Change is hard, but doing nothing is a choice with consequences. If you’ve chosen to embrace change, the next logical question is, “How?” Change management is one of the greatest challenges facing leaders of destination marketing organizations (DMOs). Those who seek to help their organizations adapt need a consistent and focused approach in order to make an impact.

In this two-part interview, Paul Cubbon shares his insights on change management, which includes ways leaders can put it into practice. Cubbon has been a marketing professional for 30 years and is the Entrepreneurship and Innovation Group Leader at the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business.

In part 1, Cubbon described the compelling reasons for destination marketers to be proactive about change management. In part 2 below, he describes the “how” of change management, providing guidance on what you can do to lead the change process within your DMO.

Part 2: How destinations can make real innovation happen

1) Identify priorities

Destination Think: Given the enormity and speed of change today, how would you recommend that DMO leaders choose where they should lead on change?

Paul Cubbon: It’s important to recognize that a destination can’t lead in every category. You should focus on things which are central to your destination’s positioning and where the greatest opportunities are.

Begin with a solid strategic planning process. This will help you make the difficult yet necessary choices for change related to your organization’s mission and goals. You’ll complete a situational analysis, where you’ll spend the time to ask “Where are we?” to assess current activities and then “Where could we be?” to understand how today’s reality compares with the vision for the destination’s future. This could prompt a variety of tangible changes for your DMO.

For example, you can lead change in positioning by walking the talk with your destination’s DNA. This product-based approach is based on what your destination is really all about. For example, an adventure destination may need to think about supporting and communicating environmental protection, or a family-focused beach destination could emphasize safety on the water and services for children. Clearly defining and articulating the attributes of destination DNA can provide a DMO direction as they coordinate their destination’s development and therefore its change management. Again, you need to be able to assess visitor expectations on the particular topic and not just meet them, but exceed them in a way that resonates. So, on the water safety issue, it may mean providing the name of the lifeguard on duty, and possibly even a text number for them while on duty at a particular beach.

Hint: if you can align your service or process initiatives with product-based, DNA-central ones, then you are in the sweet spot.

Second, there may be service- or process-based opportunities for improvement. The way people interact with your destination is evolving, so you may find yourself needing to provide different types of service. For example, a visitor who contacts a visitor centre online only to be told to visit in person during regular business hours is not likely to be impressed. Being a laggard in this area may affect your Net Promoter Score (NPS), as I mentioned in part 1. If you’re leading change, you’re likely to get some advocates, if you’re compliant, you’ll get some neutral responses, and if you’re a laggard, you’ll draw some detractors.

So it is apparent that you should identify the top few areas in which you will lead change and aim to gain support and competitive advantage. Look for “low-hanging fruit” – the quick and simple operational things that you can change which will delight visitors and cause them to think and talk positively about you.

Change management

Image credit: Old Rollei, Flickr

2) Create pilot programs

Once they choose an area of focus, how can DMOs actually get change started?

DMOs can start to run tests and trials that give them the confidence to scale up certain initiatives that gain positive feedback. They can do this by creating a small pilot group to work with that will actually provide some evidence. You don’t get past this opinion-based “I think, you think” impasse with your Board of Directors without some evidence. So you run a pilot program to remove the emotion and opinion and get broad support for evidence-based change. For example, Ontario’s RTO4 conducted a successful pilot to improve user experience and help increase overnight stays in their destination.

Many of these tests tend to happen at a tactical level, especially within a campaign. A one-week Snapchat pilot program that targets a particular initiative is one example. These trials take place on a micro scale and will provide data from before and after the test. The destination might do an A/B test and then report back. Small, tactical tests have the benefit of withstanding scrutiny because they won’t affect the DMO’s overall strategy. It is a risk the organization can easily accept.

But tactical tests can also be contextualized in the context of broader strategy. This is a way of working back from the detail to potential macro themes such as increasing first-time visitors, encouraging increased spend per stay, and so on.

DMOs should think about the benefits of trying to bring that sort of testing up to the level of organizational change. What would move the dial at this level? It’s actually a bigger sort of test. It’s more than a one-week, ten-thousand-dollar test – it’s a bigger piece under the same sort of principle. Run the smaller test first to gain confidence from senior management that you have a data-driven process. Use several smaller tests to build the case for a larger test that is strategic in nature rather than simply tactical.

3) Scale success

How can a DMO make the leap to implementing a larger-scale test?

You need to have a task force. In an ideal situation, you’ll actually set up a small group of three to five people and they’ll work separately from the main organization with separate budgets and separate objectives. For many organizations, DMOs included, this is a daunting prospect.

How can they build a temporary group that is going to spend part of their time focusing on a trial program? Provide a time limit to the temporary team along with clear, measurable objectives. This can help remove any perceived threats that can come from a more permanent movement of resources. Planning such a test and temporary structure for a natural lull in activity can also help make this feasible, as can running overlap staffing in certain roles.

We have to recognize that it can be difficult to do this internally. There’s a great advantage to having a strategic consultant to help you lead change.

Can you recommend other resources for DMO leaders who seek to improve change management?

It’s important to implement change following a structure that holds you accountable, so I’d recommend Kotter’s 8-Step Process for Leading Change as a useful starting guide that provides practical steps. This represents a long-established best practice for change management. It’s worth noting that in recent years there has been more simultaneous execution of some of these steps, to speed the change process along.

Photo by Alexander Schimmeck on Unsplash


  1. Dave Anderson

    I agree that identifying priorities is one of the most important things a business can do to be successful. Because there are so many things that are constantly changing in a company having a central focus can help a company narrow down their strategy to be successful. Once your company has a focus they should implement steps to be able to achieve their goals.

  2. Keith Pittman

    We can not change the management abruptly, rather it should be done systematically. I can say that, it is a structured approximate for ensuring that changes are painstakingly and evenly implemented so that we can achieve the lasting advantages of alternation. The main focus is on the broader impressions of change, especially on people and how they react as individuals and teams, at the time of relocation from the present situation to the new one. No doubt, change is inevitable. But when it comes to the life cycle of an organization, it determines both success and failure rates of business. That is the main reason why it should do as smoothly as possible for receiving a more fruitful result.

  3. Mark Calitri

    The key to changing the destination and moving forward is for the DMO to bring community leaders and stakeholders together, creating a larger, more impactful voice. Power is in the group effort, led by the DMO.


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