Tag: Destination Management Organization

The Value of DMOs to Destinations

DMOs play a large role in contributing to a more resilient, inclusive and sustainable approach to tourism and destination development

A Destination Management Organization (DMO) is a non-profit organization that promotes a destination for tourism purposes. DMOs can vary in their official names (visitors bureau, tourist boards, organization of tourism, chambers of commerce) and geographic competence (local, regional, national, or multi-country) but they all have a pivotal role to play in sustainable tourism management. Particularly in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a global shift in the focus of these organizations from marketing to management, and Solimar International is dedicated to supporting them in shaping better travel and tourism. This article defines the value of DMOs to destinations all around the world.

DMOs are first a critical and essential factor in the success of any tourism destination. Following the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) which defines a DMO as the “leading organizational entity which facilitates partnerships with various authorities, stakeholders, and professionals to achieve a unified mission towards a destination’s vision” (UNWTO, 2021). A DMO is therefore closely linked to a tourism destination which the UNWTO sees as “the fundamental unit of analysis in tourism” (UNWTO, 2002), by providing information to visitors on the destination features including available attractions, amenities, and destination residents.

DMOs are organizations such as the Madison County Tourism (NY), the Sedona Chamber of Commerce & Tourism Bureau (AZ), Visit Anchorage (AK), Visit California (CA), or Discover Puerto Rico, which are dedicated to developing tourism around one destination, be it at a county, a metropolitan area, a state, a country or a subcontinent. Given the historic surge in worldwide tourism in recent decades, with more than 1.5 billion people traveling around the world in 2019 (UNWTO, 2020), the value and the role of DMOS has evolved and their importance has amplified.

Photo of Puerto Rico's DMO
Discover Puerto Rico (Source: www.discoverpuertorico.com)

While the primary objective of a DMO lies in destination promotion, defining what a DMO is and its value largely depends on where you are in the world. First and foremost, each destination offers its own unique set of attractions, amenities, and residents. As such, each DMO is therefore unique as it provides specific information on unique experiences. The first-ever DMO, the Detroit Conventions and Businessmen’s League (now known as the Detroit Convention and Visitors Bureau) which was formed in 1896 was unique and different from the Seattle Bureau of Information which was established in 1897 in that they both aimed at designing a tailored plan to maximize opportunities for travel and visit in their respective cities but promoted different activities and adopted different marketing strategies and tactics to advertise their attractiveness. Building economic prosperity and spreading a dynamic image of a destination rests on the unique offerings of that specific destination.

Detr
A moonlight tower in Detroit in the 1890s (Source: www.vintag.es)

Today, the main value of a DMO to a destination consists in its ability to convey specific messages and information at each of the various stages of the travel cycle. By branding its destination, a DMO invests in the DREAMING stage. By providing authority, credibility, and reliability as a source of information, a DMO supports the traveler in its PLANNING stage. A DMO further interacts with a visitor by offering a link or an interface to facilitate the BOOKING stage before directly intervening in the EXPERIENCING phase by engaging with destination stakeholders to ensure consistent delivery. Finally, a DMO is also involved in the SHARING stage of the travel cycle by providing a platform for contacts, reviews, storytelling, posts, and hashtags through social media following a visit.

In other words, a DMO acts not only as an information and services provider but rather as a solution finder for all stakeholders of a specific destination, including its visitors, businesses, public authorities, and local communities. From this angle, a DMO has truly emerged as a key element of success in the development and management of a tourism destination for its added value in branding, strategic planning, tourism policy and product development, cultural heritage dissemination, as well as workforce development, quality control, and crisis management.  From purely marketing initiatives, DMOs have therefore transformed into genuine destination management organizations which effectively and harmoniously address interactions between visitors, industry, community, and resources.

As such, DMOs have the potential to be a vector of positive transformation and genuine change toward more responsible and sustainable tourism. Beyond helping establish a competitive edge for the destination, they are essential to tell a vibrant story and build a strong identity around a destination. They are critical to the development of sustainable tourism management for their capacity to help design an inclusive strategy and to engage with all stakeholders.?

