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MACVB Annual Education Conference Held in Port Huron

Featured topics include Artificial Intelligence, travel trends, social media, mission statements, and more

By Kathy Gibbons

Opening night for the 2023 MACVB Annual Education Conference at Wrigley Hall in downtown Port Huron. || Photo by Katie Stepp of Blue Water Area Convention & Visitors Bureau

Some 90 CVB officials, industry professionals, and vendors have just wrapped up the 2023 MACVB Annual Education Conference in Port Huron.

Over the course of three days, participants attending the MACVB Annual Education Conference at the Blue Water Convention Center and Doubletree by Hilton Hotel Port Huron got detailed briefings on topics that ranged from destination development and using AI to how to craft a meaningful mission statement, legal issues, grants, and making the most of social media.

Jennifer Sistrunk of the South Haven/Van Buren Visitors Bureau introduces a panel discussion on grants featuring Susan Thorp of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Jon Mayes of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, and Jeff Garrett and Chuck Donaldson of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. || Photo by Kathy Gibbons

Executive Director Larisa Draves says the content was specifically crafted for DMOs. “There have been a lot of changes lately,” she says. “Destination development and AI are timely topics.”

Paul Ouimet, managing director of the DestinationNEXT Futures Study that identifies trends affecting both business and leisure tourism, discussed recent findings and what they mean. “We’ve seen that despite all of the problems we’ve seen in tourism globally in the last couple of years, a lot of our communities have actually been doing really, really well in tourism,” he told the group. “The critical message is this is not the time to take that growth for granted.”

According to Ouimet, recovery has been led by short-haul domestic leisure travel. International travel is also up, though it tends to be more one-sided: more Americans traveling overseas than vice versa.

Some trends Ouimet identified:

  • Artificial intelligence will be increasingly prevalent. “There are all sorts of new services,” Ouimet said, noting that Tripadvisor now has a Chat GPT product in beta testing. “There’s lots happening in this space.”
  • Customers are increasingly seeking a unique “authentic” travel experience. “The bar is continually being raised,” he said, citing examples of innovative attractions around the world using light projection, drones, and even holograms.

Paul Ouimet conducts a session on travel trends. || Photo by Kathy Gibbons

  • Planners are placing increasing emphasis on sustainability as they select destinations and venues.
  • Collaborations between industry, community, and government are driving destination competitiveness and brand. “Alignment is going to be key to your success as a destination,” Ouimet said, going on to explain how DMOs can take leadership roles in community improvement and addressing social and other issues to enhance the area’s marketability while improving quality of life for local residents.

In another key presentation at the MACVB Annual Education Conference, Matt Clement of Madden Media focused on the ways that Artificial Intelligence can be a valuable tool for DMOs. He says it can’t replace human creativity, but can enhance it. The key is knowing how and when to use it, and how to frame requests for information that are detailed and thorough enough to generate good responses.

Some uses he suggests that can save hours of staff time and be especially helpful to small organizations with just a few staffers: creating effective search key words; generating some content as well as taglines to ideate for campaigns; data analysis; compiling survey results; creating job descriptions; and other tasks. “If you’re a small bureau, a one-person shop, a three-person shop, this is something that can double your workforce,” Clement said.

He compared ChatGPT and Google Bard, saying Bard “isn’t nearly as capable” as ChatGPT, which he suggests is most effective in subscription form of $20 per month for ChatGPT Plus. Still, he says Bard can be effective when doing reference work because it taps into the Internet. “But if I’m doing data analysis-type work, I’m using ChatGPT because that model is leagues ahead of Bard,” he says.

Madden advises those who haven’t considered using AI as a tool to think again, comparing it to the early days of the Internet. “Don’t spend the next year with your head in the sand ignoring this,” he says. “You are literally the person in 1991 or 1992 who said, ‘the Internet, that’s scary,’ and you’re not going to use it. Don’t be that person.”

Next year’s MACVB Annual Educational Conference is set for Sept. 29-Oct. 1 at the H Hotel in Midland.

To view a video produced by Michigan’s Thumbcoast, click here.