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
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:
Separate social media channels to communicate with partners
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.”
Tourism itself is an experience economy. Social media content and visitor guides are two elements of this experience economy that must work together.
It is important for DMOs to use their social media strategy and visitor guides as a way to give potential visitors a way to imagine an experience in the region. Through the use of social media, a DMO can create content and share information that brings more traffic to their area.
Social Media Practices
The changes in tourism as a result of COVID-19 have demonstrated the importance of the use of social media in tourism marketing. Social media allows DMOs to have conversations and share information with both their potential visitors and their local constituents. Through the use of social media channels, a DMO can:
build and maintain communities of interest,
collect user-generated content (UGC),
display photography and videos,
distribute topical news stories,
emphasize current events and campaigns,
encourage word-of-mouth recommendations, and
These goals are best realized by a DMO when the organization has a presence on all major social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram).
Social Media Content Strategy
A social media content strategy is designed so that DMOs can plan posts and content over a specific period of time. This helps the organization think strategically about its monthly, quarterly, and annual goals. DMOs should be scheduling 2-4 posts a week with at least one blog post per month (when applicable). Hashtags and tags should be used in posts to make the region’s DMO page more accessible and bring about a central message. Additionally, a unified voice should be maintained to create a consistent flow of content, all with the oversight of a peer review system to ensure all posts are kept professional and approachable. The DMO should also periodically check its analytics on their posts to see what performs well and what doesn’t, and adjust accordingly.
In the social media module of the DMO Development Course, Anne Robertshaw spoke on the importance of this relatively new form of marketing. She emphasized that no DMO is “too late to start social media platforms.” Her interview gave insight into how DMOs should use social media to promote their diverse regions while also highlighting of its product offerings.
Visitor guides are complementary — and essential — tools for communicating with a destination’s audience and appealing to potential visitors. Think of it as the ultimate advertising booklet for your destination: a good or bad visitor guide can make or break your marketing efforts.
When creating a concept for the optimal visitor guide for your region, consider having a compelling cover that will draw the eye of visitors — one that tells a story about your destination. In coming up with potential content to add, be sure to interview important people in the service community (i.e. chefs, artists, historians) to not only highlight the amazing people in the region, but also indirectly advertise their businesses.
It is also critical to include a map in the guide. With a well-detailed and visually appealing map, the visitor guide will create a sense of place and orientation to those who read it. This map can also be used by the DMO to highlight attractions, businesses, trails, art districts, and any other sites in the region. Map making is a great tool to bring tourism stakeholders together to create a tangible project
In Solimar’s Week 12 Module on Visitor Guides through our virtual DMO Development Course, Ronda Thiem and Katy Spining of Madden Media spoke on the importance of visitor guides. Spinning stated that to make a good visitor guide, there should be extra pages that allow for the publication of “authentic experiences of your destination with potential visitors.” Additionally, Theim recommended interviewing local community members about their favorite attractions in the destination. For instance, an interview with a chef from the community will entice visitors to visit the local restaurants that have been recommended.
Much like social media marketing, visitor guides have to be authentic and represent the core message of the DMO — and the destination itself. Be consistent and use a unified voice through the messaging sent along via social media and visitor guides so that visitors can set their expectations. After that, trust that the destination’s attractions and stakeholders will offer products and services that help these expectations to be exceeded.
As the Internet grows in popularity and usage around the world, so has its impact on destination marketing and on tourism as an industry. The web has changed how tourists search for information about destinations and plan trips and has paved the way for the business development of online travel agencies (OTAs) such as Expedia, Hotwire and Priceline. Other world-renowned companies like TripAdvisor, AirBNB, and Google Maps have also been major benefactors of the growth of internet marketing in tourism.
For DMOs, the Internet has become the major information dissemination and marketing tool. A DMOs website not only helps the organization market its destination, but it is also an important tool that provides benefits to its members.
Best Practices of DMO Website Development
In building and promoting a website, DMOs must remain fluid and continuously adapt to ever-changing tourism (and technological) trends. Remaining cognizant of this adaptivity will allow websites to remain up-to-date.
When updating your website, DMOs should follow these steps:
Make an impression – To get the attention of a client, DMOs need to capture their potential client’s eye with a memorable experience. This may be anything from a well-formatted design to scenic pictures.
Reinforce your tourism brand – DMO marketing experts need to showcase their brand essence. Consider what image the DMO puts forth and how you want to be perceived by potential visitors.
Use your home page as a launch pad – The home page is the first thing that visitors see. Be sure to keep it updated and have relevant content.
