One of the greatest challenges facing destinations around the world is finding a way to bring together tourism stakeholders to work collaboratively to develop, manage, and market their tourism destination.
It’s widely understood by tourism professionals that Destination Management Organizations (DMOs)play a key and important role in connecting the tourism industry and serving as an advocate for tourism that grows local economies while mitigating tourism’s negative impacts to the environment, cultural heritage, and local residents. In most destinations the role of the DMO is focused on destination marketing since most tourism businesses recognize the advantages of working together to create demand for a destination. But anyone who has been to an overcrowded, too touristy, trash-ridden destination should understand why focusing on destination management is just as important as destination marketing.
As important as Destination Management Organizations may be, unfortunately most governments fail to provide financial support to help them. In most developed destinations a combination of a bed tax, industry membership fees, and/or government funding provides modest marketing budgets that in turn convenes and unites the tourism industry around a common vision for tourism development. But this is not always the case in developing destinations. It’s these types of undiscovered destinations that need DMOs more than anywhere since we all know that it’s unplanned, unregulated tourism development that destroys the places we love to visit.
But how do you finance such an organization when there are only a few small tourism businesses in a destination and reluctance from national tourism authorities to decentralize tourism development and marketing?
Ajloun is one of Jordan’s undiscovered gems that offers visitors wonderful experiences ranging from 12thcentury castles to hiking trails through green forests. But the best is that the majority of these services are provided by local communities that are welcoming visitors into their homes and at their dinner tables to experience the incredible Jordanian culture and hospitality. Ajloun was not realizing its tourism potential and a main reason for this was because no one was working together to promote and develop the tourism destination. I knew a DMO was needed, but how to make this work and what is required to make this successful?
This was the question I was tasked with last week while on assignment with the USAID Jordan Tourism Development Program. Below are my reflections based on experience in Jordan and countless other developing destinations on what is needed to establsh and sustain a destination management organization.
While every destination is unique and different I have come to learn that the following three key ingredients are required to establish and sustain a destination management organization in the developing world.
1. Willingness to work together – as easy as it sounds the first and probably the most important ingredient to creating a successful destination management organization is making sure the tourism stakeholders are willing and able to work together. Small tourism destinations are made up of people and people are complicated. Especially in small towns where religious or political beliefs can be as divisive as loyalty to your favorite English Premiere soccer club or who someone is currently dating.
In essence you are asking people who consider themselves competitors to agree to meet, work together, and invest time and resources for a shared good. The first thing I did when visiting Ajloun is interview as many people as I could to try and determine if there was a willingness to work together and understand the personal dynamics in the destination that I need to be aware of. Luckily in Ajloun there was an overwhelming desire to work together. Everyone I met with expressed an overwhelming desire to be part of something that could help elevate Ajloun’s tourism offer.
2. Leadership and Passion – while a willingness to work together is critical, to establishing a Destination Management Organization, equally important is finding someone with the leadership skills and passion for making it happen. This is where most DMOs that are established with the support of international development organizations fail. It’s much easier for the external consultant to step in and be the leader and initiate the work of the organization. But who becomes the glue that keeps everyone together after the donor support ends and the tourism consultant leaves? Who calls the meetings and sets the agenda? Who sees the status quo and is passionate about making change? Without a clear leader or group of leaders that are willing to invest substantial amounts of time and headaches to make this happen, it will not work.
This was one of the challenges I recognized last week in Ajloun. While many people I met are willing to come to a meeting and benefit from a destination marketing initiative, it was not clear to me who would be willing to take the lead and sustain this DMO over time. But this is also why setting up a DMO takes time. Several more conversations and meetings need to take place before I can say one way or another if there exists a leader in Ajloun that will ensure the long term success of this initiative.
3. A Sustainable Business Model – To be honest I have seen destinations that lack one or two of the above mentioned ingredients that are still able to sustain a Destination Management Organization simply because it had a business model that provided sustained sources of income or funding to operate. However even those destinations with the best leaders and a willingness to work together have not been able to sustain a DMO without a sustainable business model.
But how do you create a sustainable business model for a DMO? This is a question that tourism professionals around the globe are trying to solve. In the US we have the membership model and the bed tax that funds most DMOs or new Tourism Improvement Districts (TIDs). In Europe, funding from local governments that recognize tourism’s return on investment supports the operating budgets of most DMOs. But in the developing world or in the case of Ajloun where there is less then 10 tourism enterprises that collectively sell less then $20,000 in services a year, how do we establish a sustainable business model for the DMO? There is no way the businesses in Ajloun will pay a membership fee and even if they would the amount would not go far. Government support is out of the question and the lack of large companies outside the tourism sector means that finding a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) sponsor will be a challenge.
