Author: Emilie Ehrman

Think of the last time you felt captivated by or drawn to a destination or an experience. What pulled you in and rooted your desire to go? What pushed you to search for more information, find a way to get there, or book a place to stay?

Was it the name of a place? Was it a picture of a hotel? Was it a map? Or was it a more extended plot line, one which connected the place and the hotel and plotted your journey out on a map?

Destination storytelling is the most powerful marketing tool of a DMO. While the DMO itself supports the story by offering the places, opportunities, experiences, and support available, the story is told by the destination’s stakeholders. When told correctly, storytelling within a destination can create an emotional connection between the place and its target market. Ideally, your online marketing tools will sew the two together and create an experience that people remember and share with their networks in order to continue the cycle of storytelling.

The Preface of Travel Storytelling

Before collecting the stories, DMOs — or authors — must  first ask what content will be produced, and when. During Solimar’s DMO Development Course in the Republic of Georgia, one of the DMO’s in Georgia pointed out that now, due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, collecting content for those stories is more challenging than ever.

The travelers who were normally helping to create and share their own stories of their experiences within your destination may not be around to collect that content, but when normal travel begins to resume, DMOs should have a plan to share updated stories – especially if experiences have changed due to COVID-19. On this same wave, take some time to determine who will produce and edit this content. Find the right story tellers to drive home the value of the experiences in your destination.

Next, be sure to have a clear call to action for the content that will fill your stories. When leisure travelers first start planning a trip, 78% don’t know which airline they will be using for their trip, and 82% don’t know where they’ll stay. One in three leisure travelers planning a trip haven’t even decided on a specific destination for their trip (stats retrieved from ThinkWithGoogle). This is your opportunity to create and show the whole story, detailing the experience that your destination can offer. The DMO’s role here is to provide content to help narrow down choices, answer questions, inspire, and help decide on the story they want to write it themselves. When providing this content, remember to first identify and customize the content to the audience using the following categories:

  • location
  • age
  • gender
  • language
  • interests
  • behaviors
  • connections

Finally, representatives inside a destination can work collectively in deciding how the content will be distributed and amplified and answering questions of how the content will be distributed.

Storyboarding for Travel Marketing

How will you encourage visitors to choose your destination and support your DMO?

Answering this question before generating stories helps one to understand why content, communications, and social media plans are necessary. These plans strongly reinforce the destination’s brand and encourages its DMO to think strategically and creatively. Furthermore, DMOs should use storyboarding to think of ways to help their stories stand out from others that may take place in closer locations or for lower prices.

Outside of drawing in visitors, storytelling — especially on social media — can generate buzz and excitement with industry partners and stakeholders.  With a plan, DMOs will end up with a more focused message and more focused calls-to-action for both industry partners and their guests. A well thought-out plan will clearly define the goals and steps to reach them for all involved. And don’t forget, a fun contest is a proven way to engage and grow your audience!


To conclude this lesson, DMO leaders in Georgia were able to hear from Michael Fetter, the Director of Marketing for Louisville Tourism. Both parties in the discussion agreed on the importance of offering opportunities to your partners. If you can be successful in getting people interested in visiting a destination’s website, reading it’s print collateral, and ultimately visiting the place, then the story should be considered as being read. Michael’s final suggestion for DMOs was as follows, “Do research, read industry publications, and do anything out there – just get your knowledge base up. Have good relationships with [their] peer DMOs. You might see them as competition, but they know things and you know things; it’s good to play off of each other.”

This interview was an excellent conclusion and reminder that the work of a DMO to tell their story has many different layers and should involve collaboration with their partners and other DMOs doing the same as they are.


Destination Management Organizations are often funded by a combination of sources–including lodging taxes and membership dues. As a result of COVID-19, tax collections have decreased in destinations around the world. Now, membership plans are as important as ever for the economic sustainability of DMOs. There’s plenty of room to develop relationships between DMOs and local businesses – and if your DMO does it right, it could benefit both parties.

