September 11, 2019

Destination Marketing, Part 1: The Evolving – and Expanding – Role of DMOs

According to the World Travel and Tourism Council, today travel and tourism supports one in 10 jobs worldwide and generates 10.4% of the world's GDP - valued at $8.8 trillion.

Much of the responsibility for attracting those travelers to a community or region - and capturing some of that economic benefit - falls to destination marketing organizations (DMOs), also known by other names such as visitors bureaus and tourist boards.

DMOs have existed in various forms more than 100 years, initially with a focus on convention travel management and later expanding to encompass leisure travel as well.

But the work of these entities today is much broader than just drawing in visitors.

"The idea that you are just driving heads in beds is no longer good enough," says Jack Johnson, chief advocacy officer and foundation executive director for Destinations International, a professional organization representing destination organizations from nearly 600 locations in 13 countries.

"Every visitor is a potential connection to expanding your economic base. Once you get people to pay attention, once you get people to visit, what follows is businesses and then customers come and investment comes and talent comes."

"And we will argue that every destination, every community is competing with every other community in the world, thanks to technology, thanks to the internet, thanks to cable TV, airlines."

One of the most important tools in that competition, he says, is a strong brand, supported by both engaging, shareable content and by stakeholders and residents that support the mission.

This month we are looking at the topic of destination marketing - how it has evolved, the impact of technology and search platforms and options for addressing challenges such as crowds and sustainability. We begin with a focus on the role of DMOs.

Expanding scope

For decades, the role of DMOs focused on traditional advertising, campaign development and distribution of details about a location's attractions, accommodations, restaurants and points of interest.

Due in large part to the proliferation of crowd-sourced information through social media platforms, DMOs now take a much wider view of their opportunities to communicate.

"People recognize that one of the best ways to promote the destination is to make sure people who visit have an amazing time while they are there and then they tell that story to their friends and network of contacts, and ultimately that word-of-mouth marketing is incredibly important," says Chris Davidson, executive vice president of insights and strategy at MMGY Global.

"So you want to make sure aspects of that visitor experience - especially ones at the more aggregate level like mobility and transportation, the arrival experience in an airport - those things are increasingly important to ensure visitors have an amazing time and tell that story in a very competitive industry."

A May 2019 report from Phocuswright gives a reason for that competition.

In Destination Decision: How Travelers Choose Where to Go, Phocuswright analysts found that: "After accounting for the trips to visit family and friends or to attend social obligations - weddings, graduations, reunions - the pool of trips left where travelers actually get to choose their destination independently shrinks. Within various markets across the globe, including the U.S., Brazil, Australia, China, Mexico, Germany and the U.K, less than half of leisure travelers traveled to a destination they could choose at their whim over the past year."

For those that do have discretion, Phocuswright found general search and review sites are the top-of-funnel leaders. But Phocuswright senior vice president of research and business operations Lorraine Sileo says once travelers narrow down their locations for travel, that’s when a DMO can shine.

"Travelers have gotten savvier," she says.

"They think, yes, that's great I can get reviews on TripAdvisor or I can get price comparisons on Kayak or Trivago, but I really want to know if there are going to be a special events in town, is there going to be an opening of a museum. When you get to that real specific level of what's the weather like in the fall - the DMOs have the most localized, practical type of information."

Sileo says research and data are also critical for destinations, allowing them to understand who their customers are, why they are visiting and what type of content will motivate them to act and ultimately maximize ROI for their marketing spending.

"Data can be used immediately," says David Bahlman, vice president of tourism and hospitality for Adara.

"Once we have that intent being shown, or we have the understanding that the customer, through loyalty, has previously gone to a destination, then you can also predict it. You can say, 'This person is a skier and they'll probably be in the ski market this year, so we can give them some ads that are relevant.'"

"It’s immediate, predictable, scalable ... and ultimately it's personalization."

Davidson says in recent years industry partners have heightened their expectations that their DMOs will invest in gathering and analyzing these types of insights to drive decision-making.

"It's more collaborative now than it's ever been," he says.


In fact, DMOs are increasingly viewed as having opportunities - and even a responsibility - for broader engagement and coalition building.

Destinations International, in partnership with MMGY NextFactor, recently surveyed 521 industry leaders in 55 countries to produce its 2019 DestinationNEXT Futures Study.

In the report's list of the top 25 destination organization strategies, number one is "My destination organization will enhance our engagement with the local community to manage future tourism considerations," up from number five when the report was last done in 2017.

Johnson says this ties into the idea that DMOs need to recognize their residents are their customers.

"At the heart of your brand are the people of the community," he says.

"If you are trying to drive leisure tourism, if it's meetings that want new experiences, you need to push throughout the city because everyone is looking for that new experience, that authentic experience."

"So you have to be able to tap into every asset ... to do that you have to have a much broader base of stakeholders and supports and contacts than just the hoteliers and the restaurant owners."

Davidson says MMGY is developing resident sentiment studies on behalf of destination clients, both to gauge concerns locals may have about tourism and to make sure they understand the benefits it brings in the form of taxes.

And at a time when some destinations are challenged by an abundance of visitors, DMOs are also taking on more of the "management" strategy along with the "marketing".

New this year on the DestinationNEXT list of top 25 strategies is, "My destination will have a tourism master plan to define long-term destination development." And moving up 11 spots to number 17 is, "My destination organization will balance the need for growth with responsible and sustainable development."

"As you try to build a sustainable tourism industry, you have to change the way you are marketing, who you are marketing to, when you are marketing," Johnson says. Examples include "dispersal campaigns" that nudge travelers to visit lesser-known sites or events within a destination.

As the report states: "The most progressive organizations today are positioning themselves as a shared community value, with an integral role in uplifting a greater scope of different audiences - both local and global."

"There's also a much more focused sense of purpose around integrated sustainability, where more destination organizations are addressing, collectively, the long-term economic, social and environmental impacts of their decisions in collaboration with their local community and key stakeholders."

Copyright 2019 Northstar Travel Media LLC. All rights reserved. From By Mitra Sorrells.

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