Category: Tourism Development

Co-author: Kuanlin Lu

On World Population Day this year, the tourism industry has taken note that while some parts of the world appear to be recovering from the COVID-19, others are still very much entrenched in the fight against the pandemic. As the COVID-19 virus has (as of June 2021) infected 179 million people globally and contributed to 3.9 million deaths (as reported by the World Health Organization), the pandemic continues to compromise health care systems. On a deeper level, the response to the pandemic has exposed deep rooted social and economic inequities.

For two years, the pandemic has been having devastating economic effects on developing countries, especially those dependent on tourism and overseas visitors. According to a recent report from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the sharp decline in international tourism could overall cost the global economy between $1.7 and $2.4 trillion this year, depending on the actual rollout of vaccines that currently affects emerging countries.

Tourism helps with childhood education
Source: UN Photo/Martine Perret

World Population Day is celebrated every year on July 11th with an objective to raise awareness of population issues across the globe. It was established by the then-Governing Council of the United Nations Development Programme in 1989. By resolution 45/216 of December 1990, the United Nations General Assembly decided to continue observing World Population Day to enhance awareness of population issues, including their relationship to the environment and development. Since 1990, the world’s population has increased from about 5.3 billion to 7.7 billion in 2019, and is projected to exceed 9.7 billion by 2050. All the while, population and development issues surrounding rights, health and choices have gained prominence in the public debate. Some of these challenges include:

World Population Day and tourism
New York City (Source: James Ting on Unsplash)

Recent demographic trends at a global level have also resulted in the quick expansion of urbanization and accelerating migration due to the increased conflicts over resources. Many people risk their lives to move to another country seeking asylum and an environment for better health care, education and employment opportunities. Perhaps most importantly, these people are looking for a safer and stable home. 

In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, gender-based violence increased under lockdown as did the risk of child marriage and female genital mutilation, according to the United Nations. In its most recent flagship report State of World Population 2021 “My Body is My Own,” the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) underlines how only about half of adolescent girls and women in developing countries can make their own decisions that underpin bodily autonomy and integrity. With health systems under huge pressure at a global level, reproductive and maternal health was often put aside during the pandemic. A World Health Organization (WHO) survey showed how family planning services was one the most extensively disrupted health services globally, and a medical review found increases in maternal deaths and stillbirths since the pandemic began, with great disparity between high and low-resource countries. 

Many people also lost their jobs amid these challenging times, leading to the destabilization of their financial status and widening the gap between the poor and the rich. Significant numbers of women also left the labor force as caregiving responsibilities for children learning remotely or for homebound older people increased, thus destabilized their finance situations. Overall, the crash in tourism is expected to cause a 5.5% increase in unemployment for unskilled labor on average. The UNWTO estimates that between 100 million and 120 million direct tourism jobs are at stake, many of them belonging to young people, women and informal workers.

Many women around the world lost their jobs as tourism shut down
Many women around the world lost their jobs as tourism shut down (Source: UN Photo/Martine Perret)

Beyond raising awareness around World Population Day, urgent action must be taken for the betterment of all the world’s citizens.

Improve education opportunities for all. 

Around the world, nearly 90% of the population has completed primary education in 2020, though only 39% of the countries have the same number of girls enrolled in secondary education as boys. It is urgent and crucial to ensure that the children, especially girls in any country, have the equal rights to get access to quality education.

Achieve universal health coverage

It is essential to ensure that all people obtain the health services they need without suffering financial hardship when paying for them. For a community and a country to thrive, people must be able to get access to healthcare, clean water and to live under a stable economic and social support system. This includes upholding the rights and dignity of older citizens. The pandemic has wreaked a devastating toll on this generation and highlighted the importance to improve health care and social services for the world’s elders.

Empower people and eliminate barriers to modern contraception 

It is crucial to educate and raise awareness about bodily autonomy and self-determination from an early age to establish a common understanding around these concepts. Limited access to sexual and reproductive health, including unmet need for modern contraception are predicted to result in high rates of unplanned pregnancies and perpetuate the cycle of poverty. 

With just 10% of the world’s population fully vaccinated according to Our World in Data, UNCTAD predicts a 75% reduction in tourist arrivals in countries with low vaccination rates this year, compared with a 37% reduction in countries with more than 50% of their population vaccinated. Overall, experts see international tourism returning to 2019 levels only in 2024 or later. On World Population Day, Solimar International therefore echoes the statement of UNWTO Secretary General Zurab Pololikashvili who reminds us all that “tourism is a lifeline for millions, and advancing vaccinations to protect communities and support tourism’s safe restart is critical to the recovery of jobs and generation of much-needed resources, especially in developing countries”.

Destination development planning

The concept of tourism traces back more than 4,000 years when early civilizations across the world began travelling for commerce and religious purposes. While some say modern day tourism finds its roots in the 17th century, when traveling around Europe became a popular pastime among aristocrats, the industry saw its most monumental growth during the second half of the 20th century. From just 25 million tourist arrivals in 1950, today more than 1.3 billion people worldwide engage in tourism with expected increase to 1.8 by 2030, and a staggering 4 billion predicted by 2040. Tourism is now one of the largest and fastest-growing economic sectors accounting for more than 10% of global GDP and supporting more than 300 million jobs worldwide. 

