The DMO of the Future

Everything we’ve gone through in the past few years has fast-forwarded the role of the DMO. It started to change shape, both to get through the pandemic and as a result of changes in our world. Many of these changes were already underway. We have been talking about place-making and destination management and cathedral thinking for awhile. Yet now they’re on the horizon in a much more meaningful way. So we’re looking ahead and seeing the DMO of the future start to take shape.

So what does the DMO of the future look like? Looking around the corner, as they say, is a leadership skill that takes knowledge, information and reflection. When I attended the Destinations International Annual Conference in Toronto this summer, we had the opportunity to really think about what’s coming next. This event gave everyone a chance to reflect, learn what others are doing, find out what communities are asking for.

In my conversations with 20 tourism experts at the 2022 conference, I asked them to look around the corner to define the DMO of the future. We discussed 7 attributes that DMOs will take on.

The DMO of the Future

Community Connectors

“I see the DMO of the future as a marriage between community residents and the visitors we bring in, because for years we’ve also said the community, the residents are ambassadors. They will take care of the people who we bring in.” Barry Biggar, Visit Fairfax

Over the last few years, the typical stakeholders were a little bit looser in understanding that DMOs can focus on the residents. It’s not just about the visitors, not just about the heads and beds. Connecting with the residents, embracing them into destination marketing and also listening to them and letting them shape what tourism means in the destination, is the way of the future.

“DMOs are really going to have to be partnering more and more, not just with those key community stakeholders, the chambers, local governments, but the actual residents of the community. … Really making it feel like they’re part of what the story is that we should be telling our visitors.” Scott McCrea, Explore Fairbanks

“The relationship with your locals is essential to long term health. If you don’t have a good relationship with your residents and you don’t foster a sense and appreciation of travel within those residents, then you’re not going to exist long term.” Stuart Butler, Visit Myrtle Beach

“We’re the translators and we’re the connectors and we’re communicating how tourism fits into this larger scheme. And so at the core of it is place-making.” Lindsey Steck, Visit Pensacola

“I have seen significant change in what we do as organizations and professions and what we have to do in order to continue to be relevant. And I think the pandemic taught us one very valuable lesson and that is the opportunity that we have missed over so many years to truly connect with the residents of our communities” Barry Biggar, Visit Fairfax

“At the end of the day, if your community doesn’t know who you are, doesn’t respect what you do, isn’t appreciative … then why are we there? ” Barry Biggar

“it’s not just residents, it’s the corporations, it’s the businesses, small, medium, and otherwise that, you know, we need to be sure we embrace and work together” Barry Biggar

Marketers with Influence

“Are we marketing organizations or are we destination management organizations? I personally think it’s going to be a combination of both. Our mission is never going to get fully away from marketing.” Beth Gendler, Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism

One point that stood out at the conference is that DMOs are the brand owners for the destination. Several of my guests on the podcast mentioned how DMOs will stick with marketing, and grow that into greater storytelling. I love that Olivia Novak, Discover Lancaster, framed it as taking on the role of the influencer. Influencers are people that an audience trusts. They are the insider and are showing the experience versus telling or talking about the experience. It’s an interesting shift of perspective on how the DMO of the future will approach marketing.

“There’s opportunity for destination marketing organizations to step into the role of being influencers for the destination. Think of any social media influencer, their main driver is their ability to create content, and their willingness to go and have experiences and try new things. We have those direct lines to partners who offer those experiences that we’re trying to promote. Our partners would be eager to participate in that, and it would be a collaborative effort between us and the partners, but also incorporating our residents too. I think that there’s opportunity to invest more into content creation, photography, videography, trying new things, and see what being a DMO influencer can look like. ” Olivia Novak, Discover Lancaster

“Our organizations will be continue to be about strengthening our ability to be the curator of stories and experiences in our destination.” Celestino Ruffini, Visit Beloit

“The DMO of the future from a marketing perspective is really going to become media publishers. I think content is your strategic product. It’s the thing a DMO produces and is capable of producing at a standard and a quantity and a quality better than anyone else. It goes beyond producing TV commercials and digital ads and blogs. I want to produce quality content that people want to consume and actively look for. What we’re going to see is, as we become content producers, we’re going to become more lifestyle brands than we are destinations.” Stuart Butler, Visit Myrtle Beach

Expert Collaborators

“I don’t know that we have the expertise to be the management organizations, but I think we do have the expertise to bring those two entities together. To collaborate, look for partnerships. Where they are available, to use the resources each have to fulfill the needs. We understand how you bring people together because that’s really what we’ve always done.” Beth Gendler, Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism

As I always say, collaboration the way the tourism industry does it is unlike anything else. It is the very foundation of the industry and it is the best way forward. Specifically, my guests pointed out that collaboration with stakeholders and other community shapers will be part of the new role for the DMO of the future.

