Community and Collaboration: People not product are your most important assets. Can you market a destination and attract visitors without engaging residents?
There is enormous disruption affecting the destination marketing industry. Over the past six months, the Destination Think! team has invested a significant amount of time conducting research on these challenges. Through an extensive series of interviews with more than 50 of the world’s leading destination marketing organizations (DMOs), we now understand their biggest challenges and the most exciting opportunities that they see for their destinations.
Almost everyone we talked to is struggling to find the right organizational strategy, structure and business model to deal with some major disruptions. We have observed four key observations that impact DMOs now and in the future. These challenges have been grouped into “Four Critical Trends Impacting Destination Marketing”:
1. Profit and Planet – A new way of thinking about the supply chain. Can we see problems as solutions?
2. Cost and Revenue – New ideas imply new business models. Can we apply creativity to rethink the way we produce revenue?
3. Product and Promotion – Develop what you promote and promote what you develop. Are you equipped to create experiences?
4. Community and Collaboration – People, not product, are your most important assets. Can you market a destination and attract visitors without engaging residents?
This is a four-part series outlining these trends. In Part 4, we discuss Community and Collaboration.
When promoting a destination, the DMO now relies on (and sometimes competes with) an ever-increasing number of people and organizations. The DMO leaders that we spoke to on this topic from around the world identified a number of topics that are of growing concern as they plan for the future. These include:
- managing fragmented earned media at scale
- co-ordinating the destination experience and manage the destination story
- collaborating with the traditional tourism industry in more creative ways to secure funding, and market more efficiently
- working with other partners, including culture, heritage, sports and nature departments for funding and promotion
- engaging local residents in tourism promotion in order to gain valuable internal advocates
- sharing the authentic stories of consumers, influencers and advocates
- improving trade relationships
- finding innovative ways to work with new non-traditional partners
- engaging the industry and working collectively in order to develop product that gets people talking
- collaborating with local advocates in sector niches in order to attract meetings and events
Many destination marketing organizations are only beginning to realize the important role others play in delivering an authentic experience, while also serving as brand advocates. Through word-of-mouth communications, everyone from visitors to myriad niche influencers, non-traditional partners and residents all affect destination perceptions. How does a DMO become a destination manager, coordinating all of these fragmented communications? Does the term “tourism” require a broad definition now?
Collaboration with stakeholders and operators on more than just funding and promotion is becoming essential in the new marketplace. What is tourism? It’s an intersection. From our research, we’ve learned that some destinations are moving beyond traditional partners (accommodations, hotels and airlines) to seek out partnerships with sectors that provide entertainment for visitors, including heritage, culture and sports, as well.
DMOs should be tackling tougher challenges in this collaborative fashion. For example, How is success measured? Who are our best consumers? What data do we have to validate this? By working together on better solutions to questions like this, everyone benefits. More importantly, everyone moves towards a shared vision for the destination.
Another pertinent question that was uncovered in the research was: “Who has ownership of a destination?”. It’s not the DMO; it’s the people who live there and local businesses. In the traditional tourism model, the industry has often focused intently on revenue and transactions. But in the new world, destinations must establish a relationship before moving on to the transaction. Residents, for example, need to become the first-line ambassadors for a destination. They’re an important internal client for modern DMOs. And if they’re not happy, they will not support your efforts, welcome your visitors or become destination advocates.
Signs of this pressure are happening in cities grappling with big events and the influx it brings to the local market. Huge volumes of visitors across short periods bring revenue, but they also bring concerns: residents complain or rebel, the destination or city reacts by capping event size – as in the case of Banff, which has discussed quotas for its events – and the problem is solved…except it isn’t. Revenues drop, and bigger events come back into focus. Cities must rethink how to drive revenue while also being sustainable.
Peter Kentie, managing director of Eindhoven 365 from Eindhoven in the Netherlands, calls their approach “DOrism.” His destination engages tourists by activating the brand’s DNA, creating engaging events and content and involving both offline and online collaboration, including input from locals. A branding project for the city’s new logo, for example, was such a success that people even had it tattooed.
At VisitFlanders, in Belgium, the DMO partnered with the heritage sector in order to market, promote and curate material around its WWI sites, monuments and museums. Makes sense, of course. But this isn’t as common as you might think.
Destination marketing and management relationships are changing. DMOs need to rethink and create new types of partnerships with media, influencers, trade, operators, sector organizations, around product development and creating remarkable experiences. If Mexico City – and before it Iceland following its bank crisis – can crowd-source its new constitution, why couldn’t a DMO do that with the vision for its destination? Knowing who you are as a destination means you can differentiate your marketing and invite the right people to visit. Attracting the right people to a destination increases the likelihood that they’ll connect more intently with local residents and experiences, have a better overall travel experience, and become future advocates.
Marketing happens outside of a DMO’s own activities. Mass promotion is occurring everywhere, across myriad channels. So managing and collaborating with those groups is now more important than ever. The role of a DMO is shifting towards that of a conductor. Your destination is the stage, and your band has just gotten a lot bigger. Destinations are seeing that it is time to truly work together to make music.