While tourism offers great potential for overall economic development, proper planning is necessary to reap the benefits of this powerful ever-expanding sector. Destinations must first carry out purposeful, strategic, comprehensive and, most importantly, inclusive planning considering not only how the outside world will see the destinations but also the ethical coalitions between the civil society, businesses and the government to support sustainable growth and long-term success of tourism. Whether a small island state or modern metropolis, successful destination development is by no means an easy task. Effective planning must account for financial as well as environmental and social implications, supporting local livelihoods, protecting destination heritage, bridging the gap between the host and guest, avoiding uncontrolled development all while staying agile and able to quickly adapt to shifting global economic trends and consumer behaviors. 

While the trajectory that the tourism industry will take in the coming months and perhaps years is still unclear due to COVID-19, now is the time to plan and adapt destination planning and development strategies. 

Destination development planning
Destination development planning

HOW to start planning for your destination development?

At Solimar International, we recognize the importance of developing tourism in a way that provides the greatest benefits for all stakeholders while conserving the natural assets for future generations. Strategic planning is critical to determine the scale and type of tourism best suited to the destination yet the process needed to reach this goal is not always straightforward.

Our world is home to thousands of destinations that each attract travelers for their unique features and assets. Diversity is a strength that we must undeniably safeguard – but there is no secret recipe. The first step is therefore to carry out comprehensive destination assessments to understand the issues, identify the key stakeholders, determine the touristic potential and related threats to set the right goals and objectives in line with economic, social and environmentally sustainable practices. The GSTC Destination criteria offers a great starting point for building responsible, fair, equitable and sustainable destinations.  

Tourism planning, however, is never a one-off effort. While it should reflect a strategic long-term direction, it must always remain flexible and leave enough room for adaptation to unforeseen circumstances, changing trends and competition. Think about current consumer behavior changes such as the rising ecological consciousness or the ever-increasing presence of technologies in all aspects of our lives. Inspired by the concept of ‘smart cities’, in recent years much attention has been paid to ‘smart tourism destinations’, emphasizing the importance of incorporating modern technology for sustainable, accessible, improved tourism experiences and, ultimately, increased competitiveness through process automation, demand forecasting, crisis management and productivity increase. Check out European Capital of Smart Tourism initiative to see destinations across Europe adopting smart tourism principles and placing them at the forefront of tourism development. 

One of the two 2020 European Capitals of Smart Tourism - Malaga
One of the two 2020 European Capitals of Smart Tourism – Malaga

Above all, the essence of successful and sustainable destination planning is inclusivity and all stakeholder representation in planning and decision-making processes to ensure the well-being and empowerment of local residents. Learn more about the visioning and planning workshops Solimar has held for destinations such as Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail or Timor-Leste, to develop a shared vision for destination planning. 

WHEN is the right time? 

The rapid sector expansion over the past decades has sent destinations around the globe on a development race competing for tourist dollars in hopes of economic prosperity. Before jumping on board this rapidly moving train, however, there are a number of factors that need to be considered to ensure the feasibility of long-term sustainable tourism development. 

In a comprehensive study, the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) analysed the readiness for tourism growth in 50 cities around the world. Destinations 2030 outlines 75+ factors from tourist attractions and accommodations, to infrastructure, space, connectivity, as well as tourism and overall economic development policies. The consideration of these and other factors is essential to determine how prepared a destination is for tourism growth and resulting challenges. It is important to remember that the destination success potential doesn’t always depend on growing numbers of arrivals but instead hides in efficient resource management to ensure the industry supports local livelihoods. 

Meanwhile, as important as knowing when to start planning for your destination development, it is equally important to know when to hit the brakes. Uncontrolled tourism development may result in waste mismanagement and environmental degradation, rising property prices, traffic and overcrowding, disturbance and social unrest among local residents and overall exceeding of a destination’s carrying capacity. Destinations around the world such as Venice in Italy, Hội An in Vietnam, Machu Picchu in Peru amongst many others are struggling with over-tourism that greatly threatens the long-term sustainability of the industry.

Crowding at Machu Picchu, courtesy of 7 Summits Project

WHO should lead the effort?

Through implementation of policies, regulations and appropriate investment decisions, governments have an important role to play in mitigating these negative impacts of tourism development. Good governance will establish appropriate administrative structures and frameworks for private and public sector cooperation, regulate the protection of heritage, assist in education and training, and will identify clear developmental objectives.

Still, tourism development potential can be hindered by inadequate support from the state, particularly in Global South countries. Moreover, development priorities and agendas will change with every political election cycle, which often shifts the tourism development direction increasing the importance of Destination Management Organizations (DMO) for tourism planning.

A DMO is a strategic leader in a destination – it leads and coordinates activities of different actors and organizations to work towards a common goal. By acting as a mediator and advisor, the DMO brings together resources and expertise to give key stakeholders the tools they need to succeed by developing strategic partnerships between the government, residents, local businesses and NGOs. A DMO will bridge the gap between the residents and visitors to unlock the economic benefits of tourism through collaborative efforts. 

Are you interested in learning more about Solimar’s strategic planning process? Over the past years, we have been supporting many destination planning projects and have recently launched The Institute for Sustainable Destinations, an online training platform designed to support a global network of leaders in developing, managing, and marketing sustainable destinations.

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. 

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Leila Calnan, Senior Manager, Tourism Services Cardno Emerging Markets

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