Is it business as usual for you today, or is it time for change?

For many destination marketing organizations (DMOs), the time is now, because change is sweeping across the tourism industry. Destination marketers are grappling with the need to transform their organizations to meet the needs of today’s consumer, which presents a huge challenge. However, as Brian Solis says, “change is less of a threat and more of a gift to shape the future of your work and your industry.” Are you actively managing to shape your work and succeed in a rapidly changing environment?

In this two-part interview, Training Designer and e-Marketing Consultant Paul Cubbon shares his insights on change management. 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 of this series, we will focus on the compelling reasons for you to put change management at the top of your agenda. In part 2, we will look at the “how” of change management, providing some specific guidance on things you can do to start that change process within your DMO.

Part 1: Why destinations need to actively address change

Destination Think: Can you briefly describe the environment today’s DMOs find themselves in?

Paul Cubbon: “Society and all industries are being transformed rapidly and there’s no denying change for DMOs now. DMOs operate in a complex, multiplayer ecosystem of service providers. Some parts of it have already been disrupted very dramatically. It doesn’t matter whether we look at Airbnb or whether we look at Uber or TripAdvisor – these players are part of today’s ecosystem of the visitor. So, when we step back and look at the full user experience, from pre-trip planning to time spent in the destination, to post-trip reflection, it is absolutely clear that there has been dramatic change for the user.

What digital has done, with its first wave of e-commerce and its second wave of social media, is that it has provided much greater speed and transparency of information, while lowering its cost. This increasing democratization is in contrast to the one-way system of the past, where DMOs relied on brochures and paid advertising. Today, the wisdom of the crowd on TripAdvisor or other digital platforms outweighs older forms of communication.”

What effect is this transformation having on travellers?

“Travellers’ expectations are changing as they find more and more opportunities to make choices. We see it in the major parts of the ecosystem that destinations care about as visitors plan their trips. People used to have to go to a brick-and-mortar travel agent to take a trip. Everything was slower and more sequential and travellers made decisions using limited information. But now, both with computers and handheld devices, potential visitors have more information and therefore choices that they can access on their own. This means that travellers are less tolerant of slow or poor service, and are more informed about their choices. They also expect to find good-quality information that is relevant and easy to use.”

But is this really an urgent situation? How does the current climate of change differ from years past?

“For many years, DMOs lived in fairly static environments. As long as they were successful, repeating what they did from the previous year seemed to be a viable approach. This is no longer the case. Although web-based data and social media-enabled reviews have been with us for some years, it is the mainstreaming of these factors, normalizing expectations of a very large number of travellers, that makes it critical for DMOs to lead change on behalf of their ecosystems. It is no longer just a change in expectations of a few lead adopters – it is the new normal.”

This may be true, but why should DMOs be concerned?

“DMOs are the custodians of their ecosystems and that ecosystem is being disrupted. It is the responsibility of the DMO to provide leadership to the members of the ecosystem and embrace positive change.

“Not doing anything is actually a choice. You can lead change, you can be compliant, or you can be a laggard and be damaged by it.

“If you’re seen to be a laggard – for example, if your DMO doesn’t reply to guests in market in the way they are expecting, this will lead to negative word of mouth. As a minimum, DMOs and their members need to change to be compliant to the mainstream of traveller expectations. Ideally, they will lead on selected dimensions which align with the destination’s brand and strategy.

“So the question is, do you want become a less-desirable destination because you seem to be regressive or unresponsive? Or do you want to lead and provide that “wow” factor, the one that elicits positive word of mouth, and high Net Promoter Scores?

“Many readers will nod and say, ‘of course we want to be leaders and “wow” visitors. But….But….But…we are so busy just doing what we do, and there is no time. We’d like to change, but…’

“Yes, change is hard, but it is a choice. And once one has chosen to embrace change, the next logical question is, ‘How?’”

Read Part 2 of this interview, where we address tangible steps that DMOs can take to become better leaders within the tourism ecosystem. This will include choosing to allocate time and resources toward enabling active and ongoing innovation experimentation, then scaling based on evidence from initial tests.


  1. Enver

    Wow, what a refreshing piece and exactly what CTT is currently looking at how to RE-invent ourselves as a DMO to RE-main RE-levant without RE-peating the same mistakes to ensure that we increase our RE-visits by RE-Imagining our purpose and embrace change. I look forward to PART 2 – when will it be available?

    • David Archer

      Hi Enver,

      I’m glad you enjoyed this article and found it valuable. You can expect part 2 later this week! Check back after Thursday morning (Vancouver time), or subscribe to our daily articles by email in the orange box on this page.


  2. Iain Hurrel

    DMO’s are very fearful of any change, although massive amounts of information and data shows very little real impact, instead of acting on the data it’s hidden from the ecosystem which helps towards the exstinction on DMO’s which is coming I fear.

    Reporting of stats and figures is something that you will never see in tourism. The efficiency of any DMO is always hidden and that doesn’t look like changing soon. Reporting has a new selective range of available data to conceal the truth of performance. If it’s really bad new some use “percentages” ” impressions” video views on social media using auto play to give a view etc etc but data that shows how long it was viewed for and how many times is never used as it is the true measure of success.

    Anyway great article and looking forward to part 2 and maybe I’ve given you your next subject “How to rate success” in a DMO


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