From Key West voting to ban large cruise ships from docking to the Italian government ruling by decree to keep large cruise ships out of Venice lagoon and to Thailand closing its national parks possibly during several months each year to help nature regenerate, there is a global awakening awareness among tourism public and private stakeholders and visitors themselves that tourism must play its part in reducing its carbon footprint and climate impact as well as in solving the various environmental issues it triggers. In 2021, especially after a year that sent people singing songs about their favorite destinations and preventing millions from being able to travel, established destinations and emerging tourism markets have a strong incentive to follow industry best practices. DMOs would be well inspired to follow the initiatives and innovations implemented by various islands which are already quite advanced on the protection of natural resources and the threat of climate change. The New Zealand Tourism Futures Taskforce notably recommends to re-orient the country’s tourism policy to improve ecosystems, provide meaningful jobs, enrich local communities, and respect Maori culture. Likewise, the Jamaican Minister of Tourism has recently voiced out his ambition to act on the imperative to imagine a more inclusive approach to tourism. As such, the value of DMOs to destinations is enormous.

100% Pure New Zealand (Source: www.newzealand.com)

As destinations slowly reopen, the immediate challenge for all DMOs will be to create value for their respective destinations by combining what might seem contradictory imperatives: help manage tourism sustainably while bringing in as many visitors as possible. Only a new vision on the benefit of tourism will have the means to pave a new way forward, especially for stakeholders whose immediate interest, after the pandemic, will be for travelers to travel again and for operators to reconnect with revenues so profitable until then. To learn more about the value of DMOs to destinations and what DMOs can do to pioneer in this new era of tourism, make sure to check out Solimar International’s Virtual DMO Development Program as well as all other courses available at our Institute for Sustainable Destinations

Illustrate Visitor Service Sign

Providing visitor services is an essential function of every Destination Management Organization (DMO)

Destination Management Organizations (DMO) are responsible for the management and marketing of a tourism destination to attract visitors and to offer them a good experience during their stay. One of the key functions of DMOs is the provision of visitor services, before and during the visit to the destination. But why are visitor services so important and what visitor services should a DMO provide? 

Within the booking process, all services and information need to be accessible for visitors. Potential customers may choose another destination if they do not get the information that they need. Therefore, DMOs must provide that role while informing potential visitors of information regarding their trip. DMOs also play an important role in facilitating the booking process, either directly on their website, or with the help of their partners. Apart from the booking period, visitor services can enrich the traveler experience, as more information and help can lead to an improved experience. This can result in a higher interest in returning to the destination and in sharing the experience, either with family and friends or on social media.  Within the destination, visitor services can also increase revenue and the time that tourists spend in the area, as a study from Philadelphia’s visitor center showed. Consequently, visitor services should not be neglected by DMOs as they have a significant impact on tourist satisfaction and revenue. 

There are different types of visitor services and DMOs should strive to provide a combination of them all. First, DMOs should provide materials like print collateral and maps to help customers find their way and to garner interest and demand for specific attractions. Although a tourist searches for information online every second each day, it is still important to provide printed information as many people like being able to hold and engage with the material. Nevertheless, the DMO should ensure the provision of information and services online, and it should become clear on their website what can be done in the destination and where tourists can stay.

 

Illustrate Visitor Service Sign
Visitor Service Sign

 

Providing accommodation with commission from hotel partners, packages, and discount passes on the website can also be beneficial for the DMO itself to gain income but also help the visitor prepare for the trip. The destinations’ website should also offer information about all activities and more specific topics like meetings and conventions so that all target groups can find the information they need. Importantly, customer service should also be provided as well so that concerns and questions can be answered and resolved. For that purpose, DMOs should offer contact possibilities via phone, mail but also social media and answer those inquiries as fast as possible. Customer service on social media platforms is gaining importance, especially for younger customers. DMOs should strive to respond timely, strengthening their brand loyalty through quality digital customer service. Alternative solutions like chatbots, that answer questions or guide customers through everything that they need to know, can also be a beneficial and innovative way to communicate with potential visitors. Regardless of what method is employed, rapid customer service needs to be provided, so that visitors can get the help that they need directly and timely. 

