Author: SolimarInt

DMO Funding Models
With reporting by Matthew Clausen, Micaela Pacheco & Emilie Ehrman

The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed a lot about tourism and the way it is managed in destinations worldwide. From Venice to Virginia Beach, the first half of 2020 has highlighted the importance of tourism on a destination’s economy, and in some places exposed where its strategy might be unsustainable in the long-term. Likewise, within Destination Management Organizations themselves, a focus on a single revenue stream has left a number of DMOs vulnerable. 

Fortunately, there are a number of DMO funding streams to help diversify income generation as destinations seek to reimagine tourism for the future. As part of Solimar’s DMO Development Program, our team of experts has assembled to provide remote training and assistance to developing DMOs in the Republic of Georgia and Armenia. Week 5 of this course focused on DMO funding models and encouraged participants to think creatively and analytically about different funding streams. Whether these are private or public funding models, DMOs need a diverse range of revenue sources in order to thrive in an increasingly volatile tourism market. 

This week’s learning session featured an interview with Gabriel Seder of Destinations International. Mr. Seder discussed the benefits of public and private funding models for DMOs. Every DMO should be working on strengthening private sector engagement and participation in all aspects of the DMO’s activities including governance and funding. These funding sources have a great influence on the governance of a DMO, and the sources that supply the most funding typically have a greater influence on DMO decision making. 

According to Destinations International’s 2015 DMO Organizational and Financial Profile Study, 88% of the funding of DMOs came from the public (government) sector, and the remaining 12% from private sources. The top public sources included hotel room taxes; Tourism Improvement District/marketing district assessment/voluntary marketing fees; other county/city/state/province tax fund sources; special restaurant taxes; and other national tax funds. About 39% of DMOs have dues-paying members, but this goes up to 60% for the larger DMOs.

Without effective destination marketing, revenue generation can prove extremely difficult for DMOs. An easy way to think about this is through the virtuous cycle of travel promotion: increased marketing leads to increased visitors, which increases visitor spending, which creates more jobs and tax revenues. And the cycle continues.

According to the Canadian Tourism Commission, every $1 spent on international destination marketing (on average) equals $38 in visitor spending. However, marketing spending must be effective spending. 

DMO Funding Models
The Cycle of Travel Promotion and Funding

One of the newest and most exciting ways of generating revenue for a DMO is through a Tourism Improvement District (TID). A TID is created with a voluntary visitor contribution fee, where the visitor is able to voluntarily pay a small fee on a bill, and the DMO collects the fee from the businesses directly and manages the fund. This model creates additional sustainable funding for your DMO. A note of caution: this model only works if businesses are interested and want to be involved. It requires a mutual trust between stakeholders and your DMO to ensure transparency and honesty of funds received. 

If you are interested in learning more about the different funding models and how to best effectively implement sustainable funding for your DMO, you can learn more here.

Visitor Centers We Love

When working in destination marketing, it’s easy to get caught up in the initial phases and to focus your attention and energy upon attracting visitors to your destination. But what happens once the visitors arrive? Your visitors need a physical place to begin their trip, to get comfortable with the location, and to plan their time in the destination. In order to fulfill your visitors’ needs and serve the market, an effective destination visitor and information center, or a “welcome center,” is key.

Fantastic visitor centers come in all shapes and sizes. A few of our favorites include National Geographic’s extensive Grand Canyon Visitor Center with features such as an IMAX theatre and detailed maps and information, the Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, which is simple but comfortable and well-staffed, and the Bocas del Toro visitor center, which was the region’s first tourist center

This post will cover the 5 must-haves that make these visitor centers great and are valuable for any destination’s visitor center.

5 Must-Haves for a Great Visitor Center:

1. Amenities- Consider the amenities that would make a visitor comfortable upon recently arriving in your destination. Clean and free bathrooms are always important. Especially if your destination is geared towards families, it would be helpful to offer baby changing facilities. If possible, consider the accessibility of your visitor center for the handicapped- a ramp or no stairs and spacious walkways are a good start.

An essential for visitors, particularly foreign visitors, is a way to get or exchange money. It is extremely helpful to offer a safe and reliable ATM and/or currency exchange machine on-site. If your visitors will be driving, be sure that there is adequate parking space available.

