6 things tourism businesses should know about their DMO

William Bakker

19 April 2016

Managing industry stakeholders is one of the biggest challenges every destination marketing organization faces. Dealing with politics, while proving value and relevancy, is almost always an issue. Even with the best intentions, some industry stakeholders may not understand that their own actions can impact the efficiency and effectiveness of their destination marketing organization (DMO).

If you operate a tourism business, here are six things you should know about your DMO:

1) A rising tide lifts all boats

Although your business might compete with other businesses in your destination, the reality is that when more people want to visit your destination, everybody benefits. Ultimately, it’s the marketing job of the DMO to attract more people to your destination, inspire them to stay longer and spend more money. To do so, your DMO needs to focus on the things that make your destination unique and make people want to visit. These unique aspects aren’t always equally weighted, as some experiences or businesses serve as more critical drivers for tourism than others.

This means that sometimes, the largest and most recognizable attractions in a destination do need the additional exposure they often receive. The Eiffel Tower, for example, makes people want to visit Paris, while the lesser-known café down the street probably doesn’t have the same draw. In this case, Tourism Paris needs to promote the Eiffel Tower over the café, lovely as it might be.

What you should do: Let the DMO work more effectively by focusing on the things that will make business better for everybody, even if that means giving more exposure to certain products more than others.

(While we’re on the subject: if your hotel/restaurant/tour etc. is fully booked when a visitor enquires, why not recommend a trusted partner business? It doesn’t necessarily mean losing business to a competitor, but gaining a satisfied visitor and working together to raise all boats.)

2) A DMO isn’t responsible for your sales

With a few exceptions, your DMO should focus their time and effort outside of selling things. It can be a waste of resources, as there will be a number of places to buy tour packages, flights and hotel rooms once someone makes the decision to visit. Since the existing organizations are often much better at local sales than your DMO, it’s better left to them.

What you should do: Don’t expect your DMO to be a sales channel for tickets or reservations. Instead, empower them to focus on selling the destination experience.

(Note that while some city DMOs do operate very successful booking systems, ticket services and city card programs, these tend to be exceptions rather than the rule.)

3) DMOs need to take a long-term view

As a tourism business, you likely worry about next month’s sales and, if they don’t look good, you might find yourself looking to your DMO for help. In some cases, seeking their support is a valid approach (during the BP oil spill, for example), but this is the exception to the rule. In most cases, it’s more important that your DMO implements a long-term perspective (especially your state, provincial or national DMO) toward building your destination’s brand, reputation and demand over the long term. If they don’t, they risk losing visitors to other, more established destinations in the end.

What you should do: Let your DMO take a long-term view for the ongoing growth of tourism in your destination.

4) DMO employees are passionate about the success of you and your business

Because DMOs are often publicly funded, they face specific complications and tend to fall under a lot of political and press scrutiny. Any perceived mistakes made by the DMO can be highlighted by opposing politicians or lead to negative press. Both of which can have detrimental effects on funding.

This situation can be frustrating for you, but the staff at your DMO are also often frustrated by bureaucracy – they just won’t tell you that. DMO employees are unwaveringly dedicated to their destinations. As professionals they understand their responsibilities, and, more important, they love where they live, what they do and will strive to see their destination become as successful as possible, which includes you and your business.

What you should do: Avoid being skeptical of your DMO’s strategy. Instead, learn to collaborate with and support the staff. They’re doing their best work to support you and can always use encouragement, especially when facing the pressures of politics and press.

Image credit: Sonny Abesamis, Flickr

Image credit: Sonny Abesamis, Flickr


5) Stop evaluating marketing based on how it looks

It’s all too easy to form an opinion about marketing based solely on what it looks like. For example, you might say, “I like this ad/I don’t like that one,” or, “I like the colour of this website/I don’t like that one.” Often these opinions are based on what the competition is doing. You could hear, “Those TV ads from Destination X look much better than ours.” Or worse, “Why don’t we advertise on TV, the way the DMO next door does?”

If industry stakeholders pay too much attention to how campaigns look, a DMO will often follow suit instead of implementing the most effective marketing for the potential visitor. They might even ignore opportunities with digital ads, email marketing or social media to save the budget for TV or something costlier. These decisions are not necessarily made intentionally, but because stakeholders, whether directly or indirectly, have influenced their decision-making process.

What you should do: Avoid judging your DMO’s marketing tactics based on their appearances. Focus instead on their objectives and the results. Instead, be open-minded about where and how the organization markets your destination.

6) Embrace failures

You might think embracing failure is nonsense. It’s true that in order to grow, you need to win, but you also need to lose. Basketball legend Michael Jordan, who also missed a lot of shots, once said “I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

Marketers frequently need to experiment in order discover what works and what doesn’t. Unfortunately, many DMOs are afraid to try something different or innovative because they fear the outcomes. They’re concerned that if a new strategy doesn’t work, industry stakeholders, media or politicians will criticize their efforts, jeopardizing their funding or their jobs. As a result, DMOs can often be risk-averse and resort to safe, old-fashioned methods that yield mediocre results.