In the destination, tourism information centers are often the first and most important contact point between DMO and visitors. There, tourists can get brochures, help and first-hand tips from staff on what to do and where to go. Furthermore, visitor centers are an important point of sale, where experiences and packages, but also souvenirs, can be purchased. Within the destination, the DMO should ensure that visitors can find their way through the area that they are visiting, which is why signs about important sights and infrastructure should be supplied. Furthermore, public services like parking, toilets, and Wi-Fi should be provided as this allows for a painless, convenient stay. Finally, the DMO should also deal with complaints and conduct meditation if, for example, experiences or tours are not as expected. Providing this to visitors is beneficial and important to decrease potential frustration. 

DMOs should also identify gaps in their services and experiences, led by the question of if marketing is actually reflective of the destination’s marketing. All advertised promises should be fulfilled, otherwise, frustration and disappointment can occur on the visitors’ side. As such, a DMO must critically review their offerings. For example, if they promote themselves as an outdoor destination, they must make sure that trails for hiking or biking paths are accessible. If gaps in deliverance are identified, the DMO must work on developing the infrastructure to sync the expectation with the reality. Also, creating new experiences and packages attracts more visitors with broader interests. The DMO can then work together with partners to deliver and promote the new packages and experiences. The DMO should then help and support their partners with booking, marketing, monitoring, and adjust the experience as needed. An interesting example of a newly developed DMO visitor experience can be found in the city of Fort Worth in Texas, a historical place and connected to cowboys. However this reputation of a cowboy town did not actually reflect any Fort Worth experiences at the time. To live up to their international reputation, the DMO was thus inspired to create a new, engaging experience and hire a herd of Texas longhorn cattle to walk through the main street each day, attracting visitors from all over the world. This is an example of a DMO action that was highly responsive to visitor expectations and their global positioning.

 

Forthworth longhorn herd
Forthworth longhorn herd through town

Picture source: https://www.fortworth.com/blog/post/19-facts-you-didnt-know-about-the-fort-worth-herd/

Visitor services are essential to provide a good tourist experience and DMOs need to ensure that all types of services are available in their destination. Interested in learning more about visitor services in detail? Solimar’s online program in DMO Development emphasizes this topic through a learning course and offers valuable tips on how visitor services should be coordinated to fulfill tourist expectations. Through providing the required information and booking opportunities, answering questions before and during the stay and offering the needed infrastructure and services to developing new experiences, all visitor services need to be considered and can highly influence visitor satisfaction, experience, and expenses, which all benefit the destination. 

Domestic Travel in a COVID travel world

COVID-19 Recovery: Trends in Tourism

The tourism industry has shifted as a result of the pandemic

The summer of 2020 gave everyone hope of a quick recovery for the tourism industry, as COVID-19 cases seemed to drop across the globe and countries dependent on tourism eagerly opened their borders to travelers again. As many experts predicted, cases began to rise in the fall and the world saw a new and more intense wave of the pandemic, and the most cautious of countries like Australia and New Zealand announced their borders would remain shut until at least 2022. Now, more than a year after the pandemic began, the best outcome seems to be a return to pre-pandemic levels of travel by 2023 at the earliest.

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted both the fragility of the tourism industry and its global importance: once representing 1 in 10 jobs and the 2nd fastest growing industry in the world, its near overnight shutdown left many destinations reeling. The beginning of vaccine rollout has given the tourism industry new hope for Covid-19 recovery and a safe return to travel. Already a growing number of countries have started to ease restrictions on travel which is one of the first steps to rebuild tourism and welcome guests. Now the main topic that keeps popping up in every conversation is that the industry cannot go back to ‘normal’–it must become more sustainable and resilient than before.

As much as the whole world is trying to fight the pandemic, countries are developing their own strategies to ensure fast recovery and support the tourism industry. For instance, New Zealand has decided to close its borders completely from April 2020, without any further notice. Meanwhile, countries like Georgia have chosen to welcome tourists who are either fully vaccinated or can show a negative PCR test result at the border. Despite a huge difference in the steps taken to fight the pandemic and keep the tourism industry alive, a few trends seem to be on most countries’ agendas.

