Category: Tourism Development

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.” 

Stakeholder Participation

This blog post was authored by Sophie Levy, Matt Clausen, and Mica Pacheco and is a summary of Week 3 and 4 in Solimar’s DMO Development Program happening in Georgia during the summer of 2020. The topics of these two weeks covered DMO Governance and Board Development. Check out the link above to learn more about what Solimar is doing to train DMOs all across the globe.

Arguably the most important aspect of a successful, world-class Destination Management Organization (DMO) is strong governance and leadership development. By implementing clear policies, systems, and processes, DMOs explicate responsibilities, ensure standard practices, and optimize the performance of the organization. As a catalyst for growth, DMOs should enlist the help of skillful board members that enthusiastically advocate on behalf of the organization’s mission, values, and purpose. In recognition of the importance of good governance and leadership development, Solimar dedicated the third and fourth weeks of its DMO Development Program to defining the roles of the DMO board and director and presenting strategies to effectively recruit and govern members of the Board.  

The following items are key documents your DMO to prepare for excellent governance and board management practices, explained in more detail below: 

  • Articles of Incorporation and Bylaws
  • Job descriptions for your board, staff, volunteers, and officers
  • A responsibility and decision matrix 
  • Standard of ethics and conflict of interest policy
  • Board policy orientation document 
  • Board policy orientation presentation 

What is Governance and Why Do DMOs Need This? 

Governance comprises many key elements, including accountability, transparency, involvement, structure, effectiveness, and power. DMOs are obligated to justify and account for their programs and activities to earn trust and prove reliability with stakeholders. Candor and transparency in operations and communications builds trust with stakeholders by providing insight into the decision-making process. Inviting all stakeholders to participate in the DMOs activities and programs not only elevates inclusivity but also advances individual stakeholders’ investment in the organization. Defined organizational structure positions a DMO to effectively evaluate results that subsequently help them to reach their goals and objectives and clarify power dynamics to preserve leadership cooperation. By detailing governance, DMOs optimize how, who, why, and what they administer. 

Understanding the Purpose of the Governing Documents

By implementing a good set of governing documents, the DMO will be able to grow and provide an effective framework for all current and future officers and board members. These documents are not only meant to establish the organization as a legal entity, but they are also used to define the governance model and clearly explain how decisions will be made and by whom. There are two main documents that DMOs use to establish themselves- the Articles of Incorporation and the Bylaws.

  • The Articles of Incorporation are a legal document filed with a government authority that legally establishes the organization
  • The Bylaws are a document that states how the organization will be governed.

Through these documents, the organizations will clearly define and state the roles, rules, and processes that are needed in the activities of the organization. Such rules should include clauses for conflict of interest policies, board nomination/elections processes, and board and staff evaluation policies. 

What is the Role of the DMO Director to Manage Your Board? 

The DMO Director serves as the catalyst to growth, organization, and productivity of the Board. While the Board is legally and ethically responsible for all activities of the organization, the DMO Director leads all daily decisions, establishes and executes short-term goals, and recommends best practices and strategies for long-term objectives. Board members have an array of responsibilities which include:

  • attaining a thorough understanding of the mission and values of the organization,
  • promoting its growth and development,
  • actively attending and contributing to Board meetings,
  • participating in and amplifying fundraising efforts,
  • familiarizing themselves on current tourism trends and concerns, and
  • upholding their commitment to conflict of interest and confidentiality policies.

The DMO Director serves as the supervisor and educator to Board members as they achieve all of these action items. In this way, the DMO Director advances the mission, values, and vision of the organization through exceptional leadership. Establishing clear job descriptions for each of these roles is critical to ensuring your board members understand their responsibilities, while creating a responsibility and decision matrix is an even better way to understand who in the organization has responsibilities for completing specific tasks.

Understanding the Importance of Establishing Clear Board Policies and Board Orientation 

The most critical of the early steps is setting clear expectations. The best way to do this is to develop a Board Policy Orientation document that the director provides to each new board member. This document states the mission and vision of the organization, policies (everything from recruiting new board members to smoking on the premises), and a wealth of other information new recruits will need to better understand his or her role within the DMO. You can develop performance expectation policies to make this clear to your board. 