What you should do: Accept failures as lessons for making better efforts in the future. If things don’t go as planned, remember to support your DMO in the face of critical media and politicians.

Editor’s Note: The original version of this post appeared on William Bakker’s Destination Marketing Blog: Six Things Tourism Businesses Should Know About Their DMO

Do you have more suggestions or examples of how businesses can best support a DMO? Let us know in the comments.

Related reading: The destination management and marketing model

Featured image credit: Cátia Matos, Pexels



  1. Clint Fraser

    Well written William! In addition, DMO’s need to ensure that tourism businesses and stakeholders within their jurisdiction are plugged into the work the DMO is doing. Sounds obvious but the work of many DMO’s has been criticized or dismissed simply because the DMO has not taken the proper initiative to ensure that they have effectively communicated and engaged their stakeholders in the work they are doing.


    • William Bakker

      Thanks Clint. You are right. In the past you could do Destination Marketing almost in isolation. Run mass media, work with trade and media to promote the destination. Because of the wide variety of opinions DMOs often built some pretty big walls to keep industry out of the kitchen. But that’s completely changed. Instead of promoters, DMOs need to be leaders and collaborators. DMOs need to understand this and industry need to give their DMOs enough credit and leeway. Trust is key.

  2. RIck Gaunt

    Great piece Mr. Bakker. Not only well written, but focused on creating better marketing, and servicing visitors more effectively. I also think that you’ve given voice to what has been on the minds of many DMO professionals, and will hopefully be read by tourism stakeholders – not to prove a point, but to eliminate some of the wasted effort and energy created in the misunderstandings between industry and the PMO/DMO.

    Cheers William!


    • William Bakker

      Thanks Rick, that was my intent. To give a voice to what many of you are thinking but can’t necessarily voice out loud. Running a DMO is very complex and it’s hard to see that looking at it from the outside in.

  3. Kevan J. Ridgway

    This is an excellent help for me as Chair of Cannon Beach’s Marketing Committee. It’s a small community with the usual mix of boosters and concerned citizens. The “DMO” is linked to the Chamber, but the only real economic generator is tourism. It has only just started to receive a small amount of funding through the Transient Lodging Tax, so it’s a great time to create their first full marketing plan.
    Off to the Oregon Governor’s Conference on Tourism today. Oregon is so similar to BC in so many ways with a great lead “PMO” in Travel Oregon.
    You should speak here one day!

    Cheers! And thank you for all your contributions to destination marketing.


    • William Bakker

      Thanks Kevan. You’re right, Oregon is doing some great stuff. So is Portland.

  4. Chris

    A great piece, but plenty of us at front line also see much that some DMOs do only to justify their own existence, not help their destination. We see this in little to no substantive stakeholder engagement, a heavy-handed top-down “we know better than you” approach to decision making and a focus on tools over strategy. I appreciate when a DMO pays big money for the latest and greatest planning, audience segmentation or promotional tool, but too often I see egos throw good money after bad.

    My two cents.

    • William Bakker

      Hey Chris, those are good points. Watch for a follow-up piece about what DMOs should know about operators… success for all in the future requires a much stronger partnership and collaborative effort. There’s definitely work to be done on that front in many cases.

  5. John Coldwell

    Hi, interesting article. As a member of the public I had no idea what “DMO” is/was. I had to trust Google to steer me in the right direction. If you use acronyms in an article, please, at least, define them first.

    • David Archer

      Hi John, Thanks for the feedback. I’ve updated this post to make the DMO abbreviation clear from the start.

  6. Thomas Olsen


    It was a good read and I appreciate the time in letting us stakeholders know the room that the DMO needs to move around in. It helps broaden my perspective when I am sitting at the table in review mode. What I believe would be helpful as we move further into the process here in CR is to understand what our destination is lacking. It would help us augment and adapt our business models to fill some of the voids and gaps in what our community has to offer.

    • William Bakker

      Thanks Thomas, we’re progressing nicely in CR andante some foundational elements are solidly in place we can start working on exactly that. The opportunity for the community and entrepreneurs are amazing. Looking forward to talk more soon.

  7. Katie

    Hi, I really appreciated your article as you hit many topics on the head. Regarding number 2, do you have any examples of DMO websites that do not offer booking activities through their sites?

    • William Bakker

      Hi Katie, I think at this point the far majority of DMOs don’t book activities through their site. The ones that do are probably the exception these days.

    • David Archer

      Hi Katie, glad you enjoyed the article. Destination Cleveland and Tourism Western Australia both have effective DMO websites that do not offer direct booking. Both sites have listings and discount codes for some attractions, but they do not host the booking systems.

      You can find those sites and more examples on this post called “8 tips for a brilliant DMO website and our Hall of Fame”. https://destinationthink.com/8-tips-destination-marketing-dmo-website-hall-of-fame/

      Thanks for the question,


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