Domestic travel

Domestic Travel in a COVID travel world
Domestic Travel in a COVID travel world

Recovery might be slow and highly dependent on countries’ domestic tourism, thus many countries are actively reimagining their tourism sectors, supply chain management, and strategies. It is predicted that domestic tourism will return to its pre-crisis levels one or two years earlier than outbound travel. This is understandable as travel restrictions are significantly less for domestic travel, no Covid tests or vaccines are needed prior to travel, and people generally feel safer when being close to their homes. Countries tend to communicate with their own residents to discover homelands or neighboring countries and support local businesses.

Sustainability and Resilience 

Sustainability & Resilience in Tourism
Sustainability & Resilience in Tourism

The discussion about sustainable tourism has been active long before Covid-19. However, the current situation has put extra emphasis on the fact that the industry needs to change and take multiple aspects into consideration. Now more than ever, topics such as environmental protection, workforce development, community building, economic security and capacity building are on every country’s agenda. The need for a diverse tourism industry that is not only dependent on outside factors has become very clear. 

Read more about community based tourism in our article about the lessons from Timor-Leste.

Digitalization

Asset Inventory for Tourism
Asset Inventory for Tourism

In the world of social and physical distance where almost every aspect of human lives has moved online, the tourism industry has also actively shifted towards digitalization. The destinations are using social media platforms to communicate with potential customers, spread information and inspire them to choose particular holidays. Content creation has become one of the main tasks of tourism industry members.. Web platforms such as booking.com, airbnb.com, expedia.com, maps.google.com, etc. are nothing new to the planning phase for travelers. Using digital tools to conduct business and communicate with suppliers, contractors and generally plan the business side of the tourism industry has also been increased. The newest addition to the digitization process of the industry would be the digital products and services the travelers are receiving in this Covid era. Things like 3D virtual travel, digital guidebooks, online menus, travel planning apps are getting more popular and push the industry towards even bigger digital transformation.

Solimar International has built a website for Lewis and Clark National Trail, which is one of the great examples of how the industry can benefit from digital tools. The website includes content about almost 1,000 points of interest that was written and submitted by local experts who know the area best. 

For more information, check out the project insights about Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail.

Emphasis on ‘safe’

Being safe is on every traveler’s agenda during the pandemic. There is no joy in traveling when the risk is as high as death and putting others at risk, so countries trying to open up for tourists put extra emphasis on being a safe travel destination. Countries do everything in their power to market themselves as Covid-free destinations, showcase the fact that all the guidelines are strictly followed, the staff is either fully vaccinated or tested regularly and that tourists will have a clean and disinfected environment all the time. In the hope of restoring traveler confidence, the destinations try to make safety their number one priority.

Undiscovered gems and less crowded areas

Another concept that keeps repeating in the messages that the destinations are sending out to the visitors is ‘less crowded’ or ‘undiscovered gem’. Today, people can feel uneasy being around too many people, and no one is happy about thinking of huge lines in front of the museums and packed cafes or restaurants. Therefore, destinations are actively promoting areas that are less crowded and still undiscovered, where travelers can keep their distance and still enjoy their holidays.  

Southern Tanzania is for instance one of the emerging destinations, welcoming tourists from all over the world. The majority of tourism to Tanzania is currently focused on the Northern and Eastern regions of the country. The Southern Circuit parks which are less visited at the moment, are home to incredible wildlife, including 10% of the world’s lion population and the most bird species found in the country. Visitors can enjoy fascinating scenery, authentic experiences with local communities, stunning beach and marine attractions along the Indian Ocean coastline.

For more, the UNWTO has published a Covid-19 Tourism Recovery Tracker that compiles all the relevant data in one place, giving governments and the private businesses the ability to track the recovery of tourism at global and regional level, alongside information on the top destinations for international tourism. It covers key tourism performance indicators by month, regions and subregions allowing for a real time comparison of the sector recovery across the world and industries. Follow the link to check out the tracker:

https://www.unwto.org/unwto-tourism-recovery-tracker

 

“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

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