For a DMO to successfully attract members, they must ask the following question: how do you market, sell, and deliver benefits in a way that both attracts and retains members? To begin, DMOs must take time to identify the main benefits that they can offer private sector organizations with a membership plan.

Benefits of a DMO Membership

While the details of your membership plan will depend on your DMO’s resources and choice of direction for those members, the list of possible benefits members may be offered is extensive and can be tweaked to suit your needs, as well as those of your members. This is when pricing and fees must be decided upon as well.

As part of Solimar’s Virtual DMO Development Course, Solimar interviewed Bill Malone, President and CEO of the Park City Chamber Association. For the past 20 years, Bill has worked in Park City, Utah, where he has managed the Park City Chamber/Bureau, a beautiful and popular ski destination. Bill’s suggestions for deciding on the benefits to offer included looking at other similar benefits in similar locations, surveying members or potential members to find out what exactly they would like to have as benefits, and choosing specific benefits that allow these private sector businesses to really connect with the community’s DMO.

Below are some of those many benefits your DMO may choose to offer:

  • Marketing 
    • Exposure on DMO website
    • Inclusion in DMO’s coupons/deal pass
    • Promotion of member’s events
    • Distribution of member’s brochures in visitor center
    • Highlighting in DMO visitor guide
    • Being featured on DMO destination map
    • Promotion on DMO’s social media, newsletters and DMO’s blog articles
    • Introduction to media/travel trade
    • Wayfinding destination signage
    • Referrals from Visitor Information Centers, call centers, online inquiries
  • Communications
    • Members only research and intelligence
    • DMO annual report and plans
  • Networking
    • Member only events and conferences
    • Establishment of communications channels  
  • Advocacy Support
    • Local and national government advocacy
  • DMO Governance
    • Apply to be on the board of directors
    • Join an advisory committee
  • Professional/ Business Development
    • Member only training events 
    • Education seminars

After considering these possible benefits, it is vital to listen to what your potential members have to say. Do they see the value in a DMO? What do they feel should be the priorities of the DMO? Which benefit options do they find most attractive, and what do they think about the proposed price structure? Each of these questions show interested businesses that the DMO is taking the time to listen and work in unison with their partners. 

Recruiting Members

When you begin to form the base of your membership plan, you can further organize how you will recruit, sign up, and communicate with members. There are a few important considerations here:

  1. Make sure you have an internal on-boarding process — Who will process and approve new member applications, and how will new members be welcomed?
  2. Conduct door to door membership drive — Reach out to businesses you are already familiar with and set up in-person meetings to discuss the benefits of your DMO, as well as the benefits that come with membership. If businesses are unsure about joining, do your best to be persuasive but also schedule a follow-up call and put them on your mailing list to allow them to continue to see the great work of your DMO
  3. Organize an event to unite the industry — Use an event to unveil something the DMO has been working on, like a new tourism brand, marketing strategy, destination management plan, etc. During the event, make the case for membership and benefits. Some examples of member-events include: after-hours networking events, breakfast networking events, advocacy-focused events, training seminars, holiday events, open board meetings, and annual membership meetings.

Finally, it is important to keep your members engaged through effective communication. You may choose to do this with any or multiple of the following:

Offering a membership plan helps strengthen your work as a DMO while giving you freedom to customize your relationship with a variety of local businesses and organizations within your destination or region. Even better, a well-developed membership plan is likely to be mutually beneficial to both your DMO and its members. As Bill Malone suggested, a DMO membership program allows us to “celebrate the industry that you’re in.” 

Tourism itself is an experience economy. Social media content and visitor guides are two elements of this experience economy that must work together.

It is important for DMOs to use their social media strategy and visitor guides as a way to give potential visitors a way to imagine an experience in the region. Through the use of social media, a DMO can create content and share information that brings more traffic to their area. 

