How the Netherlands is charting a sustainable path for travel, tourism, and society

Annika Rautiola

5 September 2023

“Tourism and travel has a massive impact for better and for worse. And we really need to steer and guide that into the desired direction. Doing nothing is a race to the bottom.” – Jos Vranken, Managing Director at Netherlands Board of Tourism and Conventions

In the Netherlands, conversations surrounding travel and tourism encompass much more than economic growth. Instead, travel leaders are fostering net positive impacts across ecological, social, and economic realms. This holistic approach prioritizes the interests of local citizens, visitors, and businesses alike. But how did all this come to be? At the heart of the transformation lies a shared vision and ambitious objectives, prompting active participation, collaboration, and genuine buy-in from stakeholders. 

Our conversation with Jos Vranken, the Managing Director of the Netherlands Board of Tourism and Conventions (NBTC), shares the changes that are shaping the nation’s tourism landscape. Jos tells us about the shifts and sustainability endeavours that are responding to some of the most pressing challenges, all in alignment with NBTC’s ambitious Perspective 2030 plan. As we explore the innovative actions taken within the Dutch tourism industry, we witness how NBTC’s vision shapes the future, where tourism becomes a powerful force for positive change.

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • About a new ambition that calls for a shift in priorities toward a positive net impact. 
  • How the Netherlands’ geography and values have inspired new technologies and strategies to adapt to the changing environment.
  • How stewardship and sustainable development play a significant role in the Netherlands’ approach to tourism and travel. 
  • How NBTC is managing varied reactions to Perspective 2030 within the industry.
  • How collaboration among various stakeholders can achieve a more responsible and balanced approach to tourism and travel.
  • Why Jos believes the travel industry is so important, and why it’s such an exciting time to get involved.

Subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or your favourite podcast player to join us on this journey.


Show notes

Maeve: A Dutch start-up pushing the boundaries of electric flights. 

Perspective 2030 Plan: A new vision for Destination the Netherlands to benefit all Dutch people.

Underground Parking, Katwijk aan Zee: New underground parking garage in Katwijk aan Zee, carefully embedded into its natural dune environment.

Episode transcript

Jos Vranken: Tourism and travel has a massive impact for better and for worse. And we really need to steer and guide that into the desired direction. Doing nothing is a race to the bottom. It will not allow my daughter or yours to enjoy travel and tourism as we did. 

David Archer: Hello, and welcome to Travel Beyond, where we partner with leading destinations to explore the greatest challenges facing communities and the planet, surfacing their most inspiring solutions. I’m David Archer, Editorial Manager at Destination Think, and I’m recording from the coastal village of Daajing Giids, British Columbia in Haida Gwaii, the territory of the Haida Nation. 

Sara Raymond de Booy: And I’m Sara Raymond de Booy, Associate Creative Director at Destination Think. I’m recording from Seattle, Washington on Coast Salish land, specifically that of the Duwamish, Suquamish, Stillaguamish, and Muckleshoot people. On this podcast, we look at the role of travel and choose to highlight destinations that are global leaders. 

David Archer: We talk to the changemakers who are addressing regenerative travel through action in their communities, and often from the bottom up. 

Sara Raymond de Booy: We’re actively looking for the best examples of efforts to regenerate economies, communities, and ecosystems, so be sure to reach out if you have a story to share with us. 

Last episode, we heard from Ewout Versloot, who really puts the “why are we doing this?” into perspective. In this episode, we’re going to hear from Jos Vranken, Managing Director at the NBTC, as he sits down with Rodney to really get into some of the challenges and opportunities that are arising with the Perspective 2030 plan.

David Archer: Yeah, this is a great interview. And I really get a sense of Jos’ passion and the ambition that he brings to his work and for leading change. What was your impression? 

Sara Raymond de Booy: I find it quite inspiring how he reminds us about the joy that travel brings, and it’s a nice way to remember that there’s a reason that we all work in travel, and there’s a reason that some of these changes need to happen and be led by ambitious personalities. It’s not something, that we all need to be scared of or that, we need to hide from if we embrace it. It’s, it’s a way to make sure that travel goes on and can be something that continues to inspire people in the future. 