Expectations of the Board should center around three responsibilities: 

  1. The duty of care to actively participate in decision-making with intentions to progress the organization’s mission, vision, and values.
  2. The duty of loyalty to reject personal biases or relationships and adhere to the best recommendations for the organization. 
  3. The duty of obedience to comply with local, regional, and national laws. 

By proactively setting these expectations, organizations produce high levels of support and passionate advocates within their Board and ensure effective team dynamics that is critical to the success of your organization. New board members will need to be introduced to the DMO’s mandate, strategy, and priorities, so it’s vital that the DMO Director prepare and deliver a presentation that summarizes the DMO’s role and focus in the destination. With conscientious policies, processes, expectations, and on-boarding, the DMO Director produces a foundation for success and progressive leadership. 

Tips for Recruiting and Electing Board Members 

When recruiting and electing board members, the DMO should focus on getting a variety of people from different sectors to create a board that can facilitate and effectively help with the myriad of issues and events that come forward in a given time. A DMO should look for people who are passionate about the region and will give the volunteer position the time and attention it requires. The DMO needs to make sure that the rules from the governing documents are laid out beforehand for full transparency (i.e. conflict of interest policies). This can be reinforced through evaluations of your board.

In summation, when creating a diverse board, the DMO should also focus on creating an open and inclusive environment where members of the board can speak their ideas truthfully and be given the attention their statements merit. 

In January of this year, many destination management organizations (DMOs) might have expressed similar grievances when considering the current state of tourism: overcrowding, mass tourism, and unchecked growth threatening to overwhelm the natural and cultural heritage of a place. With the travel industry enjoying nearly a decade of unfettered growth, most DMOs were learning how to respond to too many tourists, rather than too few. Today, however, the problem has reversed: globally, COVID-19 has resulted in the decline of international arrivals by 30% and financial losses totaling $2 trillion for 2020 alone (Gössling et al 2020). The World Tourism Organization predicts even greater financial hardship for destinations whose economies primarily rely on tourism. The question for DMOs everywhere has become: What now?

As part of Solimar’s DMO Development Program, our team spent the second week of a 16-week long course discussing how DMOs should respond to the challenges posed by COVID-19 within their own communities. Void of tourists and international visitors, what responsibility does a DMO have for continuing to manage a destination? When is it appropriate to begin marketing efforts again? Who should the primary market be–international visitors or local tourists? How can DMOs prepare for future crises? What did tourism actually do for the destination–and what can we do differently this time around?

All of these questions and more were addressed in this learning program, with a focus on utilizing a three-step COVID-19 recovery program to help DMOs navigate an entirely new challenge:

  1. Respond to the immediate challenges and needs arising from the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on the tourism sector for both visitors and residents.
  2. Restart the tourism industry by addressing immediate steps necessary to begin bringing visitors back to your destination. 
  3. Reimagine tourism’s potential to sustainably transform your destination 

DMOs should prepare to be global leaders by responding to its residents and visitors throughout the pandemic, restarting the tourism industry, and reimagining the future of tourism in a post-COVID-19 era. Here’s how they can do it:.


Communicate health guidelines

Ten recovery, health, and safety recommendations for Adventure Travel from the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA). These recommendations are focused on tour operators, service providers, nature-based accommodations, and guides offering adventure and nature-based tourism activities.  The European Travel Commission created a response plan to the COVID, joining forces with associate members and partners to provide useful webinars and data to help National Tourism Organizations and DMOs navigate challenges now and in post-crisis times. DMOs are a catalyst for best practices and information to the public and private sectors. 

National testing and tracing

Greece has suggested that travelers be tested for Covid-19 three days before departure. This would limit the number of people in the airport itself and would also reduce the hassle of having testing done in an airport. The COVID-19 National Preparedness Plan for the island nation of Barbados includes a curfew preventing people from leaving their homes to limited movement during the day. DMOs should be leaders in establishing ways to protect visitors and residents from COVID through testing, tracing, and minimizing the impact. 

Support business liquidity with access to finance

Destination X is creating new virus-safe attractions, preparing for a new standard of hygiene, and determining which technologies can regulate social distancing. There are ways to help local businesses while still practicing social distancing during the coronavirus outbreak. Ordering merchandise from destinations online and creating tourism gift cards/packages at discount prices are just some ideas that businesses can begin to use to ensure safety and well-being while responding to economic challenges.

