how to become an event planner

Destination Manager Job Description

In this section, we're going to look at a real destination manager job description—as described by a professional; Jennifer Miller, Partner and President, ACCESS Destination Services.

Being a Destination Manager: In Their Own Words

Now let's hear a first-hand account of a destination manager job description from a professional:

jennifer miller
Jennifer Miller
ACCESS Destination Services

Jennifer Miller, DMCP, is a Partner of ACCESS Destination Services and President of its offices in San Diego, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and Arizona. Founded in 1970, ACCESS is one of the most recognized destination management and event production companies with 14 offices throughout North America.

After studying travel & tourism at San Diego State University, Jennifer began her career in the hospitality industry as a meeting planner/account executive for a local incentive travel firm working predominantly in the banking and financial sector. In 2000, she joined ACCESS San Diego as a Program Manager working on meetings, special events and incentive travel programs for Fortune 100 companies such as Microsoft, Exxon Mobil, Toyota, and AT&T. Then, as Director of Operations, she managed a team of program managers and was responsible for all client program operations and key account management. In 2004, Jennifer was promoted to General Manager of the San Diego office. By 2010, her leadership role was expanded to include the Los Angeles, Arizona and Las Vegas ACCESS offices. Jennifer became a Partner in 2013, and was then promoted to the role of President in early 2014.

1. The Role of a DMC

“Typically, a DMC’s role involves working with groups who are travelling into the city where the DMC is located and hosting a type of meeting, incentive, or any kind of travel program for clients or employers.

For example, if an automotive company is coming to San Diego and recognizing the top two per cent of its sales force, they would engage with a DMC for what is known as their ‘on-the-ground’ needs. This can be anything from venues, to transportation, entertainment and décor, off-site events, tours and activities, welcome gifts, and speakers—all of which are services that a DMC might provide to a company coming into town.

A company will engage with us because we are the local experts in our market and we can help pull all of those components together, acting as a single point of contact for all of their activities while they’re in town.

beach party
Photo: Beach Party by ACCESS Destination Services

A DMC is really focused on the content and delivery of the program, therefore we don’t tend to be involved in any of the ‘front-end’ aspects prior to the guests arriving onsite, for example their air travel, event marketing and promotion, or any communications materials such as invitations and registrations.”

Sales v Operations

“Most DMC’s have a sales side and an operations side. The client would first engage with the sales side to help create the blueprint and design a program. This might be done over the phone or when the client comes out for a site inspection. Sometimes we engage with the client once they’ve already selected their destination, other times we might engage with them when they’re interviewing multiple destinations.

In our company, a sales manager would establish what type of group is coming out, what the demographics are, and what its preferences are—for example are they an active group? Or are they a group that likes to shop? They’ll also ask what type of activities and events they’d like to plan for the group. All of this information would give us the basic blueprint for the program.

Program Manager

After they’ve selected the city and decided to work with us, then the file gets handed over to the operations department, where everything that’s been imagined and designed gets assigned to a program manager.

The program manager then engages with the client and become the primary point of contact, while the sales manager takes the backseat—although in other companies the sales and operations roles might be combined.

group surfing classes
Photo: Group Surfing Classe by ACCESS Destination Services

The program manager really drives the process from this point on; working with the client during the months and weeks before they come to town to make sure all the logistics come together. Then they also act as the single point of contact onsite for the execution of the program, all the way through to the post-event billing stage.”

2. Program Design and Management

“From a creative point of view, the blueprint of the program is actually proposed by the sales manager—who might have secured a particular venue for the client—but the design of that venue and what that event will look like on the day is created by the program manager.

The program manager is the one selecting the menus, choosing the entertainment, deciding upon the décor, and creating the production timeline—they’re the ones working with the client on the details to really bring the blueprint to life. Often those logistical elements are the creative component of an event.

The sales manager also creates the tour program, which might involve 10 or 15 different options of tours for the guests to participate in. That could be anything from activities, such as kayaking or a 20-mile bike ride, to things like shopping, lunches, visiting museums, or going behind the scenes of a theatre show.

private event in football stadium
Photo: Private event in a football stadium by ACCESS Destination Services

Unique Venues

If it were an evening event, they would also propose different options, such as a dinner at the Marine Corps Air Station Miramar. This is an exclusive location for an event that clients can only really get access to through a DMC, because we would work with the base to find a squadron that will host a group. This might involve creating a private dinner for 500 people in an airplane hangar that, by day, might house F18’s. The sales manager will try to find the perfect venue or package of tours for a group, based on its demographic and interests.

Decor and Entertainment

The program manager will then get a file from the sales manager that details all the information that’s already been communicated to the client. In the case of the evening dinner at the air force base, it would just say something like, “dinner for 500, at Miramar” and perhaps a basic outline of a décor or entertainment package that’s been proposed.