David Archer: Yeah, like we’re all here because we believe travel is important. As the conversations about travel expand and expand, and crossing different disciplines more and more, I think it can be overwhelming sometimes, but I was flipping through the Perspective 2030 document from NBTC, and where they summarize their five strategic cornerstones –

that’s page five, if you’re wondering – it says, “tourism is a means to solving major social issues that contribute to the public interest and shared prosperity and welfare of the Netherlands.” And that’s a big statement on the role of tourism. That’s something that’s, really only come about recently. How does that strike you, Sara, based on what you’ve been seeing here and elsewhere in the past few years? 

Sara Raymond de Booy: I’d say that’s what we find in our story research for Travel Beyond all the time as well. It’s not only the Netherlands where that’s true. Tourism intersects so many elements of society. It’s impossible to simply address it in a silo. How about you? What else in Jos’ conversation caught your attention?

David Archer: Yeah. First, I agree with you and say it’s been heartening to see the examples like this come through in our research. With Jos, what stood out to me, I think, was – and to some degree in all of these interviews – is just how the people in the Netherlands leading travel recognize that tourism intersects so many different elements of society.

Specifically, Jos talks about a term I hadn’t heard before called the triple helix, which is industry, government, and knowledge institutions like universities pooling their knowledge and using a common knowledge base to find solutions. So that’s an interesting concept. 

And then also the fact that Perspective 2030 seems to represent a systemic change driven by NBTC, but in collaboration with others as well, and how it’s different than just solving economic problems, which is what so many DMO plans have been based on in the past, and that’s been their job, to focus on the economic impact. Now we’re looking at all sorts of different impacts.

Sara Raymond de Booy: All right. Let’s drop in on Rodney’s conversation with Jos Vranken, Managing Director of the Netherlands Board of Tourism and Conventions. 

Jos Vranken: My name is Jos Vranken – Joseph, if you like – and I’m the Managing Director for the Netherlands Board of Tourism and Conventions, NBTC.

Rodney Payne: It’s really nice to see you in person. We’ve had a few Zoom calls over the last few years, and I was trying to remember where we saw each other last, and I think the last time we were together it was in New York, and we were talking about people, profit, and planet. That was seven years ago. And I feel like a lot has accelerated since we started having those conversations. 

I spent this week with Ewout from your team, and he did a brilliant job of presenting, and we got to share the stage together at the CityDNA conference. And he was sharing about your bold new strategy for the Netherlands. And I think that’s a really important story that people around the world need to hear. Can you tell me a little bit about the Perspective 2030?

Jos Vranken: I can indeed, yes. You’re right, it accelerated dramatically since we last met.

And a lot of the thinking and the talking and the co-creating turned into – as you called it already – Perspective 2030, which is not so much a strategy as it is an ambition and a vision for Destination Netherlands. But it contains, let’s say, a number of important strategic priorities, but maybe moreover, a few paradigm shifts on how we would like, and should, tackle tourism and travel the next few decades in comparison to the previous decades. And I think that’s really a game changer for the Netherlands, because until then, as you can imagine, both public and private entities within the ecosystem were perfectly aligned – I’m generalizing, if you’ll allow me – perfectly aligned towards more visitors, more spend, growth. And what you saw happening on the back of the overtourism debate, as you can imagine, more than it did on the back of the sustainability debate at the time, that on the back of the overtourism debate, the need to come up with a different game plan was increasingly audible within the ecosystem and beyond. And that led us to the initiative to have a new vision and ambition co-created by many people in and outside the sector, which is now known as Perspective 2030. 

Rodney Payne: I’m not sure if you remember, but when I was living here in Amsterdam in 2014, you recommended a suit store to me for my wedding.

Jos Vranken: I did, indeed.

Rodney Payne: And your recommendation was terrific. I went and got a suit and it worked because after my wedding where I wore it, I had a daughter. And I think when I went through that life change, I became a lot more concerned and mindful about the future and I felt a much greater imperative to want to be part of stewarding a good outcome. Where is the imperative coming for you to drive in such a bold direction?

Jos Vranken: On a personal note, Rodney same to you. I’ve got a daughter too. And I wish her a wonderful future in which travel and tourism has a place. So that for starters, but on a slightly less philosophical approach, the stewardship of a destination or a place, rather, because a destination is just the functionality of a place, I would say. So the sustainable future of a place is key. 