Social Media Practices

The changes in tourism as a result of COVID-19 have demonstrated the importance of the use of social media in tourism marketing. Social media allows DMOs to have conversations and share information with both their potential visitors and their local constituents. Through the use of social media channels, a DMO can:

  • build and maintain communities of interest,
  • collect user-generated content (UGC),
  • display photography and videos,
  • distribute topical news stories,
  • emphasize current events and campaigns,
  • encourage word-of-mouth recommendations, and
  • get feedback

These goals are best realized by a DMO when the organization has a presence on all major social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram). 

Social Media Content Strategy

A social media content strategy is designed so that DMOs can plan posts and content over a specific period of time. This helps the organization think strategically about its monthly, quarterly, and annual goals. DMOs should be scheduling 2-4 posts a week with at least one blog post per month (when applicable). Hashtags and tags should be used in posts to make the region’s DMO page more accessible and bring about a central message. Additionally, a unified voice should be maintained to create a consistent flow of content, all with the oversight of a peer review system to ensure all posts are kept professional and approachable. The DMO should also periodically check its analytics on their posts to see what performs well and what doesn’t, and adjust accordingly. 

In the social media module of the DMO Development Course, Anne Robertshaw spoke on the importance of this relatively new form of marketing. She emphasized that no DMO is “too late to start social media platforms.” Her interview gave insight into how DMOs should use social media to promote their diverse regions while also highlighting of its product offerings.

Visitor Guides

Visitor guides are complementary — and essential — tools for communicating with a destination’s audience and appealing to potential visitors. Think of it as the ultimate advertising booklet for your destination: a good or bad visitor guide can make or break your marketing efforts.  

When creating a concept for the optimal visitor guide for your region, consider having a compelling cover that will draw the eye of visitors — one that tells a story about your destination. In coming up with potential content to add, be sure to interview important people in the service community (i.e. chefs, artists, historians) to not only highlight the amazing people in the region, but also indirectly advertise their businesses.

It is also critical to include a map in the guide. With a well-detailed and visually appealing map, the visitor guide will create a sense of place and orientation to those who read it. This map can also be used by the DMO to highlight attractions, businesses, trails, art districts, and any other sites in the region. Map making is a great tool to bring tourism stakeholders together to create a tangible project

In Solimar’s Week 12 Module on Visitor Guides through our virtual DMO Development Course, Ronda Thiem and Katy Spining of Madden Media spoke on the importance of visitor guides. Spinning stated that to make a good visitor guide, there should be extra pages that allow for the publication of “authentic experiences of your destination with potential visitors.” Additionally, Theim recommended interviewing local community members about their favorite attractions in the destination. For instance, an interview with a chef from the community will entice visitors to visit the local restaurants that have been recommended. 

Much like social media marketing, visitor guides have to be authentic and represent the core message of the DMO — and the destination itself. Be consistent and use a unified voice through the messaging sent along via social media and visitor guides so that visitors can set their expectations. After that, trust that the destination’s attractions and stakeholders will offer products and services that help these expectations to be exceeded.

Branding a tourism destination requires a long-term strategy integrated into numerous different channels. It is more than just logos, taglines, commercials, billboards and social media posts. A destination’s brand is defined by a perception of its guests. It is an emotion that visitors feel, brought on by experiences created by stakeholders. Successfully implementing a branding strategy must begin with the destination asking itself the question, “What makes our place unique and attracts visitors?”

This chapter of Solimar’s DMO Development series explores how to put a strategy in place once these questions are answered.

Strategic Integrated Marketing Communication (IMC)

Oftentimes, DMOs will use an assortment of communication tactics across their many different platforms (Internet, print, billboards, TV, etc.), leaving their overall strategy fragmented. Integrated marketing communication, on the other hand, is a collaborative and promotional marketing function where a targeted audience receives consistent and persuasive brand messaging through various marketing channels. It is designed to move buyers, or in this case potential visitors, through the “where to travel next” decision making process. Social media campaigns should align with TV ads, which should link up with messaging on billboards and in print media. When executed successfully, an integrated marking communications plan ensures that marketers are using all available channels to amplify their marketing campaign and brand messaging to reach their target audience, or buyer persona.

