by Lisa Grimaldi | February 01, 2010

As president of the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention & Visitors Bureau since 2002, J. Stephen Perry has been a tireless advocate for the city, especially in the wake of 2005's devastating Hurricane Katrina. He also is the chair-elect of the executive committee of Destination Marketing Association International (he will assume the post at the close of DMAI's annual convention in Hollywood, Fla., in July); in addition, he serves on the U.S. Travel and Tourism Advisory Board and the executive committee of the board of the U.S. Travel Association.  

M&C recently talked with Perry about a wide range of issues affecting the hospitality industry in 2010 and beyond.

M&C: What are the greatest challenges for destination management organizations now?
Perry: Maintaining revenue streams is one challenge; hotel taxes are down, and DMOs need to be creative in generating resources. Another challenge is the need to show stakeholders — politicians, taxpayers — how important DMOs are, how much they contribute to the economy of every county, city, state and the country as a whole.

M&C: What are the greatest challenges for DMAI?
The single greatest is to develop a national sourcing channel or platform for meetings that accentuates the role and added value DMOs bring to the meetings process. We are doing that with the EmpowerMINT program, a combination historical database and resource platform for DMOs and planners (see "How EmpowerMINT Helps Planners"). We need to review that diligently and refine it, and we need to be flexible, adaptable, and constantly upgrading and refocusing it as needed.

Another challenge for DMAI is to harness the national perspective on business travel. We have to be a power that supports national travel in partnership with the U.S. Travel Association; the  two groups merged their foundations last February to form the Destination & Travel Foundation, and a different level of partnership was forged.

We also want to get more DMOs accredited [see "DMAP Today" for a profile of DMAI's accreditation program, known as DMAP]. It's important, because bureaus need the protection from political stakeholders who might question their value or funding. It improves the practices of DMOs and skill sets of individual employees.

Diversity is another key issue; we have real challenges to reach out across race, gender and culture to ensure opportunities for training and career growth, so we can be a model for the hospitality industry.

M&C: Do you think there is a need for more advocacy by DMAI and other industry organizations serving the meetings and travel sectors?
Perry: Over the past 18 months, DMAI and other industry organizations have been very effective advocates on a national level, getting across the importance of meetings and conventions and demonstrating the bottom-line impact they have on companies. I would like to see more of it, by combining with other industry groups to communicate about research. For example, I'd like to adopt the recent study conducted by the Greater Phoenix Convention & Visitors Bureau on the tax revenues hotels generate for the city [] and use it as a national model and template. It shows the tremendous power our industry has, and it will help political stakeholders continue to fund DMOs.

M&C: Are there any new initiatives or research you'd like to see from DMAI?
We hoped to expand DMAI internationally, in Latin America, Asia and Europe, but had to slow down because of state of the U.S. economy last year. As for research, I'd like to see more on job creation and job sustainability; those topics resonate with political stakeholders.

M&C: Do you see future joint ventures between DMAI and USTA, and is there any possibility the two might merge?
We need to examine the future with a careful eye. We have difficulty because we are so fractured as an industry.  It's a legitimate question, and it depends on what our future needs are, though DMAI has plenty to cover on its own.