Then it’s up to the program manager to deliver that event; they find the decor, they find the entertainment, they arrange all the transport and work one-on-one with the client and all the suppliers.

Creative Concept / Theme

The program manager will work closely with the client to really take the concept for the event and bring it to life.

private event at an air force base
Photo: Private event at an Air Force base by ACCESS Destination Services

That might mean deciding on a theme; is it going to be a USO [United Service Organizations] theme? Red, white and blue? Or will it have an older patriotic look? Or maybe it will be a “Tour of Duty” theme in which guests walk in to find themselves in boot camp, then they get elevated to the next stage, which is flight school, and then ultimately they graduate and they’re in the Officer’s Club.

There can be a lot of different looks involved, so you need to have a creative mind; to be able to say, ‘this would look good here’, and ‘these are the types of entertainment options I would suggest’. A program manager has to be well versed so that when a client says, ‘we’re looking for a good band and our group is in their 40s and 50s’, they know what to suggest that’s going to work for the whole group.”

3. Logistics

“An event at Miramar could have 10–20 different suppliers, for things like décor, furniture, catering, lighting, sound, DJ, etc. The program manager coordinates with the base and the suppliers to make sure that all the detail and vision for that event is pulled together on the night.

Production Timeline

Then there’s the production timeline to create, so that everyone knows when the guests are arriving, when the food is being served, when the band starts playing, and when the tours commence.

There’s really a lot of detail to be coordinated. Like making sure all the suppliers that we work with are properly contracted prior to an event and that all of the details and expectations are communicated clearly to everyone involved, so that everyone who shows up on the night to execute that event knows the plan.

corporate event
Photo: Corporate Event by ACCESS Destination Services

During the set-up or load-in for an event, you can have 50–100 people onsite each doing their part. Someone might come in and do the staging and lighting, then the next person comes in and puts the décor on top, then you have the rental companies that bring in the tables and chairs, a décor company that puts the linens on top, then you might work with a florist who puts the centerpieces on. Just making sure that all of those details are really clear and spelled out is really important, so that everyone comes in and it all happens like clockwork.”

4. Client Account Management

“The program manager’s day-to-day client might be a third party, for example an automotive company might hire an independent contractor or an agency to help implement its meetings.

On other occasions the client might not have an internal or external event planner in charge, so we might be working with a marketing person or admin assistant—perhaps the assistant to the VP of Sales—within the automotive company. That person might not have any meeting planning experience, so they would rely pretty heavily on us for our expertise.

There are times when a client will ask us to travel with them, once they feel like we have knowledge of the program, so we’ll go on the road with them. There are also times when a client will come to town and work with us to help find the best fit for a hotel—we don’t really get involved with booking the air travel—and we will generally work with them on the entire meeting, especially the budgets and timelines.

outdoor dinner
Photo: Outdoor dinner by ACCESS Destination Services

Budget Management

It’s mainly the budgeting they need our assistance with, because they have a dollar amount they’re working with and they really need to be able to categorize everything and know how much they need to spend in different areas. If they have say, 250 people, they might have a budget of $500,000, but they won’t necessarily know how to allocate those funds to cover all the different areas. So there’s a lot of budget work involved in this job.

I think the bulk of the work though is really in creating the vision for the event, therefore it’s in the proposal stage where the bulk of the time is spent. We might engage with a client six months in advance. Most of them have a pretty good idea of their overall budget; they might say we have a budget of $100,000 for this event, $50,000 dollars for that event, and maybe $100 per person for tours. So we will work with them at the proposal stage to create those experiences prior to their arrival on-site.”

5. Onsite Delivery

“Groups are usually here for three-to-five days, and once they get into town the time involved for the program manager is fairly minimal in comparison to the investment in time spent prior to the group arriving.

A lot of time gets spent adjusting numbers; so they might have started with 250 people and now they only have 160, or looking at different time lines; so sometimes the meeting will shift, which means everything else needs to be moved. It’s up to the program manager to make sure they have all the accurate information throughout the planning process—whether that’s in budgeting or concept.

When the group arrives in town, the program manager then becomes the onsite point of contact. If it’s a large program we’ll usually assign two or three program managers, but ultimately it’s the same program manager involved during the planning process who is then onsite at the event dealing with all the suppliers and the load-in. They are then there all the way through the three-to-five days until the last bus leaves back to the airport.

Helicopter transfers
Photo: Helicopter transfers by ACCESS Destination Services

An event load-in can start at 8 or 9 am and that event might not end until 1 am the following morning—and that’s a pretty typical day for a program manager, especially on a big program. So it’s a lot of early mornings and late nights over several consecutive days, which is something you have to be prepared for if you’re considering working in this part of the industry.”

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In The Next Section...

Pros and Cons of being a Destination Manager

Read the pros and cons of being a destination manager by Jennifer Miller, Partner and President, ACCESS Destination Services.

jennifer miller