How One Company Became a Destination Management Powerhouse
After a 16-month pandemic shutdown, Access is the industry’s comeback story, providing high-touch corporate outings, conferences, and meetings.
By the middle of March, Covid had shut down all the events Access had planned for its clients for 2020. State and federal regulations prohibited large gatherings, and since Access specializes in events for large groups, the company was effectively out of business.
That month, there was “a complete halt,” says Danielle Phippen, chief creative officer at Access. “Everything was canceled— hundreds of millions of dollars canceled—gone,” she recalls.
There was no work in sight for months and no reliable forecasts for when business might resume. But Phippen and a small team of investors were confident the company could eventually rebuild, so they gambled, bought the company from private equity, and crafted a strategy for future success. Then they waited.
By early 2021, to the investors’ great relief, clients began requesting proposals for upcoming events.
AN AWARD-WINNING TEAM
As clients committed to upcoming trips, Access began rehiring employees who had been laid off. Many were excited about the chance to rejoin the company.
That fact speaks to the camaraderie and culture Access had developed, says Phippen. Except for a brief break in service during the pandemic, many employees have been with the company for as many as 25 years, she says.
The employee count grew from near zero in 2020 to around 70 in 2021, to more than four times that in 2023. Revenue also rebounded, from next to nothing to a projected $140 million in 2023.
A NATIONAL FOOTPRINT
Part of the reason for the quickly rising head count was the pace at which Access opened and reopened 40+ “destinations”—a.k.a. local offices—nationwide. Team members in each location are local experts who know the ins and outs of each city. That is true whether the potential event site is Atlanta or Miami, Chicago or San Francisco. “There aren’t places in the U.S. that we don’t operate events in,” Phippen says. “We’re everywhere.”
Many other event planning companies specialize in a region of the country, but what Access clients wanted was a single contact, a single contract, and endless possibilities for creative solutions. Branching out to nearly all major U.S. cities and building a national staff to support local teams made that possible.
Perhaps even more important than the broad geographic service area is Access’s commitment to inspiring people through shared experiences. That applies to clients and their guests as well as to Access team members. One sign that the company is succeeding on that front is its recent certification as a Great Place to Work.
While the accolade is welcome, even more valuable is the data that the Great Places to Work program provides as part of the selection process. Access prides itself on seeking feedback. It achieves a 95 percent response rate from clients, with a near 90 percent satisfaction rating.
“We say our culture is important; we say our people are important; and the data is supporting that we’re doing the right things,” Phippen says.