Depending upon the weather in your destination, and whether your budget allows, consider the heating or air conditioning in your visitor center to ensure that your visitors are physically comfortable while they visit the site. Make sure that the building itself is clean and well-lit, presenting an inviting space to guests. The provision of these amenities will help your visitors to be comfortable in your destination

2. Practical Information– Visitors come to your visitor center in order to gather information about the destination. With this in mind, be sure that your information is current, accurate, trustworthy, and delivered in a high quality manner. Digital kiosks, a master guide to the destination, and a local city guide are all great ways of providing information. Your visitor center should be the number one place for visitors to go to find information about the destination and to have their questions answered. Try to anticipate the information that visitors will need.

Maps and directions are essential; provide professional maps of the local and surrounding area that are clearly labeled. Consider whether your visitors will be driving, walking, or hiking in your maps. If they will be driving it will be most important to have streets clearly indicated, while for those seeing the destination on foot, it will be more helpful to provide walking routes and nature trails. Between your maps and staff, be sure that directions are easily available for all primary attractions, restaurants, and lodging sites. Provide transportation information for both public and private options, such as public bus or rail options and private car rental options and costs.

Other useful information includes tours, lodging, and attractions. If possible, it is helpful if tickets are available for purchase directly at the visitor center, especially if a combination deal is available such as “3 museums for the price of 2” or “save 20% when you purchase tickets for the bird-sighting walk and the river boat tour together.” If additional information resources, such as guidebooks and translation dictionaries, are available, it is convenient for the visitor if they are offered as well.

3.  Education Materials– In addition to practical information about the region and tours, educational and enrichment materials are valuable additions to your visitor center. Include interactive and visually appealing displays to help visitors learn about the history, wildlife, people, and culture of the region.

By allowing visitors to learn more about the region than information directly related to their tour, they will gain a deeper connection to the region and have a more meaningful tour and trip.

4. Friendly Staff– While nice amenities and good information are both very important, the importance of a friendly face cannot be overemphasized. The international tourist expects to find someone at an information center who is knowledgeable, polite, respectful, fluent in the tourist’s language or English, and eager to help.

5. Souvenirs– While a great visitor center doesn’t require souvenirs, tourists enjoy buying memorabilia to commemorate their visit, and a visitor center is a great place to sell it. Postcards are great, as well as local crafts, foods, jewelry, and products. Offering locally-made souvenirs allows visitors to remember their trip with a meaningful gifts or memento while also supporting the local economy.

Any great tourism business begins with a great “road map.” This road map serves as your business plan with actionable steps for moving forward with developing the enterprise. There are seven key components to your road map.

1. Clear Concept- Before you can dive into the road map, the essential first step is to clearly articulate your enterprise concept. What is your enterprise? What do you do? What are you trying to achieve? What impact do you expect your enterprise to generate? Before you move further down the road map, be sure that you put some thought into these questions and can clearly define the concept of your tourism enterprise. Try to condense this concept into a simple one to two sentence pitch that clearly articulates your business concept.

2. Market Analysis- Your market analysis includes the international, regional, and national tourism statistics and travel trends, the profiles of your target market segments, and a value chain/ industry analysis. Begin by getting an idea of the relevant tourism trends and statistics. What percentage of tourists coming to your destination region, country, or city are country nationals versus international visitors. When is the peak season that tourists come to visit? What are the typical demographics of visitors? Has the number of international tourists to your destination been increasing or decreasing? Addressing these questions will help you to better understand your market before moving forward.

From here, you can develop the profiles of your target market segments. Determine the nationality of your market, their wants and needs, their budget, etc. Think about whether your target traveler is seeking adventure and physical challenges, luxury and relaxation, or service and learning opportunities. Additionally, you will need to analyze the existing tourism industry in your destination. Especially if your enterprise will work with intermediaries; investigate the existence, success, and business models of tour operators, travel agents, and hotels; as they relative to your business concept to market or sell tourism products.