And we feel strongly about the fact that tourism and travel has a massive impact for better and for worse. And we really need to steer and guide that into the desired direction. Doing nothing is a race to the bottom. It will not allow my daughter or yours to enjoy travel and tourism as we did during our time. So I feel very strongly about working on stewardship and creating a situation where, through active steering and directing future visitor flows, we can allow and enable a sustainable development of places, including their role as a destination.

Rodney Payne: The Netherlands is a very low-lying nation. And you’ve developed a lot of technology here to adapt your country to the environment. Are you noticing things, or are people experiencing things in regard to a changing environment in the Netherlands?

Jos Vranken: Definitely. I mean, where you’re sitting and where I’m sitting, if we look outside, you just about, you can see the sea.

The majority of our country is below sea level. So there’s a very strong incentive to work on sustainability, not just of our country, but of the globe.

 I think this country, because of its size, small, limited resources, from the outset we had to be clever and work together on making a life out of sea. Creating land out of sea, but also create fertile grounds, distribute the assets over whoever was trying to make a living.

So I would say in the DNA sits the insight or the ability to work together to make something out of a bad situation. Always with a kind of a functional approach, to be honest. We’re also traders, trading nation. So it’s all, it’s cooperating with each other to improve yourselves as a whole, but with a healthy self-interest from the individual stakeholders.

And I can see that now in travel and tourism. There’s a strong buy-in and traction on Perspective 2030 by public partners, private partners, but most of the time also fueled by a healthy self-interest by the individual stakeholders. I like that because it acts as fuel and energy to the process. If no one had a specific interest themselves, I don’t believe the traction and the energy on a vision and a vision as a whole would get the same attraction and traction as it does today.

Rodney Payne: It’s interesting to think about ambition in organizations like yours around the world and, where you’re close to government or very politically visible in government, often organizations like these aren’t ambitious.

How has your team reacted to the direction you’re taking, and how did the industry react when you first socialized the idea?

Jos Vranken: Yeah, those are two different things with different outcomes, I can tell you. In general terms, of course, I think the staff, the team, immediate buy-in. Questions, a lot of questions, sure, until today, but immediate buy-in.

Moreover, we see that the people that we attract today as part of our team on the labour market are not necessarily driven by, let’s say, the hygiene factors of a good salary and the other parts of remuneration packages. A lot of them are driven by what they’ve read in Perspective 2030 and the transition they can be part of.

And that is very promising. And that makes me very optimistic. You see it in society in general, and younger people in particular are creating a different set of motivators almost. But we see it. We attracted people that could have earned more elsewhere, but chose for this role because they want to be part of this transition, and they buy into the perspective and the strategy that comes out of it, which is fantastic. 

When it comes to the sector, same thing, but because of the industry being varied there’s a lot of different reactions, from immediate buy-in to resistance, and anything in between.

And it made that our role has changed since we last met. We, too, talked about from promotion to management, but no one really knew what it contained of. So what we did at very early days, when Perspective came out, and we still do it is we go out there as champions or as evangelists almost, and taking all these various stakeholders by the hand, and try to build the traction and energy on it. And the good news is, and that makes me very optimistic too, that we see a lot of buy-in. Sometimes very explicitly, a province or a municipality that literally takes Perspective and makes it their own. In wording, in the priorities they set for future policies and actions.

Sometimes implicitly you see the nature and the spirit of Perspective, but not literally in terms of wording or the phrases they use. And it’s almost everywhere to a more or lesser extent where you come to the Netherlands.

The discussion hardly ever goes just about economic growth. It’s really now about managing for positive net impact. Ecological, social, and economical. It’s about the shared interests. The interests of the local citizens, first and foremost, the visitors, and the companies. And it’s talking about visitors, not as a goal in itself, but as a means to various ends, to various places.

And that is very promising. It’s a long road. We’re not even close to the finish line if there is a finish line. But my optimism sits in the fact that I see the adoption, I see the traction and I see the translation, which is great.

Rodney Payne: Can you give me some examples of the things that you’re seeing that give you encouragement in the country?

Jos Vranken: I can, yeah. Let’s start off with ourselves, because, practice what you preach. We can’t go out there telling people to buy into a vision and ambition if we don’t act accordingly.