“It’s not just residents, it’s the corporations, it’s the businesses, small, medium, and otherwise that, you know, we need to be sure we embrace and work together.” Barry Biggar, Visit Fairfax

“You have to be at the table, you can’t develop partnerships unless you’re at the table.” Beth Gendler

“It’s using those collaborations and being really open to different ideas that we maybe never would have considered in the past. Where we think ‘that’s not the place for our organization,’ or ‘that’s not the place for tourism getting more involved.’ Advocating, lobbying on behalf of our industry, our organization, and also our partners and our members, our hoteliers, our restaurants, our attractions. We have to be a voice for them and help uplift and empower their voices too. ” Rachel Riley

“Whether it be travelers or locals or business owners, they’re looking at the DMO more and more for guidance or for partnership. And I think that’s just going to continue to grow in the next 10 plus years.” Sarah Hughes, Visit Norfolk

Economic Development Partners

“Our role in truly being the first step in economic development, I think will continue to grow in the community’s understanding the role of the tourism.” Celestino Ruffini, Visit Beloit

“I think we have to be nimble and dynamic. I think everything fits very nicely under our industry umbrella. When you think about recruiting businesses, we’re the center at that, kind of that first date experience, for economic development.” Domenic Bravo, Visit Cheyenne

“We are turning into a more supporting and visible role, developing and expanding on the assets of all of our regions… For Rhode Island, we’re looking at art installations, park beautification, and a major attractions.” Louise Bishop, South County Tourism Council, Inc.

This is a trend we’ve seen coming around the bend for some time. From partnerships growing between two entities, to even combining them or forming a Tourism Improvement District. Jason Outman, Branson/ Lakes Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, takes it further and feels that as the role changes, the DMOs and industry have to provide training. Branching into economic development further means becoming part of the bigger picture and pipeline, and getting more involved in building rather than simply marketing destinations. Jason told me:

“We really are destination curators and developers. And it really is our job. If we are out there advocating for workforce and helping these builders, then that could help our destination. And if we get not just J-1 students who then go back home, but if we’re able to build these affordable housing complexes that drive year-round workforce, then that would obviously give us an opportunity to increase the tax base and income coming into the destination as well. 

… It’s a more political situation where we are involved in actually building these destinations, not just marketing them. We’re looking at it as, ‘What makes sense for a destination?’ ‘Does it make sense for a hotel to go here?’ ‘If we are building workforce housing and we don’t have public transportation, are we building it in the right spot?’ … We see those things differently than what other people do. And so I think as we transition maybe into a DMO of that realm, we have to have the training that goes with it. ”

Strategists

“I think we’re going to continue to be marketers, but also manage managing and creating strategies, longer term strategies for our communities.” Kelly Groff, Visit Montgomery

Bringing a unique view to community and economic development is part of a larger role the DMO of the Future will play. That is the role of strategist. Looking at things critically, planning for what’s next and building collaboratively are skills that DMOs already have, and will be able to bring to the table.

Kelly Groff also gave an excellent example of creating long-term strategies for our communities: “The workforce shortage is a huge challenge in every industry sector within tourism. So we’ve got to build that pipeline.” While the workforce shortage is here now, creating solutions and pipelines is a strategy to build toward a better future. One that doesn’t have to cope with these shortages on a global scale. It also has the power to create a ripple effect throughout the community and economy. Continuing with this example, Lance Woodworth, Destination Toledo, said:

“What I need to do is listen, listen to my community, listen to the residents, listen with the other stakeholders and the other organizations. The city office, your mayor, your county commissioners, and really try to grasp exactly where they want that destination to go.

… We need workforce attraction. We need people to relocate and move to fuel the great economic development going on as a whole in our area. … I think that the destination of the future really needs to listen and then craft their goals around the greater good of that community.”

Sustainability Advocates

“You want your residents to be happy and proud that there’s tourism there and not be disturbed by it.”

… What can we do to make sure it’s not too much pressure on the city with city services or too much of an impact? And what can we do to counteract that? Are there programs we can put in place? … How can we give back to lessen the burden?” Deana Ivey, Nashville Convention and Visitor Corp

We need the economy to move and to be robust, but we also need to have a society and a community. Sustainability has been a topic since we first saw the effects of overtourism. It encompasses environmental impacts and concerns, climate change and the negative effects tourism can have. Like everything DMOs set their minds to, sustainability encompasses a solutions-focused approach. What better organization to lead that charge than the one that’s there to protect and promote the assets or the region?

“Sustainability and regenerative tourism is really at the heart of everything that we do right now because climate change is real.” Rachel Ludwig, Tourism Canmore Kananaskis, explained. “We see it in Europe, currently, with the heat wave. Our destination went through flats. We went through forest fires. So really that is at the heart of protecting our industry. In our strategic plan we want to be a leader in sustainable tourism in 10 years. And we are well on the way, but we need to align again our industry behind us as well. So we’re just starting on the execution part. … The heart and soul of destination management is sustainability.”

Always Evolving

“I strongly feel that the destination organization of the future has to be constantly evolving. We can no longer just be static and set in our ways. Our future is being able to adapt to what our communities need based on the resources, based on what’s happening in that community. We’re very much an organization that brings everybody together to make things happen for the best of what that community needs. ” Racene Frieda, Glacier County Regional Tourism Commission

“We do have to adapt and we have to make sure that we’re really plugged in as a community value.” Paul Nursey, Destination Greater Victoria

And to sum all this up, in the wise words of Dave Herrell, Visit Quad Cities, “I think destination organizations have that ability to scale up and can do more and certainly have the expertise to pull it off. So I’m proud of the work that we do. I’m proud of what this industry is accomplishing every day. And I know we can do more. ”

What do you see when you look into the crystal ball for the DMO of the future?

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