How Spokane Uses DMAI’s Event Calculator

By Erin Caslavka Deinzer, July 30, 2014

Many cities across the United States use software programs to help determine the best use of their working capital and track how effective their marketing campaigns have been. An Economic Impact Calculator is one such tool available to CVBs, organizations and associations such as the National Association of Sports Commissions, which offers its calculator as a benefit to membership.

Visit Spokane (Washington) uses a similar EIC: the Event Impact Calculator. Available to the city as part of its membership with Destination Marketing Association International, the tool uses a variety of metrics to calculate the economic value of an event and estimate its return on investment.

The EIC was engineered by DMAI using Oxford Economics’ 2010 survey of meeting planners, who are collectively responsible for 290 exhibitions, representing 1 million attendees and 350,000 exhibitors. It takes into account data from eight different sources, including surveys of U.S. household travel behavior in 100 cities (with an exclusive focus on meeting, convention and trade show spending); city-specific data costs by sector (as provided by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics) in the restaurant, retail, transportation, recreation and lodging industries; metrics from DMAI’s empowerMINT database; and convention center data.

Keith Backsen, CDME, vice president of sales for Visit Spokane, says the impetus for the city to purchase the tool was a collective desire to have more standardization in the way it calculates event impact. (The EIC is available to DMAI members for an additional fee of $2,500 to $6,500 depending on size of DMO.) “DMAI’s tool ensures consistency and the ability to compare apples to apples,” Backsen explains. “It has given us a sense of where we actually stand. So when I have a venue that wants to know what an event will equal in terms of revenue, I have a tool to help me extrapolate what the direct spending will look like.”

Backsen says that in the past, calculation metrics were pretty basic, so they were never really able to drill down to the hard numbers. Now, simply by inputting basic data like type of event, projected attendance, room rates, and length and dates of an event, he can generate a report that shows how much revenue the event is likely to bring in.

Spokane has been using the EIC to calculate economic return on events for more than two years. While the city had its own model prior to that, “this enhanced tool allows us to really peel off the layers,” says Backsen. He also uses the EIC to calculate what they can expect from an active lead. “It’s a lot easier for us to assess the value of a group in advance of committing to an event,” he says. “It’s not a silver bullet, and it isn’t the only tool we use. But it’s allowed me to substantiate my claims in regards to hosting a certain group, whether I’m talking to the city council or area businesses. And it has helped us all make better decisions.”

Nearly 850,000 attendees to Spokane last year generated almost $245 million in economic impact and booked 68,000 room nights.

Because Visit Spokane uses the tool primarily for front-end calculations, Backsen stresses the importance of planners working with a city that uses the EIC or similar software. Planners who approach a DMO should be armed with as much specific information about their event as possible (for example, direct and indirect spending figures, or guaranteed attendance numbers), he says, to help make the process of selling their event a lot easier to city officials, who, for the most part, are interested in local tax revenue.

“It’s so important for planners to understand the value of their event,” says Backsen. “Group travel has been a substantial source of revenue for many communities such as ours, and we recognize the value of the dollars spent by those groups.”

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