As I interviewed more and more people I realized that the lack of tour operators in the region combined with the inability of many of the community tourism enterprises to take Internet reservations or create packages meant that there was a business opportunity. This business opportunity is around the creation of what I like to call a Destination Management and Marketing Company (DMMC). A DMMC takes the same mission as a DMO and has a governance structure similar to a board of directors of a DMO but it uses a business model that provides services in exchange for compensation to sustain the organization’s operating costs. By no means is creating a DMMC an easy task but I believe that Ajloun is a perfect destination for this social enterprise approach. The next step, like any new business is developing a business plan to define the company’s products, services, target markets, operating plan, and financial models. It is only after this business plan is developed and local stakeholders agree to the concept can the business be established. I look forward to the opportunity to work with the wonderful people I met In Ajloun to see if the social enterprise business model can sustain and support the needs of the tourism industry.
In summary creating a sustainable DMO model for Ajloun will not be an easy task. But together with the local stakeholders, if we can bring everyone together, identify a leader with passion, and establish a sustainable business model we might be able to help Ajloun realize its tourism potential.
For more information about Solimar’s work in sustainable tourism in Jordan please click here.
For more information about Destination Management please download this toolkit we helped establish for USAID and the Global Sustainable Tourism Alliance.
One of the greatest, and perhaps least recognized aspects of the sustainable tourism industry is the potential for economic growth and peace building in post conflict areas of the world. Solimar has recently worked in several regions that have seen conflict, such as Sri Lanka, Colombia, Jordan, and Palestine. Working in these areas proved that not only does sustainable tourism have the incredible ability to preserve natural and cultural resources, it can play a key role in the revival of economies and communities shattered by conflict.
THE STATE OF TOURISM IN POST CONFLICT AREAS
Some of the major problems faced by post conflict destinations are security based. The first hurdle in the revival of the tourism industry is making sure the destination is absolutely safe for visitors and pushing that message consistently across all channels of communication.
Another issue that arises in regard to security is rebuilding the destination's image, as these locations are often perceived as degraded during times of conflict and violence. It's important to highlight that a destination's cultural and natural heritage is alive and well by sharing high quality content about the destination, such as images, videos and copy.
The second set of issues facing post conflict destinations relates to infrastructure and human capital. Many times, after a long-lasting conflict like the civil war in Sri Lanka, many forms of infrastructure and many of the industries that service tourists are in poor condition, making it difficult for them to visit in a number of ways. For example, in some areas, roads may have become impassable; buildings may be dilapidated and need to be rebuilt. In order to sustain a tourism industry, these areas need rebuilding and basic resources restructured in order to revive their destination’s appeal and functionality.
When setting goals for these destinations, Solimar's approach tends to mirror that of a brand new, undiscovered destination, even if they had a tourism industry before the conflict. Through clear and coordinated communication between all stakeholders, the first phase of these strategies focuses on building the structures necessary to sustain the tourism industry.
A great way to kick start the tourism presence in these areas is to focus on regions that have not been affected by the conflict. Solimar's approach oftentimes is to promote off the beaten path, adventurous destinations and target tourists who are interested in those types of places. In each destination this might look different, but strategic marketing and promotion allows for such burgeoning markets to flourish.
BENEFITS & OUTCOMES
First and foremost, tourism in these countries means an influential source of capital. It provides economic opportunity through employment, ownership of businesses, and an increased market size. It also perpetuates personal and community empowerment by offering renewed opportunities for self-sustaining businesses and economies.
Tourism can also play a key role in reconciliation. It often unites communities that may have been broken or displaced during conflict around common interests and goals, fostering a sense of peace and cooperation that may not otherwise occur. In some cases, tourism can contribute to preventing the revival of a conflict in destinations with increasingly well-established tourism industries, as it contributes to a virtuous cycle of development and economic growth that would be threatened by the renewal of violence.
By rebuilding and strengthening culture, economy, and infrastructure, the tourism industry provides post conflict regions a chance to make a statement about their future to the world. These communities are able to showcase their homes as more than just what people see on TV news.
To read more about Solimar's projects in post-conflict areas, please visit our website: http://solimarinternational.com/our-work/projects