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:
- 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
- Members only research and intelligence
- DMO annual report and plans
- 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.
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:
- Make sure you have an internal on-boarding process — Who will process and approve new member applications, and how will new members be welcomed?
- 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
- 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:
- Content on your website dedicated to partner communication
- Member-only events
- Separate social media channels to communicate with partners
- Member newsletter
- Annual membership survey
- Annual DMO report
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.”