3. Sales and Marketing Strategy- At this stage of your road map, it is important to determine strategic positioning in terms of the pricing, placement, and promotion strategies of your business. There are numerous factors, both short and long-term to consider for pricing including the value provided compared to that of competitors, the price the market is willing to pay, the revenue needed to enable the business to reach its financial goals, and profit maximization. Your placement, or distribution, may be conducted either through direct or indirect sales. Your promotion strategy will describe the sales and marketing techniques used to reach your target market and should include online and social media marketing.

4. Competitive Analysis- Complete a summary of competing businesses and products, and determine your competitive advantage. Begin by defining your business competition- the people and businesses that offer similar products and services and seek the same markets. Research these competitors and assess their products or services on a number of factors, such as pricing, product quality, and customer service. Porter’s Five Forces Analysis is a useful tool to use for a through investigation of your competition. By assessing your business competition against your proposed enterprise, you will gain a better understanding of where your business stands and how best to leverage your strengths against your competition’s weaknesses. To determine your competitive advantage, simply outline the major advantages that your enterprise holds over the competition.

5. Operations and Training Plan- Consider your business structure and the key personnel and training needs that will be required to support it, while also keeping in mind any legal considerations. Will your enterprise be a private company, a partnership, a limited liability corporation (LLC), a cooperative, a non-profit organization, or an association? There are pluses and minuses to each, and it is extremely important to think carefully to determine the best structure for your enterprise. Once the structure is determined, consider the number of employees needed and the roles and responsibilities of each. Consider the hierarchy of employees in your business and how profits will be shared.  Finally, the legal environment is key to consider; think about potential requirements like business registration, employee/membership agreements, permits, and insurance coverage.

6. Community and Conservation Support- Consider sustainable tourism as a cornerstone to your business plan. Sustainable tourism has the potential to not only mitigate potentially harmful impacts of visitation to a site, but it can also support conservation of the resources upon which it depends. At Solimar, we employ a market-based approach that links jobs and revenue generated by sustainable tourism to support conservation of the resources upon which the tourism depends. To develop a sustainability plan, begin by assessing the conservation threats related to your tourism enterprise. Once these threats have been assessed, you can choose tourism conservation strategies that address those threats, such as an environmental education program or a trail monitoring and research program. Lastly, be sure to budget for the implementation of your sustainability plan, including salaries, equipment, materials, and trainings.

7. Key Milestones and Workplan- Lastly, now that your business plan has been fully considered, you can create a timeline of the major activities related to the establishment of your enterprise and its tour products and services. Create a comprehensive list of the milestones to be completed for the successful establishment of your business and determine the order in which they shall be addressed. With each milestone completed, you are one step closer to being the proud founder of a great tourism business!

Solimar has been talking a lot about our work with integrated marketing programs recently, so you might be wondering, what exactly is an integrated marketing program? And why is it important?

Simply put, an integrated marketing program in the travel trade is a comprehensive marketing solution specifically designed to ensure that all messaging and communications are unified across all channels and strategically focused to attract the customer- travelers.

It is a concept based on the principles of inbound marketing: providing valuable content to highly targeted consumers, which attracts and engages them, moving them down the funnel towards buying your services , product or in our case- a destination. This way, businesses and destinations spend their valuable resources in the most productive way, and consumers are delighted by content relevant to their interests.

There are seven essential steps to creating a great integrated marketing program, each of which Solimar makes a point to include in the programs we develop, like in Namibia and Rwanda. Through these steps, your business will be able to develop and maintain a simple yet productive integrated marketing campaign. They are:

1. Marketing Strategy – After a thorough analysis of the business or destination’s features and attraction, an integrated marketing strategy must be developed. The strategy will serve as a roadmap for the implementation of an integrated marketing program—and should be tailored to your product’s needs. The strategy should integrate social media, search engine optimization, blogging, content and lead nurturing, public relations and trade relations.

2. Brand Analysis – Prior to implementing any integrated campaigns, a specific brand or logo should be developed in order to improve your look and focus your message.

3. Website and Content Development – Once a consumer finds your website, the goal is to make it so captivating that they want to stay on the site, engage in your content, and share it with others. To do this, both content and a schedule for posting it should be generated.

4. Social Media Strategy and Blogging – Social media gives you a place to talk to your consumers before they travel, while they travel, and after they have returned. This includes social networks, blogs, micro-blogging sites, and third party sites. It is important to determine the best channels to use for your target markets, and what content to post.