A great example of integrated marketing communication comes from Montana, where the Montana Office of Tourism designed a campaign around Montana Moments. As the state’s official website reads, “To help increase awareness of Montana, the concept needed to break through the noise of the tourism market while setting Montana apart. The print, social, out of home, digital and earned media campaign focused around searching for moments.” This campaign won numerous awards and resulted in an increase in visitor spending, as well as a 38% increase in organic traffic.

The Traveler Decision Making Process

Through the vast tourism ecosphere, there is a process that all tourists move through before deciding where to take their next trip. For marketers, this path is broken into four parts:

  • Attract – Introducing travelers to a destination can be done via digital marketing (paid advertising, social media), billboards, commercials, etc.
  • Engage – Destinations now have the ability to develop relationships with traveler through interactive media, personalized communications, travel planning guide, and of course, social media. User-generated content has become a key to effectively engage an audience. 
  • Convert – Once the decision has been made to visit a destination, the DMO must ensure that booking channels are easy to find and navigate through. The user experience should be designed in such a way that booking a trip is as seamless as possible, thus preventing travelers from leaving (or bouncing from) the site in the midst of creating a reservation.
  • Experience and Share  – DMOs now have the ability to speak directly to their guests via user-generated content. Marketing managers should LISTEN (to their target audience via reviews on TripAdvisor, Google), WATCH (the images and videos that are being shared through different social media channels), SYNTHESIZE (the messaging that is being published by your audience), and RESPOND (to keep the conversation moving forward).

The Implementation of an Annual Marketing Plan

Let’s revisit the travel promotion’s virtuous cycle: more visitors lead to more money, which leads to more jobs and taxes. The need to market a destination is designed to make this cycle continue its spiral. The understory of the virtuous cycle is the annual marketing plan.

So, how do you implement an annual marketing plan?

  1. Identify the target market and understand how your destination meets their needs
  2. Set specific, measurable goals and time frames for your marketing activities
  3. Position your destination so that the target market sees your destination as better than, or different from, the competition
  4. Map out a strategy to reach the target audience, including messages, channels, and tools that will be used
  5. Communicate with your tourism partners so they can align their marketing efforts with those of the DMO
  6. Demonstrates to your funding and industry partners how the plan will be effective

DMO’s need an annual marketing plan — one that is revised annually and remains fluid throughout the year to ensure it remains in line with current events (Exhibit A: travel during a pandemic).

DMO Expert Interview

This session’s DMO expert interview featured Courtney Cacatian from the Charlottesville & Albemarle Convention and Visitors Bureau. 

Cacatian suggests that, above all else, the most critical element of destination branding is market research. Anecdotally, she explains that the Albemarle CVB adjusts their marketing strategy based on who is more interested in specific activities. She uses bluegrass enthusiasts or bucketlisters as examples of the CVB’s target audience. She also explains that determining ways in which visitors will increase spending during their trip — or upselling — has been a key to growth in her destination,

Solimar asked Cacatian what advice she would give to a DMO director creating a new marketing plan. Her answer? “Read other destination’s strategic plans, especially if you can find similar destinations. See what’s important to their industry and their board. Even if there’s competition, our success is their success and vise versa….Read. There’s always more to learn.”



As with so many events in the past few months and surely the foreseeable future, the Destinations International 2020 Convention turned virtual this year to accommodate for the health and safety of attendees. Despite the physical distance, those attending could still sit in on the main sessions, break apart into the smaller discussion-based and timely sessions, and participate in some mindfulness and breath practice (and even smoothie making) between speakers. 

As part of Solimar’s DMO Development Program, a 16-week online training program for new and developing DMOs, our DMO participants in the Republic of Georgia and Armenia were able to attend the conference and virtually network with hundreds of tourism organizations around the world. This participation was critical for our DMO participants, as they were able to integrate with the global Destination Management community and learn directly from industry leaders and other DMOs. 

