We have added solid new leadership that will be introduced at the convention; they'll facilitate discussions and will share their respective priorities. We want this to be an opportunity for the industry to begin discussions and collectively solve issues that affect us all.

What do you hope participants will take away from this event that they may not have from previous DMAI annual conventions?
I hope that everything we do at this year's event achieves at least one of three things: educates, inspires or informs attendees. On top of that, I hope our attendees will come away with a renewed sense of enthusiasm for our association and the industry at large. Our theme for this year's event is "It's a Brand New Day," and I hope that everyone will share in my excitement for what is ahead of us.