So the whole process started after – the delivery of Perspective 2030 started – with making our own choices and actions. How we would like to relate ourselves to Perspectives 2030 because it’s not our plan. It’s not the vision for NBTC. It’s the vision, ambition for Destination Netherlands, and we are part of the ecosystem.

So we should also make our choice of how we would like to relate to Perspective 2030. So a few examples, concrete examples that we did is we refocused – which was quite a dramatic one – we refocused on a limited number of countries which are close by, can be reached by car or train, or e-car and train, with only two exceptions to the rule. North America, because of the meeting and convention market, which we felt was necessary to have a foothold in the U.S. and to be present. And China, not so much to do massive campaigning, but to use our team as almost like a lab, and listen and look carefully for those developments that will influence future travel and tourism, and we can learn from. 

Now, if you look at the destination itself, you see all kinds of big and small examples. You see, very notably in Amsterdam, an attempt to curb the visits that they rather not see coming. You can argue about some of the initiatives they take, but I do know that the local authorities are really trying to come up with a well-thought, carefully constructed, integral approach to this societal debate, which is good.

If you look at the hotel industry or the self-catering industry, an increasing number of companies that can now provide a completely circular proposition. I see a coastal town where they had to come up with a new coastal defence system because of the rising sea levels. And what they did is got together with the population, with the entrepreneurs, with the authorities, and instead of just building a coastal safety structure, they made that structure into a large parking garage, but not only that, they put it underneath the dunes. So what you now have is a green and natural environment, because you have a natural dune landscape. Underneath are the cars that are parked, so off the streets, good for visitors, good for the local population, good for nature, and good for safety when it comes to the rising sea levels.

Tough example, because the easy way out was, just focus on the safety and build the structure. They took the difficult road, and I applaud them for it because it’s one of the examples where citizens, municipality, let’s say the interest of visitors, citizens, companies, and the place itself, the authority, came together in an integral solution, which may have taken longer, costed more, but they still did it. And I think those are the inspiring examples because they didn’t choose the easy way out.

Rodney Payne: That is a really good example of how the tourism ecosystem can enable pieces of the inevitable transition, whether it’s cleaning the way we power our civilization or adapting to changes in the environment.

 We might need to go see that. Where is it?

Jos Vranken: It’s, the place is called Katwijk. It’s not too far away. It’s just north of the Hague where we are. And it’s a wonderful example. They won many awards for the design, for the architecture. I would say they should get an award for the initiatives as such.

Rodney Payne: One of the bravest things about your direction is being willing to talk about scope three emissions, how we get people and things to the place. Often when we look at a destination’s footprint, that’s the big one, right? It’s very energy-intensive to move people and things around. There’s some interesting innovation happening at Rotterdam Airport.

Can you tell me a little bit about that? 

Jos Vranken: Yeah, I mean, when it comes to transport, it’s obviously one of the main drivers for carbon emissions. Not the only one of course, but the biggest one. And flights take the biggest share, as we all know. And it’s great to see there are a few examples. I mean, let’s make it very clear, any innovation, at the moment, in terms of new fuels, or different planes, or whatever is not keeping pace and speed with the growth of air travel as such. So it is not the magic bullet to curb emissions.

But it is key that it happens, and it’s key that it’s being stimulated. So a wish of ours is that the flight taxes that are being levied in the Netherlands are not for the general purpose, but get a very specific goal to strengthen and accelerate the innovations in the airline industry. That would be a great start.

Apart from that, I think it’s fantastic to see that all the bright minds in the Netherlands, and far beyond, mind you, because it’s a very international approach by the universities and the ecosystems around this subject, that they are trying, I think it’s called Maeve, a company that is planning to get the first electrified plane in the air, I think a 25 or 40-seater, which is quite a step forward, takes us still a long time.

Hydrogen, as you mentioned in Rotterdam, but also in Groningen in the north of the Netherlands, heavy investment in the future of hydrogen and the application in the airline industry. We also see that KLM, which for a long time has been among the airlines on top of the Dow Jones Sustainability Index, not because they’re sustainable, but because of their attempts to become more sustainable or less polluting, if you like, they have invested in the alternative fuel industry – a long-term commitment to really build the facilities that will provide more alternative fuels for the airline industry.

So at every level, there are attempts. We call it a triple helix. I don’t know whether you’re familiar with the term. It’s really about the industry, together with the government, together with the knowledge institutes, universities, and others, to really come together and use the common knowledge base to build solutions for the future.

