Category: Tourism Development

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

What Defines a Destination

What Defines a Destination?

Destinations and the journeys that accompany them are continually adapting and diversifying for the coming trends in travel. Destination management has become increasingly important as tourism leaders coordinate the management of all elements that make up a destination, including the attractions, amenities, access, marketing, and pricing. But what actually defines a particular place from a tourism perspective? The following aspects factor into the many ways we explore and adventure through a destination to ultimately shape its identity.

1. Location 

Where a destination is located is the most obvious factor. Geographically, destinations can be defined as individual towns, cities, regions (such as states), countries or routes comprised of multiple locations often linked together through a particular theme.  Destinations that are part of a larger route will often partner with other businesses and vendors to create a more streamlined and accessible experience for travelers.  To learn more about the creation of a route where businesses are partnering together, read more about Solimar’s work along the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail.

2. Attractions 

Destinations are also often defined by the area’s attractions. If your location is famous for its national parks, for example, consider centering management efforts around carrying capacity to protect biodiversity while reducing overcrowding to ensure an enjoyable visitor experience. The key attractions of a place is also vital for establishing a brand identity and marketing to potential customers. 

For example, the owner of a hotel in Armenia may recognize that their clientele is mainly travelers with an appreciation for the country’s local culture and gastronomy. This hotel might partner with local businesses that offer master classes in local handicrafts or wineries that offer tastings, and create a package with these stakeholders. This strategy creates a more attractive experience for visitors while encouraging them to stay longer and increase their spending. 

 3. Target Market 

It is crucial to remain cognizant of the buyer persona when creating, marketing and defining a tourism destination. Are people coming to your destination to relax, to learn, or to explore? Emerging destinations may choose to analyze their suppliers by conducting data analytics online or by doing market research collection through the use of customer surveys. This research will provide excellent insight into partnership opportunities, pricing structures and target markets. 

Over the years, Solimar International has consulted with hundreds of tourism destinations and destination management organizations to help them in their journey towards developing and operating in a sustainable way. Read more about some of our projects here


Sustainability in business has become a major priority in the global objective to better care for our planet. With tourism being one of the largest industries, it must play a major role in emphasizing this need. Done sustainably, tourism can provide economic growth for communities and businesses while also creating support for the conservation of natural and cultural resources. While there is no one correct way to develop a tourist destination, doing so in a way that balances the needs of residents, businesses, tourists, and ecosystems provides some extra considerations for the governments that allocate land use. Therefore, it is critical that countries learn from each other in their pursuit towards accomplishing this goal.

Solimar and the World Bank recently worked together to document a series of case studies intended to help governments understand how concession agreements can be used to develop tourism. The document includes research that describes the importance of proper development and provides several case studies of real-world examples from a variety of global destinations. The use of concessions is a common practice in tourism, and The World Bank and Solimar have put their own spin on the subject by emphasizing how these concessions can truly benefit the communities living in and around protected areas. As a result, they have collected information on the importance of sustainable tourism, the role concessions play in tourism, and the evolution of a protected area into a tourist attraction. Utilizing extensive research of various case studies over multiple countries, the document highlights the major insights from a series of practical examples. Our hope is that we will be able to catalyze smarter development by learning from the experiences of others who have done it.

Click here to download a copy of Stimulating Sustainable Development through Tourism Concessions. 

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Leila Calnan, Senior Manager, Tourism Services Cardno Emerging Markets

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