by Lisa A Grimaldi | June 01, 2014

In the ongoing effort to attract large groups and citywide events, some destination marketing organizations have embraced a seemingly counterintuitive tactic: partnering with the competition. It might seem to flout conventional wisdom, but these alliances have given each bureau access to clients and leads they might not have secured on their own.
Following, M&C profiles five DMO groups -- the Three City Alliance; the Energy Cities Alliance; Austin (Texas)/Seattle; Long Beach (Calif.)/Tampa Bay (Fla.), and the BestCities Global Alliance -- that are reaping rewards of cooperative sales and marketing efforts.

Three City Alliance 
A decade ago, the leadership of three DMOs -- Visit Milwaukee, Visit Pittsburgh and Travel Portland (Ore.) -- compared notes and found some shared synergies in similar-size convention centers, enough hotel rooms to accommodate roughly 1,100 to 1,500 attendees on a peak night, client service standards and ethics, and even location-based characteristics such as proximity to rivers or lakes.

Subsequently, the Three City Alliance was launched following the old maxim of there being strength in numbers. The group developed its own website, marketing approach and annual events, with each bureau contributing to the costs.

"Geographically, this arrangement is pretty much ideal, because the three cities are situated almost perfectly to fit into most groups' East/Midwest/West rotations," notes Karl Pietrzak, vice president of convention sales at Visit Pittsburgh, referring to the fact that many associations have bylaws that require annual conventions to rotate between several regions.

In addition, the alliance offers financial incentives of up to $3 per room to meeting clients who book events with more than one partner. The funds can be used to offset expenses such as receptions, speaker fees and transportation.

By all accounts, the partnership has been a success. "This alliance has introduced a new set of clients to Pittsburgh who might not have otherwise considered our destination," notes Pietrzak. "By receiving positive referrals from the partner cities where groups have already had good experiences, clients often decide to give us a look."

The two other member bureaus cite  tangible rewards as well: Travel Portland attributes three to four pieces of business per year to the partnership, while Visit Milwaukee reaps roughly six alliance-generated meetings per year.

While a majority of planners who work with the alliance end up holding events in two of the three destinations, dozens are able to commit to all three. Among them, according to Jeff Baryenbruch, executive director of sales at Visit Milwaukee, is the Indianapolis-based Society of Nutrition Education and Behavior. Its annual meeting, which attracts 1,400 attendees, was held in Pittsburgh in 2013 and will take place this year in Milwaukee and next year in Portland.

"We do occasionally come into direct competition with one of our two partners," Visit Pittsburgh's Pietrzak admits, "and in those cases we each make our best offer and work to bring the business to our own city." Fortunately, he says, such instances are rare.

Despite the group's success, "I don't see the alliance expanding beyond the current three cities," says Pietrzak. "I'm not closing the door on the idea of adding another partner, but that destination would have to fit geographically with the three cities, and would have to be a good match for the spirit and culture of what we've put in place."