Use clear and easy navigation – Make sure that the site is organized in way that makes it easy for potential clients to navigate to the conversion page (which in this case would be the Book a Trip page). Content can be organized in many different ways (ie: places to visit, things to do, where to stay, etc). Test different ideas and find the best categorization for your destination.
Highlight your seasons – Visitors want to travel to a region during its best and most beautiful seasons. When organizing your website, be sure to consider the different sites and activities in your destination for each season. For example, Breckenridge, Colorado is a ski destination but does a fine job highlighting its summer attractions in the middle of the year.
Make sure you are speaking the language of your target markets – To attract more people, add more languages to your website.
Geo-reference your content – Many people may not familiar with your destination, so make sure to utilize maps when promoting attractions and sites. This will allow the visitor to understand where they are and nearby points of interest around the area, creating an easier travel plan.
Use blogging to create travel inspiration and increase web traffic – This is a great way to be the storyteller of your destination and provide visitors with inspiration and anecdotal stories.
Let travelers provide social proof and real photos – User-generated content — real photos from real travelers — shows the uniqueness of destination through the eyes of its most important asset, it’s visitors.
How to Prepare and Plan for your Website Design/Development Project
Before building a website, DMO’s should first meet with its governing board to obtain buy-in and sign off on the site as the decision makers. After funding is established, a website team should be formed with a small group of leaders, each with different roles within the community’s tourism industry. From there, wireframes, a content model, and editorial calendars are to be developed to better outline the project. Use the tips stated above to organize all data before bringing the outline to a website developer.
It is important to identify any specific functionality that will be required by the DMOs website, such as forms, languages, user login, e-commerce, etc. Finally, it is imperative that a DMO request proposals from various web agencies to find the one that will best fit their needs and time restraints.
Our expert interview on this topic welcomed Wes Rhea, the CEO of Stockton CVB. Wes offered valuable insight into why it is essential for DMOs to design and operate their own website, and his words help to summarize this sometimes overwhelming topic. “DMOs need to position [themselves] as the expert of the destination and not give that power to anybody else.” Wes said. “You need to be able to tell your story in your own way”
Visitor services centers, or welcome centers, are designed to provide information and aid to any current or potential tourists within a destination and its surrounding areas. The center acts as the main point of contact for tourists’ travel planning inquiries, as well as a place where local businesses and travel agencies can go to promote their products and services. Week 7 of Solimar’s DMO Development Course with the Republic of Georgia provided a platform for participants to learn best practices in building a tourism information center.
Best Practices and Service from a Visitor Center
There are questions aplenty that tourism leaders must consider when envisioning how a visitor center should operate, and many of the answers are dependent on the destination’s offerings. Considerations include opening hours, number of staff onsite, kinds of local merchandise sold, size of the center itself, and availability of parking and bathrooms. While this is not an exhaustive list, a DMO is guaranteed to make many more decisions when creating and designing an outstanding visitor center.
The types of services that a DMO can provide in a visitor center include:
Creating and printing collaterals and maps,
Providing key information (where to go, what to do, where to stay, events, planning your trip, etc.),
Answering phone, email and social media inquiries,
Public services (parking, bathrooms, wifi, etc),
Complaints and mediation with the tourism industry, and
Social customer service
Tourism Information Centers: Where To Go & What To Do
A locale’s tourism information center can play a variety of roles, and it should automatically be considered a key player in the development and marketing of a destination. Although a center could do all of or more than the aforementioned services, it may also play a role in expanding the number or variety of places visited within a destination. For example, someone visiting Philadelphia is likely to visit popular destinations like the Liberty Bell or Independence Hall. An information center is an ideal resource for a visitor to learn about lesser known attractions in Philadelphia (or any area), such as Penn’s Landing or Once Upon a Nation. DMOs should use its visitor center as a tool to create a demand and get people visiting less popular areas – therefore increasing visitor spending.
Ideally, a visitor center should take some time to research the needs of possible guests. How can the center be most useful? What are the visitors’ greatest needs? What is missing? In some cases, a visitor center may be as simple as a short rest area with restrooms, air conditioning, and wifi. Others may function as an information hub with hard copies of guides and maps and ticket sales. Some may even further contribute to revenue by the sale of merchandise. Taking the time to measure potential impact will likely support the information center in the end.
