It Started in Detroit. We Started in Detroit.

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<span>It Started in Detroit. We Started in Detroit.</span>
Bottom Line:

On February 19, 1896, we didn’t just create an industry sector.  We created a profession. A profession filled with people who, day in and day out, have been at the center of making our industry – the travel industry – one of the largest and most important industries in the world. It is time we celebrated that. 

Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking at the Tempest Tourism Academy being held in Detroit. I was all set to deliver a tried-and-true presentation that I had given numerous times before. But the idea of heading to Detroit inspired me to do something else. I decided to put my prepared speech aside and create a new one. Or better described as a first draft of a new one. I wanted to test some new material we have been working on at Destinations International.  Think of it as the sequel to the Community Shared Value Speech I gave in 2019 at the Annual Convention in St. Louis, where I detailed Destinations International’s critique of our industry, what we were doing wrong and what we needed to do to correct that. How we needed to become that community shared value.  

That speech also came out of a moment of inspiration. But it was also a speech that had six different versions prepared and given to six very different audiences before it was finalized and delivered. Like the first version of the Community Shared Value Speech (delivered at the 2019 CEO Summit), the presentation I gave in Detroit was rough and unfinished, but represents the first run at a speech we hope to see delivered in October at the 2024 Advocacy Summit in Rio Grande, Puerto Rico.  

I could not think of a better place to start working through the concepts that make up the speech than Detroit. Now it should not be hard to be inspired by going to Detroit when you're in our industry sector.  For us, Detroit is holy ground. And the Cadillac Hotel, on the land where the Tourism Academy meeting was held (now home of the Westin Book Cadillac Hotel), is ground zero.  Everything about our history radiates from that spot. 

This place – Detroit – is where the formal beginning of the destination organization industry sector is generally attributed to having started. Our patron saint was a Detroit journal newspaper writer by the name of Milton J. Carmichael. In early February 1896, he wrote an article about how useful conventions can be in promoting the city. He suggested that local businesses and civic leaders should band together to organize the promotion of Detroit as a desirable convention destination.  

Carmichael based his argument on his observations that during the previous five years, Detroit had built up a reputation as a convention city with delegates coming to the city from hundreds of miles away. Manufacturers were holding their yearly consultations around Detroit hotels. And all without any effort to draw them there by the citizens, and no special attention paid to the visitors after they got there. They had simply come to Detroit because they wanted to come to Detroit.

Carmichael argued that if the Detroit business and government tried, they could secure even more conventions bringing to Detroit thousands and thousands of more people from every city in the union. These people would spend millions of dollars with the merchants and people of Detroit. The argument was effective. On February 19, 1896, members of the Chamber of Commerce joined the Detroit Manufacturers Club to form the Detroit Convention and Businessman's League.

They held a meeting at the Hotel Cadillac, exactly where I was standing recently. Together, they formed the founding committee of hoteliers, railroad agents, merchants, civic leaders and other interested parties. They defined the mission of the new organization as “hustling for conventions.”

While Detroit may be recognized as the formal birthplace of the destination organization industry and profession, organized convention and meeting activity had been going on for some time. An increasing number of cities had been sending salesman on the road to promote their destinations. Much of the activity represented local members of various national organizations seeking to bring their national convention to their hometown. But much of it also represented the promotional efforts of local hoteliers, rail agents, retail merchants, realtors and others who recognized the economic benefits of attracting visitors to their city. 

But it was in Detroit that we first became an industry sector. That was where it started. Right there at the Hotel Cadillac. That was where we were born. And I am not talking about a legal entity charged with the promotion of a destination to visitors or meeting attendees. I am talking about the profession – the destination promotion profession. Professionals in branding, marketing and communications.  Professionals in destination promotion, sales and visitor services. Professionals in all the areas that support the branding, marketing, promotion, sales and service efforts. I am talking about the people who make up a destination organization and carry out the vital work. 

You see, the fabric of every community is woven with unique stories, cultures and experiences waiting to be discovered by residents and visitors alike. At the heart of this discovery is the vital work of destination organizations. 

Our world is vast and diverse, and the role of destination organizations is to serve as a bridge that connects people to places, allowing them to explore, celebrate and appreciate the uniqueness of each community. 

Their purpose is to attract visitors and to cultivate an environment where a community thrives as an ideal place to visit, live, work, play and invest. And they do it for the betterment of the community.

And they are professionals. Destination Organization Professionals.

That is why, starting in 2025, 129 years after that fateful meeting in Detroit at the Cadillac Hotel, we will celebrate the first annual Destination Organization Professionals Day. An annual celebration of the people who, day-in and day-out, have been at the center of making our industry – the travel industry – one of the largest and most important industries in the world.

Mark your calendars today for February 19, 2025!

Note: Much of the historical information for this blog post is from the book Managing Destination Marketing Organizations by Robert C. Ford and William C. Pepper. 

About The Author

Jack Johnson

Chief Advocacy Officer
Destinations International

Jack manages the overall public policy operations at Destinations International including member advocacy education and training, development of destination tools and best practices, coalition work with peer organizations, industry research and related public affairs activities. Jack is a 2021 Smart Meetings Magazine’s Catalyst Award winner and one of Successful Meetings’ 25 Most Influential People in the Meetings Industry in 2018.

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