And that is really promising. But like I said, not promising enough, because of the speed of this innovation. The barriers they face in terms of legal complications are hampering, sometimes, the introduction and the acceleration, or in this case, for example, the availability for alternative fuels.

So there’s still a lot of work to be done. And parallel to the work being done, we may have to face the reality of higher prices because of the integral pricing, including the climate costs that are involved, and also maybe accept the reality of curbing the number of flights or passengers that, at any given time, you are able and willing to accept. But there are promising examples, and hopefully, you’re going to see a few and experience a few during the course of your stay.

Rodney Payne: I’m excited to look around. I think it’s very astute to acknowledge, or at least be willing to have dialogue around the right number of visitors for a place, and factoring in the cost of externalities into the prices that we pay.

And I think whether – whether we do that proactively or whether we react, those things are probably inevitable, right? And so leadership is about having some foresight and being willing to be proactive.

Jos Vranken: No, definitely. And don’t get me wrong, we too, for years, for decades, have been driven by KPIs dictating growth, more visitors. We were part of the situation that today arises. What we do feel that we really need to act differently to enable the joy of travel in the future and future generations. And the only way forward is to address also, as Al Gore once mentioned, the inconvenient truth. And it has to do with integral pricing. It has to do with taking the shared interest at heart and not just the sectoral or economic interest. It’s really about managing for the net- positive impact and not just for the economic impact. 

And that means that things that may have been very logical or very natural in the past may not be as logical or natural in the future. And that includes, maybe, the limitation of visitors or the impact they have in terms of social and ecological impact. But that’s where it starts. 

Any transition, in my belief, starts with the buy-in into a vision and ambition and trying to figure out what your role is as an actor in a wide and varied ecosystem. What responsibility are you going to take in your position together with other actors, and individually, to deliver your contribution to that ambition and vision? But if the vision and ambition isn’t there, the risk is that everyone continues at their own individual path in an already quite fragmented ecosystem. So I think it’s key to have the vision and ambition in place as a catalyst and as a moonshot, if you like, for the transition to happen.

Rodney Payne: The idea of ambition to capture the imagination is a really important one, and we often see that in the private sector in breakthrough companies that often attract the best talent and a lot of media attention because they’re doing something that is seemingly impossible.

Have you experienced that with this strategy? And if you think about all the different strategies you’ve been involved in during your career, is this one different?

Jos Vranken: Oh, this is by far the most challenging one. Very different from others. Others were coming up with an economic reaction to an economic crisis if you like.

This really is a systemic transition. This is a transition of an entire ecosystem and how it would like to relate to society. I think this transition will change the way success is being defined. Also at an individual, entrepreneurial level. 

Take a hotel in Amsterdam, but could be anywhere. Of course, the success relates on how the hotelier is having its operation in place. Does it run efficiently? Does it run effectively? All that. My strong belief is that will soon become a hygiene factor. But that the way, the extent, and the way he or she relates to and contributes to the community, the street, the neighbourhood, and the city in which the hotel is operating, will be far more a key success factor for the success of that individual entrepreneur.

And that is really different, I feel, from the past, where the success was really the economic success, your position, your brand value, your competitiveness. But the way your neighborhood is accepting your presence, and the way you relate and contribute to that community, will probably become far more important for future success than just your own operation. 

Sometimes it’s almost ironic to see that in this transition, people actually want the same thing. If you allow me to take Amsterdam one more as an example, and I hasten to say Amsterdam is not the Netherlands, and the Netherlands is not the Amsterdam, certainly not when it comes to the transition. However, it’s a well-documented case. And what happening there is that, take the monoculture, which is not very sustainable for many reasons. 

The citizens don’t want a monoculture in terms of waffle shops and ice cream, but the majority of the entrepreneurs don’t want a monoculture either because it’s bad for business.

The visitors, the majority, don’t want a monoculture either. They want that authentic experience that they’re looking for. They all want the same, but because they’re so convinced of their own belief and position, they almost forget to listen to each other. And my wish for these ecosystems is that someone, somehow can bring them together, in a real deep dialogue, on what they wish for when it comes to, in this case, the city centre. And my belief is that they will notice that, although they will always have their different opinions in certain areas, my strong belief is that when it comes to these kinds of principles, they’re far more an ally than they think they are today.