Expert Interview with Norbert Käthler
As part of Solimar’s DMO Development Program with DMOs in Georgia and Armenia, our remote learning course features a weekly interview with an industry expert. This week, we interviewed Norbert Kathler, the Managing Director of Trier Tourism and Marketing in Trier, Germany. His overarching advice is to be authentic with your destination. You have just one brand – what does this brand mean, and what does it mean to say to the world? Although you may have different messaging focused on various market segments, like foreign or domestic tourists, authenticity with your destination brand is most important. Work to develop one strong brand that helps you market to a variety of visitors.
On the same wavelength, Kathler also advises destinations to integrate into local networks. Integrating the part of the community that benefits from tourism with the part that lacks a relationship with tourism is critical to fostering open dialogue and mutual benefits among different divisions of an area. The role of a DMO is to act as a moderator and find a way to tie the community’s relationship with tourism together.
While there are a wide variety of benefits within a visitor or tourist center, the greatest may be its potential. Just as not every destination functions the same as the next, these information centers come with a variety of options for how it will serve and assist guests, all while benefiting the destination and its community. Being malleable in a destination’s goals is more important than ever with the unique travel circumstances brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic. Guests rely more than ever on an informed and developed information center as a core asset to any outstanding destination.
Creating a long-term plan for a destination is critical to ensuring that a Destination Management Organization (DMO) is actively and continuously serving the needs and dealing with the challenges in a community. Creating a Destination Management Plan (DMP) helps a DMO to establish goals, measure against targets, and recruit people who are interested in a project or business, all of which encourage active involvement from people and businesses outside of government.
A stakeholder is a person with an interest or concern in something, especially a business. When working with businesses that are members of a DMO, highlighting services is key to maintaining their interest. If stakeholders feel they aren’t receiving benefits from their membership, they are unlikely to want to stay on as members year after year. Participatory planning is crucial to obtaining buy-in and support from stakeholders. Plan to recruit private-sector businesses and other stakeholders for an in-person workshop over the span of several days in order to collaboratively identify priority issues, opportunities, and a shared vision for the future. When workshops aren’t possible, extensive surveying of stakeholders can be used to better understand the opinions and priorities for those in a DMO area. Using this technique, one can correctly analyze the extent of the reach a DMO service provides and adapt to what the community needs.
Outputs – recording steps taken in a systematic way.
Outcomes – checking the results of specific actions, which may relate to specific performance indicators
Impacts – relating back to overall policy objectives and plan targets, which may be encapsulated in general indicators of levels of tourism and development.
Workshops are a key part of participatory planning, ensuring that DMO staff and local stakeholders are on the same page about where the destination wants to go and what it should represent. Visioning exercises are excellent ways for tourism leaders to ensure that their ideas align with stakeholders. Here are some visioning guidelines to follow:
Visions are always holistic and appeal to the community’s spirit
Visions have realistic goals
Plans react to data whereas visions react to creativity
A vision shows where you want to go and a plan tells you how to get there
Key to responsible and sustainable destination planning is surveying DMO members, local residents, and visitors frequently. These groups are your primary stakeholders, and their opinions in turn should drive your own organization’s decisions about what is important and where the value lies in your model.
Ultimately, destination planning is all about participation. How can a DMO ensure that the opinions and experiences of local stakeholders– visitors, businesses, and residents — are taken into consideration when planning for destination development?
As part of Solimar’s DMO Development Program in the Republic of Georgia and Armenia, our team has had the chance to interview tourism experts from around the world on weekly topics. This week, we interviewed Kristin Dahl, Vice President of Destination Development for Travel Oregon, and discussed the many aspects of destination planning. Dahl mentioned that Travel Oregon is “not just promoting heads and beds, but we’re really concerned about the economic well-being of everyone in our communities and how tourism can be a driving force for that sustainable economic development.”
Why is it important for destinations to have a plan? Dahl had an insightful response, saying that “Without a plan, it’s really easy to chase the shiny object. Pretty soon you don’t have an end goal. You’re creating space for community stakeholders to come together and talk about what they do and don’t want with respect to visitation and the tourism economy.”
Dahl provided some general advice for DMOs, both new and established, after her many years working in the industry. She recommended that if “you are new in your role, don’t worry about what to do right away. Take some time in the beginning to really listen. Taking the time to really listen to those less expected stakeholders and learn about what they are concerned about and what they are excited about. Take that time to talk to your local public landowners, or gas stations. People you might not think of as a traditional stakeholder.”
Thank you to Kristin Dahl for your helpful insight to destination planning. Click here to read more in this DMO Development Series and learn how destination planning involves managing a budget
“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