Management, Marketing, Travel & Tourism

Six things tourism businesses should know about their DMO

By William Bakker | 08.11.14 | 35 Comments

Know your DMO

I’ve worked at a destination marketing organization for 11 years, and have spent the last 4 years at Think! where I’ve worked with more than 100 DMOs from all around the world. And a big challenge for every DMO is managing their industry stakeholders. The politics. Proving value and relevancy.

Even if well-intended, I don’t think industry stakeholders truly understand how their actions can impact the efficiency and effectiveness of their DMO.

If you’re a tourism business, this is what you should know about DMOs:

1) A rising tide lifts all boats

You might compete with other businesses in your destination, but the reality is that when more people want to visit your destination, everybody benefits. That’s the marketing job of the DMO. To get more people there, get them to stay longer and spend more money. Your DMO needs to focus on the things that make your destination unique and the things that make people want to visit. You might not like it, but some experiences/businesses are more important drivers for tourism than others.

Don’t take the view that that big attraction doesn’t need additional exposure, because you’re completely missing the point. The Eiffel Tower makes people want to visit Paris, while the café down the street probably doesn’t. Tourism Paris needs to promote the Eiffel Tower, not the cafe, lovely as it might be.

What you should do: let the DMO work by focussing on the things that will make business better for everybody, even if that means giving more exposure to certain products than others.

(And while we’re on the subject: if your hotel/restaurant/tour etc is booked out when a visitor enquires, why not recommend a trusted partner business? You’re not losing business to a competitor,  you’re gaining a visitor to your destination and working together to raise all boats.)

2) A DMO isn’t responsible for your sales

With the exception of few cases, your DMO shouldn’t put their time and effort into selling things. It’s a waste of resources. Once someone makes the decision to visit, there are legions of other places where people can buy packages, flights, hotel rooms, etc. These organizations are much better at it than your DMO. Your DMO doesn’t need to do this.

What you should do: Don’t see your DMO as a sales channel. Your DMO sells the destination experience, not tickets or reservations.

(Note: some city DMOs have very successful booking systems, ticket services and city card programs, but these are the exceptions.)

3) DMOs need to take a long-term view

As a tourism business, you worry about next month’s sales. And if they don’t look good, you might look at your DMO to try and fix it. In some cases, that’s valid (think the BP oil spill). But in most cases, it’s not. Your DMO should take a long-term view (especially your state/provincial/national DMO) to build your brand, reputation and demand for the long term. If they don’t, other destinations will win in the long run.

What you should do: Let your DMO take a long-term view for the ongoing growth of tourism in your destination.

4) People working at the DMOs are passionate about you and your business

DMOs are often publicly funded. That comes with specific complications. They’re under a lot of political and press scrutiny. If they make a “mistake”, it can be used by politicians in the opposition, or result in negative press. Both can have very bad impacts on funding.

This situation can make things frustrating for you. But guess what, your DMO people are often very frustrated by bureaucracy…they just won’t tell you that. I’ve worked at, spoken to and worked with hundreds of people working for these organizations and they’re almost always the most dedicated professionals who understand their responsibilities. They love where they live, what they do and want to make you successful.

What you should do: Lose the scepticism, and learn to collaborate and support the staff of your DMO. They’re good people who need your support, especially when they’re impacted by politics and press.

5) Stop evaluating marketing based on how it looks

It’s very easy to have an opinion about marketing based on what it looks like. “I like this ad/I don’t like that one/I like the colour of this website/I don’t like that one.” Often this involves the competition. “Those TV ads from Destination X look much better than ours”. Or worse: “Why don’t we advertise on TV, the way the DMO next door does?”

Because industry stakeholders pay so much attention to how things look, a DMO will often pay more attention to what their industry might think instead of what is most effective for the potential visitor. They’ll even ignore marketing such as Google Ads, email marketing or social media because they need the budget for TV or something. It’s often not because they want to, it’s because you make them, directly or indirectly.

What you should so: Don’t judge your DMO’s marketing based on how it looks. Focus on objectives and results. Be open minded about where and how they market your destination. The world of marketing has changed.

6) Embrace failures

That doesn’t make sense, right? Actually it does. In order to learn, you need to win… but you also need to lose. Michael Jordan missed a lot of shots and once said “I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

As a marketer you need to experiment in order find out what works and what doesn’t. There are too many DMOs out there afraid to do anything different or innovative because they’re afraid. Afraid that if it doesn’t work out, industry stakeholders, media or politicians will criticize the efforts, and their funding (or jobs) could be in jeopardy. As a result, DMOs are often very risk-averse, resort to being safe and old-fashioned, with mediocrity as a result.

What you should do: accept failures as long as they’re used to make things better in the future. Also, defend your DMO from media and politicians when things don’t work as planned.

Any other suggestions, or examples where your businesses have supported your DMO? Share them with me here!


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