The role, identity, and purpose of the DMO is always under scrutiny in our rapidly changing industry. Pressing reset, we’ve flipped the gaze from critiquing common malfunctions and missed opportunities to envisioning what the ideal DMO looks like. We sat down with minds from across Destination Think who live and breathe strategic problem solving for DMOs to gather their current top of mind observations.

Here are some of the questions we asked to get the ball rolling.

Without trying to be comprehensive, what are characteristics of an ideal DMO?
How does it define brand? How does it interact with the community? How does it interact with stakeholders? How does it interact with and understand consumers? Where does it invest? How does it plan and organize? How does it adopt new ideas? What cultures does it foster?

Aaron Nissen, Senior Strategic Consultant

  • From an organizational perspective, larger DMOs should migrate away from top-down hierarchies that create silos. The ideal DMO deploys a matrix (networked setup) to ensure subject matter experts are involved in the right projects. This needs to smash the silo thinking that plagues DMOs.
  • The ideal DMO runs programs, not campaigns. It has robust advocacy programs that focus on residents and visitors. This goes beyond just being active on social media to working with operators and residents to generate advocacy both online and offline.
  • The DMO brand is derived from its Place DNA profile. The brand should be a reflection of the destination, not a logo and tagline developed by a creative team. The brand should also be used to guide the development of the destination.
  • It possesses a clear balance of marketing and managing the destination that lets it answer: Where are the sustainable growth areas? How do we shape the destination?
  • A niche program is in place. The DMO has a process for evaluating the maturity and opportunity of its niches and will invest in product development and marketing. Every year, it should identify and develop about two new niches based on set criteria.
    • Its niche strategies have a clear method for engaging with industry, such as a steering committee or annual planning session.
  • Strategy-wise the DMO works to fill in the slowest time of the year to build stable year-round tourism that mitigates boom-bust cycles from peak seasons.

Marthe Nordahl, Client Strategist

To add to Aaron’s train of thought:

  • The DMO should secure a diverse funding model. This allows for flexibility and change while avoiding the risk of relying too heavily on one source of funding.
  • It acts as an educator and industry leader.
    It creates knowledge sharing and product development networks provide direct and on-going value to stakeholders.
  • To combat overcrowding and experience erosion, it focuses on visitor dispersal.
    It identifies geographic and niche alternatives throughout the year for this purpose.
  • From a tactical perspective it:
    • Understands its audiences thoroughly: where they spend time and what interests them.
    • Retains the skills and capacity to manage always-on content and social media in-house.
    • Maintains successful ongoing relationships with influencers that tie into visitor niches. This is key to nurturing advocacy and engagement that aligns with the identity of the destination.
    • Runs integrated creative and strategic campaigns.

William Bakker, Chief Strategist

  • Establishing the factors of the ideal DMO is dependent on context and the type of DMO in question. Is it an NTO, STO, PTO, a city, or a town?
    Regardless, the DMO should start from a perspective of delivering the right balance between economic, social, and environmental value.
  • The DMO doesn’t work in isolation anymore. It serves as the leader to deliver on an established tourism vision through collaboration in order to develop a unified destination experience.
    • It works with industry, other public entities (sports, culture, etc.), and non-traditional partners.
    • The best DMOs have a strong focus on building and fostering the right relationships in order to get things done, not in order to manage the politics.
    • It should not be afraid to have an opinion (ex. about the impact other industries can have on tourism) and take risks.
    • Essentially, it needs a strong presence and identity to steer the narrative. When the vision and mission are clear and supported, both risks and politics can be managed.
  • From a destination development standpoint, this DMO works with the right stakeholders to address the challenges during the destination experience. Sometimes it leads, sometimes it participates, and sometimes it lobbies.
  • With a long-term vision for tourism in place and well supported, this DMO should create a multi-year strategy that moves towards realizing this vision. The mission embedded in this strategy is clear, focussed, ambitious, and motivating. There needs to a strong aspirational aspect to it, a one-liner people can believe in.
    • Ex.”Put a man on the moon and bring him back safely by the end of the decade”.

How does your DMO measure up between where you currently are and where you want to be? What roadblocks are stopping practical reflection and strategic change management?

Related readings:

Step out of the silos and into the matrix

Change management at the DMO: Why destinations need to be proactive 

Featured image credit: Pierre Phaneuf, Flickr


  1. Matt Stiker

    Hi all – thanks for the interesting and thought-provoking article. Question for all of you, but maybe especially Aaron, since this came from him. Wonder if based on this answer, “The DMO brand is derived from its Place DNA profile. The brand should be a reflection of the destination, not a logo and tagline developed by a creative team. The brand should also be used to guide the development of the destination.” you can provide some examples of what you think some strong DMO brands are. Thanks very much.


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