And if you can stimulate that, and you can get the fact that they are an ally more than an enemy, beautiful things can happen. But it starts with a vision, and it starts with a dialogue. And without that, it’s everyone goes their own way.

Rodney Payne: If I could give you a bottle with a genie in it with one wish, what would you ask your tourism industry for in terms of support?

Jos Vranken: Wow. I would say the ability, and it’s very difficult, particularly after corona, the ability to look beyond their own operation. And really try to assess and get a feel for how they would like to relate and contribute to their community. That can be the street, can be the neighbourhood, can be the region. Because it’s a great starting point, I think, for building the bridge for the dialogue that you need for the cooperation to succeed.

Rodney Payne: Now if I could give you a magic wand and a blank checkbook, what’s one change you’d make in the world tomorrow?

Jos Vranken: Blank checkbook, right?

Rodney Payne: And a magic wand. 

Jos Vranken: And a magic wand. In that case, I would say the sustainable mobility would be my first target. Airline industry, clearly. I would make it possible that, of course, all the future sustainable fuel and engine types would be in place. 

Rodney Payne: You’ve been leading this organization and your industry for a large part of your career. A lot of other people in your position are going to have to go on a journey like the one you’ve been on. What advice would you give them?

Jos Vranken: I do quite a few guest lectures at the educations in the Netherlands on tourism and related subjects. And I do get quite a few questions by people, young professionals or future professionals, that are worried about their career in tourism and travel. Hard to believe if you compare it to maybe 10 years ago, right? I tell them that this probably is the most exciting time and professionally and intellectually challenging time to enter this industry. So whoever wants to have a career in travel and tourism and is willing to be part of the solutions of the future, to enter a tough and long road with a lot of resistance and not looking always for the easy way out, I think it’s a fantastic time to enter this industry. And moreover, we need those people that come into the industry with these attitudes, because without them, we’ll probably revert back to our old ways, if we’re not careful. So we need people that come here or in any other company and say, hold on, I want to work for you, but under the precondition that I can be part of that solution. I can help working on those solutions. I can be a small or big part of that transition. That’s my strong belief. And the good news is, we see them. We hear them. We hire them. We see them elsewhere. Anyone not afraid for a challenge, I would say, join the team, and be part of the transition, and make it happen. 

Rodney Payne: You’re about to embark on a career-defining strategy for you and your organization. When you hang up your hat at the end of your career, and you look backwards, and you’re driving home and you can see in the rearview mirror, what are the three words that describe the legacy you hope to leave?

Jos Vranken: You kept the easy question for last, Rodney.

 I’d say change or changed, because something has happened for the better. Sustainable or more sustainable. And joy, because it’s fantastic to work in this industry. 

But we tend to forget, in all the debate that goes on, that this industry ultimately brings an awful lot of people an awful lot of joy. It connects people. It allows you to explore, to make new friends, to visit family, to learn, to build cultural bridges. And sometimes we forget what travel and tourism really is about.

And I would hope that whatever strategy today or tomorrow will be in place, and whatever result it will have, that we’ll never forget the joy that travel brings. But my wish and the rearview mirror is too small for that, is that we were able, with all the stakeholders in the ecosystem, to provide a sustainable development of places, and therefore travel and tourism, so that your daughter and mine will enjoy the same benefits from travel and tourism as we did.

Rodney Payne: Thanks for your time today.

Jos Vranken: You’re welcome.

David Archer: This has been Travel Beyond presented by Destination Think, and you just heard from Jos Vranken, Managing Director of the Netherlands Board of Tourism & Conventions. We’ll include links to more resources on the blog for this episode at My co-host and co-producer is Sara Raymond de Booy.

This episode has been produced and has theme music composed by me, David Archer. Lindsay Payne and Annika Rautiola provided production support. We would like to thank NBTC for their support in creating this podcast season with us, and for their willingness to be bold. You can help more people find this show by subscribing and by leaving a rating and review on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

Next time, we’ll glide over to KLM HQ to speak with Hedwig Sietsma about how KLM and the aviation industry need to change going forward. 

Hedwig Sietsma: I think that in the future, every trip that you make will be a trip that you really remember, and a trip that you will have saved for, and a trip that you will therefore value much more.

David Archer: See you then. 


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