Bridging the gap between virtual travel and real-life travel

Adapting to Virtual Conferencing & a New Way of Managing Destinations

Coinciding with the main talking point of many speakers and sessions, many upcoming plans face inevitable and unknown changes in the future. Be them festivals facing capacity issues, destinations seeing changes in types and numbers of guests, or conferences being redefined into online events, remaining nimble and resourceful is key. Destination International’s (DI) conference did just that, allowing guests to keep their own digital notes, participate in polls regarding content, and opening each session up for live Q & A. Within unpredictability lies new opportunities for experimentation, change, and most importantly, growth.

It seems each aspect of the tourism industry will play a part in this unavoidable change, but those parts may require a bit of exploration before revealing themselves. Patrick Tuttle from Visit Joplin MO pointed out the role of the Outdoor Adventure niche now and in the foreseeable future. With indoor locations and attractions prompting valid hesitation from keen adventurers, how can destinations make the outdoors an accessible and exciting alternative option? How can smaller or lesser-known destinations, which are usually short stops on the way to a larger destination, attract visitors on their own? This is where creativity comes into play. 

Tuttle used a handful of examples based on the many stops visitors usually make along Route 66, which will certainly see a big dip in the international tourists who normally frequent the famed highway. How will those stops along the way continue to draw in visitors? Tuttle suggested getting creative, and even allowing guests to get their hands a bit dirty (after washing of course!). Referencing a famous chocolate shop along the way, Tuttle encouraged allowing visitors to take part in creating whatever they have come to see, specifically allowing guests to create their own candy bar treats with the famous chocolate. Taking these treats back to family and friends is likely to encourage travel over closer distances while international travel continues to rebound.

Rita McClenny, president and CEO of Virginia Tourism Corporation, and Todd Davidson, CEO of Travel Oregon, assured visitors that leisure travel will recover first. In many ways, this may be perceived as ideal, as this gives destinations and DMOs more room to explore exactly what they can offer and how they can change to provide new and safer experiences. In times of such uncertainty, the pair encouraged conference attendees, saying “The intrinsic desire to travel is still there; it’s not if, it’s how and when.” So how do we find that chocolate-making experience for visitors that are bound to come?

Solimar’s DMO development program, based in the Republic of Georgia and Armenia, has been working to do just that. As with any country, some regions and destinations offer more or better known experiences, while others serve as pass-through regions. These lesser-visited regions, however, often still offer great traditional history, notable culinary experiences, great wine, and more. Being aware of the freedom and options to expand those qualities into experiences that will attract more visitors for longer stays is a major key in today’s tourism ecosphere. 

Memorandum of Understanding is signed between the USAID Economic Security Program and Caucasus University

Adam Sacks, founder and president of Tourism Economics, Inc, Brad Dean, CEO of Discover Puerto Rico, and Paul Ouimet, partner and president of MMGY NextFactor also shared a handful of tips for organizations to move towards recovery post-COVID-19 that they can begin today. 

The identification of new source markets was an important tip when it comes to recovering customer engagement. What do we do now? Where is there room to grow? Do we make chocolate bars? The answer: Embrace the change and be proactive by taking the time to explore those new options that weren’t always necessary in the past. 

Speakers also encouraged organizations to work with all resources available and pool together to go as far as reassessing the purpose of the organization itself. If your region was just a pass through for a nice meal and a great glass of wine, how can you make this bigger and better? How can you keep visitors for another night or have them buy an extra bottle to take home?

Now is an ideal time to reassess a DMO’s purpose and goals. As with so many scenarios during a time of uncertainty, change should be taken hand in hand with creativity. 

To learn more, visit Solimar’s Destination Management and Development services page.

“We rely confidently on Solimar's deep technical experience and professionalism as tourism consultants. You always are exceeding our expectations.”
Leila Calnan, Senior Manager, Tourism Services Cardno Emerging Markets

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