The last two years have been a massive challenge for the meetings industry, and few segments have suffered as much as destination management companies. These on-the-ground specialists in meeting locations around the world have been especially vulnerable to Covid-19 cancellations and postponements—managing ground transportation, off-site events, and special activities for groups is their main source of revenue.
Now, for DMCs operating in Europe, the Russian invasion of Ukraine is a new source of anxiety, just as business was beginning to turn around.
Indeed, prospects were strong for European business for the DMCs under the Global DMC Partners umbrella. “Prior to the recent turmoil in Ukraine, demand for Europe rebounded dramatically throughout the continent, with a year-to-date increase of 250 percent compared to 2021,” says Catherine Chaulet, company president and CEO. However, war in Eastern Europe has created uncertainty. “We have already seen several cancellations in countries that border Ukraine, mostly from U.S. and European clients,” Chaulet says. “The effect of the invasion of Ukraine could be devastating to some Eastern European destinations.”
“There is certainly concern [from clients], and our DMCs are watching this very closely,” says Marty MacKay, DMCP, president, alliance events and operations, Hosts Global. While Hosts hasn’t yet seen any cancellations or location shifts as a result of the conflict. “You can bet that clients are watching closely,” she says.
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Chaulet remains hopeful that business will not be affected outside the conflict zone. “At this time, we see the impact geographically concentrated in Ukraine, Russia, and a few bordering countries. Other European destinations, especially central, western, and southern European nations, are still in high demand and face a lower risk of impact on group business. It is important to note that although Eastern European destinations were growing in demand, comparatively, they represent a smaller portion of overall European group demand.”
Sylvia Andre, chief marketing officer at MCI Group, which owns Ovation Global DMC, also reports a new level of concern from clients. Ovation’s DMCs and DMC partners had been riding a wave of new bookings in Europe this year, particularly in France, Germany, and Portugal, but the landscape has changed. “Our [DMC] partners in the Ukraine are directly impacted and all global business has shifted away from the country. American clients that have upcoming programs in neighboring or [other] European destinations are asking the right questions: Do you think programs in Europe are safe to go ahead now? If I am programming events in Europe, what can we expect and what should we tell our attendees?”
To answer those questions, DMCs can do what they do well: Bring local knowledge and insights to the table. As Chaulet notes, a credible information source is especially valuable in times of crisis. “The reality on site in European destinations may be very different than what is communicated through the media. Access to trustworthy, clear, and factual communication is what meeting planners need more now than ever before.”
“Our teams on the ground have the information to support next steps,” notes MCI’s Andre. “At this moment, Ovation Global DMC does not foresee any safety risks in Europe, to which end we continue to provide guidance and information in the developing situation.”
But for DMCs in Europe, especially Eastern Europe, the unpredictability and concern they have lived with through the pandemic drags on. As Host Global’s MacKay says, “The overall feeling for today [February 28] is that it is too soon to tell. So, for now we all hold our breath. Tomorrow could have a very different answer.”