Destination Nashville: Offering Unique Destination and Event Services

Rhonda Marko, CEO of Destination Nashville (DN), founded her destination management company in 1994 after working for over a decade in the events and destination management industry. After working with another Nashville-based destination management company for two years, Marko found herself ready for a change.

“I was reorganized out of my position,” explains Marko. “I went around to local hotels and the convention visitor’s bureau just to thank them, and they all suggested I open my own company. I was very successful at what I was doing and I wanted to extend my gratitude for their support.” While speaking with her former clients, many expressed the need for another local destination management company; expressing Marko should open her own.

After some consideration, Marko pulled $5,000 from her savings account to use for startup. “I bought the company name for $20,” she says. “And I bought a printer for $1,000. It sounds ridiculous now to spend that on a printer, since they give them away for free with cameras these days.”
Marko made her first phone call to an organization that had booked a meeting at a hotel in Nashville. The client was immediately interested, but asked her to send over some information. “I spent the rest of that day writing up a trifold brochure and printed it out in the morning when my printer came at 10 o’clock,” Marko laughs.

An Unusual Success Story

Marko’s drive and ability to take care of business efficiently helped her build a local company that has grown steadily since inception. “I’ve built this company on an unusual model,” she explains, “But it’s working. I’ve had 18 profitable years with no dips and now, according to the Nashville Business Journal, DN is the No. 8 largest woman-owned business in Nashville.”

Several industry publications have featured DN, including Special Events Magazine. In addition, DN has been recognized several years in a row as one of the world’s top 25 destination management companies. Not bad for a $20 bill.

Today, the CEO works with 18 full-time staff members, and up to 100 part-time workers, to design and implement unique events and activities for local and visiting groups. Staffers are available and approachable from the time a group lands at the airport until a send-off after days of enjoying all the city has to offer. DN organizes customized tours highlighting art, history and architecture catered toward specific groups.

The team works closely with several hotels, venues and conference centers to guarantee a quality backdrop for any occasion, from weekend business conferences to corporate parties. Marko and her staff are also tied into local entertainment. Many groups enjoy local music acts, line-dancing lessons and citywide scavenger hunts on a trip to Nashville, soaking in the culture while building solid business relationships. DN seems to have it down.

Lasting Impressions

Marko and the DN team have established a broad client base, with customers regularly returning again and again for services. The economic downturn has been tough on many DN customers, but Marko is prepared to work with varying budgets while still putting together unforgettable experiences in Nashville.

“We try to work with our return clients on what they want,” explains Marko. “They’re still holding their meetings, but they have a smaller budget. We’ve had to get more creative so we’re working smarter and harder to make it happen. We’ve learned to sell these experiences on value.” DN operates only in Nashville, but Marko gladly offers recommendations to businesses traveling to other parts of the country.

In the post-9/11 era, travel restrictions have increased through the roof, making part of the travel experience automatically less pleasant for participants. DN, however, has made the situation positive. Marko’s team offers a variety of transportation and travel management services like meeting guests at the airport with a shuttle to the hotel. The airport liaisons even work with airlines to ease transition from travel to destination, helping to keep passengers and bags organized so that everyone arrives safely in town with all of the suitcases they left home with.

Fortunately for DN and its clients, Nashville is a growing city. “Business is good,” says Marko. A new convention center is opening in 2013 and several hotels are being built and remodeled in 2012. “Gaylord had a really bad flood about two years ago,” she explains. “They had a four-year plan in place to remodel, but after the flood the general manager of Gaylord’s Opryland decided that while the hotel was closed for 10 months for repair, they would go ahead and complete the entire four-year planned remodel.

During the renovations, several meetings and conventions had to be rearranged. However, the hotel’s management team, having worked with Marko and her team for years, was helpful in redirecting the company’s efforts. “Every issue we had during that time, they took care of,” says Marko. The new hotel has reopened and Marko calls it “fantastic.”

Working closely with customers and strategic partners, DN continues to craft unique, city-centric experiences. “We’ve done some really cool events,” says Marko. “Team building and corporate social responsibility conferences are really big now.”

Some of her favorite events in the past include work with children’s hospitals and unique team building exercises, especially those involving scavenger hunts. “We’re the specialist of our city,” explains Marko. Destination Nashville will continue to bring fresh experiences with an exciting backdrop for corporate and nonprofit clients with friendly, engaged service.