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.
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.
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.
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.