5. Creative Campaigns – With all pieces of your marketing foundation in place, now is the time to develop and implement creative campaigns and sweepstakes designed to draw visitors to both your site and social media platforms, while synchronizing your marketing message and brand value for maximum effectiveness.

6. PR/Media Outreach Strategy – In creating a PR/Media strategy, it is important to employ simple but effective monitoring tools to allow you to identify influencers in your market. Then you can “listen” to the conversations taking place online, join ongoing conversations, build trust, and demonstrate expertise. It is critical to develop a database of contacts and design effective outreach campaigns to reach local and national media, relevant bloggers, guidebooks, and sales intermediaries.

7. Trade Distribution Strategy – If you work with business to business (B2B) sales, it is most effective to take your relationships online by developing a dynamic database that tracks all communication with trade partners; from the initial email/call, to in-person meetings at trade shows, and shares on social media sites by each partner. Having a detailed record of your communication history with your partners helps you strengthen your business relationships.

In sum, integrated marketing programs provide an effective and streamlined solution to marketing, which is thus more productive for both the businesses and the consumers. They create a pleasant marketing/consumption experience, ultimately leading to more concrete results for businesses.

The importance of sustainable tourism development is increasingly recognized throughout the sector. However, it has been a challenge for many organizations to integrate sustainability into tourism management and operations.

Here are a few tips and examples on how to incorporate sustainability in your destination’s tourism management and operations.

Involve Local Residents and Communities in Tourism Planning

Sustainable tourism development requires the participation of local residents and businesses at the planning stage. By consulting with local stakeholders, you gain their support and reduce conflict as the plan progresses.

In Solimar’s Geotourism projects, which seek to highlight the unique culture and heritage of a region through the voices and stories of the people that live there, local residents are invited to nominate places of interest. This provides more economic benefits to local businesses especially those that are less known. The nominations are reviewed by a Stewardship Council, composed of representatives from the region, before being used to create an interactive website, a MapGuide, and a Smartphone app.

Establish Partnerships with Different Stakeholders

Effective collaboration among different stakeholders from the government, tourism boards, businesses, and local communities is crucial to successful sustainable tourism management and operations. This facilitates a more balanced system of decision making as the priorities of various sectors are considered.

To assist Uganda in tourism development, Solimar actively involved stakeholders from each part of the tourism and conservation sectors. The cooperation among the stakeholders was important to enhance tourism products, build strong community enterprises, strengthen linkages among different attractions, and bolster the success of the program.

Develop Products Based on the Destination’s Strengths

What are the local assets that your destination can highlight? Destination assessment should be conducted to identify the strengths of a destination and determine the best tourism products based on the findings.

In our destination assessment for the Sierra de la Gigante region, Solimar and RED Sustainable Travel identified potential conservation models that leverage the region’s strengths in order to address conservation goals and provide economic opportunities for the local population.

Strengthen Local Capacity to Manage Tourism

Sustainable tourism management and operations need to equip local businesses with skills to succeed. Workforce development and training is therefore integral to a successful strategy.

To strengthen the capacity of the Ethiopia Sustainable Tourism Alliance (ESTA), Solimar conducted workshops and created materials to train personnel in using the necessary tools and activities to implement community tourism in Ethiopia.

Target High-Yield Market Segments

High visitor numbers aren’t inherently valuable for your destination. In sustainable tourism management and operations, it is important to serve the proper target markets. Fortunately, there has been a growth in the number of travelers who demand more responsible travel and have higher visitor expenditure.

The Namibia North American Destination Marketing Campaign targeted travelers who would most appreciate the country’s strong conservation and special interest selling points. These include curious conservationists and experience seekers. This is why a destination assessment of strengths is so important—you must know what you are marketing and to whom.

Use Guidelines to Limit Impact

Creating guidelines is important in sustainable tourism management and operations. It not only helps the destination preserve its ecological value, but also helps businesses limit their negative environmental and socio-cultural impacts. Educating visitors and locals on best-practices matters.

Solimar is part of the Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria (GSTC) Initiative , which fosters increased understanding of sustainable tourism practices and promotes the adoption of universal sustainable tourism principles.

“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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