Last week, I attended the Destination Marketing Association International (DMAI) Annual Convention in Orlando, FL. The event is created by, and for, destination marketers, bringing together more then 600+ Destination Marketing Organizations (DMOs) from mostly the US and Canada. In addition to the DMO representatives, another 100 DMAI allied members that provide destination marketing products and services, attended the event with the goal to develop new business relationships. I joined DMAI as one of these allied members and attended the conference with the aim to understand how to best bring our international experience in sustainable tourism development and destination marketing to the US market.
As I sit and reflect on three days of incredible educational content and excellent networking with a great group of people, I thought I would share my 5 key takeaways from the event.
1. Destination marketing organizations worry about relevancy more than anything else. Relevancy was the term I heard over and over throughout the conference. It is clear to me that DMOs in North America spend a large part of their time and energy defending and justifying why they matter. This seems crazy to me when DMAI’s research proves that in 2011 DMOs influenced 37.5 million room nights. In today’s time of government austerity, no budgets are secure. Even Brand USA, our 2-year-old national public-private official marketing organization is spending time and resources fighting for it’s own survival. If DMOs have to constantly worry about next year’s budget how can they possibly focus on long-term strategies to drive visitation and grow their local economies?
2. Destination marketing has changed. Ok, so this was not a new revelation, but attending the event has helped me understand how challenging it is for DMOs to keep up with all of the changes, new tools, and new techniques available to destination marketers. DMOs are often understaffed and underfunded, so as destination marketing shifts from traditional marketing that focused on creative ads, brochures, and trade-shows, to today’s inbound marketing world, where content is king and real-time conversations with travelers win out, DMOs are having to completely re-invent what they do on a daily basis. Walking through the exhibitor hall and seeing the latest innovations in destination marketing and listening to keynote presenters Rachel Botsman and David Meerman Scott describe the new rules of marketing, I can understand why DMOs are overwhelmed.
3. Destination management and marketing organizations (DMMOs) are on the rise. If you have been reading this blog or know me, you know that I am passionate about making sure destination marketing organizations manage their destinations and protect their resources in addition to driving visitation. With the Evolution of Destination Management it’s imperative that DMOs facilitate destination development and stewardship. While many of the DMOs I met are still focused completely on destination marketing, I really enjoyed hearing case studies from Vancouver, Lake Placid, and the Beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel, who all introduced themselves as Destination Management and Marketing Organizations (DMMOs) that were taking the lead in tourism master planning, supporting small business/rural community development, and working to conserveo natural resources. These guys recognize their role is more then just destination marketing, and they are leading the charge to bring their communities together to think about the long-term sustainability of their destinations. I hope to see more DMOs follow their lead, but unfortunately, this session was one of the least attended of the conference.
4. Economic development and tourism marketing can and should work together. Tourism Winnipeg, Economic Development Winnipeg, and Greater Phoenix CVB led a session titled “Economic Development: An Untapped Resource” that stressed the importance and opportunities for DMOs to collaborate with local economic development offices (EDOs). This was a fascinating session as I learned that while there may be turf wars and confusion over who markets the destination and it’s quality of life to businesses, the benefits of working with EDOs are substantial. Not only can the EDO elevate and distribute the destination’s brand message, but these offices can also help attract needed tourism investment to create better tourism experiences for visitors. The key benefit that was stressed by the panelists is that by working together, the DMO can access the business leaders of a community beyond the travel and tourism industry. As more DMOs understand the role of tourism development in tourism marketing I expect to see more collaborations like this.
5. DMOs should service their community, not just the visitor. Going back to my first takeaway, I thought it was fascinating to hear how Philadelphia’s DMO doesn’t spend their time worrying about relevancy. They have successfully crafted a new global message as “PHL – a modern renaissance city” that highlights the ideas and perceptions of more then 400 people from the city. Using a crowd-sourced approach to identify and tell the stories of what makes Philadelphia unique, PHLCVB facilitated a process to create the Philadelphia Narrative “created by many but owned by none”. Because they involved so many people in the creation of this narrative and offered it up to any partner for free through their PHLPartners initiative, the entire city embraced this new global message and recognized PHLCVB’s role and importance in creating and distributing this message. In this case, PHLCVB provided a service to its community, not just the visitor. As a result, they can focus on their mission instead of trying to justify their existence.
In summary, the DMAI annual conference was an eye-opener and a great experience. Spending three days with over 1,300 people that wake up every morning and live and breath destination marketing reminds me how much I love my job. But as I reflect on what I learned and think about how we tailor our sustainable tourism development and marketing services to this audience, I see an opportunity to help DMOs think about how to work more closely with their industry partners, residents, non-travel business leaders, conservation organizations, and economic development offices to drive visitation, improve visitor experiences, grow local economies, all while sustaining their attractions and improving the quality of life for the people that live there. I look forward to the opportunity to work with more North American destinations and bring the professionalism and effectiveness of DMAI members to our international destinations partners.
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