Create a social safety net to support unemployed tourism workforce

The UNWTO launched a call for action for tourism’s COVID-19 mitigation and recovery with 23 actionable recommendations focused on retaining jobs, establishing financial stimulus, and preparing for a resilient tomorrow. The ultimate crisis survival guide for hotels displays how to sustain operations, control expenses, retain essential staff, and keep the property clean for guests and the workforce. During a crisis like this, DMOs must sustain its workforce and presence in the face of the challenge. 


COVID Clean and Safety Industry Training and Certification

Travel industry guidelines for sectors reopening provide some big picture advice on what’s most important to prioritize, such as providing physical distancing for customers or workers, depending on the context for each industry segment and region. Sardinia, Italy considers a ‘health passport’ requirement for any tourists entering the region to provide a safe environment for holidaymakers and residents of Sardinia. Consider what guidelines and symbols of safety are required to reopen and make visitors feel safe to travel again. 

Domestic Marketing Campaigns

New Zealand has been praised as a global leader in creating an effective Covid-19 response plan. New Zealand employed a nationwide campaign to encourage local engagement, development of data to learn more about the domestic audience, and content partnerships with key media outlets. The domestic market will likely be one of the first to bounce back post-COVID-19, so it is important to focus on this visitor profile in planning efforts. 

Bilateral Agreements for International “travel bubbles”

This is the idea that several countries or destinations can make a COVID-19 free “travel bubble” that will allow visitors free travel between destinations. This is being created in several areas, including between New Zealand and Australia and among EU member countries. Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia also joined together to create a baltic travel bubble. 

Adapt marketing messages to emphasize safety and remoteness

Sedona, Arizona created Safe. Clean. Ready certificates, window stickers, logos, and customized posters to incentivize other local DMOs to safely reopen and advertise their destination. Madrid, Spain is focusing marketing efforts on residents and neighboring communities. Educate visitors on how to resume travel safely, find new target audiences, and creatively engage with the local markets.


Strengthen Tourism Commitment to Supporting Conservation

The European Commission Strategic Response Plan (Part V) is reimagining tourism with sustainability in mind, emphasizing sustainable transport and improved connectivity, diversifying the tourism offer, extending off-season opportunities, developing sustainability skills for tourism professionals, and advertising unexplored landscapes and cultures across Europe. Consider small changes such as adding a dollar to visitors’ bill to donate to conservation or strengthen partnerships with conservation organizations. 

Avoid over-tourism and improve visitor management 

The Travel Foundation is putting communities back at the center of tourism. The task of rebuilding tourism gives us a once-in-a-generation opportunity to rebalance it. While issues of over-tourism and unchecked growth may now seem a distant memory, the “weight” of tourism will return, and with it, renewed pressure on destinations struggling to cope or trying to figure out what their growth trajectory may look like. European Cities Marketing “A New Tomorrow” Initiative. The purpose is to share ideas and challenges, find inspiration in new practices and different approaches, and envision together with all of their members a new future of destinations rebuilt and conventions reimagined to meet new traveler preferences and behavior. 

Listen to residents to put tourism on their terms/ addressing complaints 

COVID-19 brought the annual 30 million tourists in Venice, Italy to a halt. Now, residents are taking this opportunity to reimagine what tourism could look like to cultivate a sustainable and enjoyable culture, character, and city. We Are Here Venice has been campaigning to prevent overcrowded tourism that brings severe floods with it. Take some time to prioritize and promote a better quality of life for both residents and visitors in your DMO. 

COVID-19 is unlike any challenge DMOs or their destinations have faced before. However, by embracing this unique opportunity to reimagine their economic possibilities, environmental conservation policies, and community engagement efforts, DMOs can help ensure a sustainable tourism industry for visitors and locals alike. As liaisons between the national government and the tourism industry, DMOs can do more than just navigate their community through COVID-19, but actively work to initiate and implement structural changes to transform their destinations into global leaders of sustainable tourism practices. By proactively preparing for mass tourism, unchecked growth, and the inevitability of a future crisis, DMOs will emerge stronger in the post-COVID-19 world. 

For more recommendations on how DMOs can respond, restart, and reimagine their industry during the COVID-19 crisis, check out Solimar’s DMO Development Program

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