The Shifting Role of the DMO

By David Allred

The Shifting Role of the DMO

As the tourism industry evolves, so must the role of the DMO. With visitor habits changing and the recognition of all involved in the promotion of a destination, Destination Marketing Organizations must begin to embrace their increasingly important role as destination managers. Read time: 4 minutes

Challenges, opportunities and threats—what will the tourism landscape look like in the distant future, and who will rise to meet the challenges facing DMOs today? If only we had a crystal ball, we could see exactly what the future holds and plan accordingly. Alas, we don't. But for organizations to generate and maintain the positive outcomes they’re being pushed to deliver, look to input from industry leaders, engage in conversations with local stakeholders and adapt to industry changes. 

Marketing Shift

Today’s travelers are digitally savvy and have more information at their fingertips than ever before. This means that DMOs can no longer rely solely on printed brochures, travel guides and the expertise of their visitor center staff to promote their destination. More and more, DMOs are guiding visitors to their destination through websites, social media and mobile engagement efforts. What does this mean for your DMO? Quite simply, if you are not connecting digitally with your target audiences and positioning your destination as a rewarding travel experience, visitors will go elsewhere. And while more traditional means of marketing—like brochures and visitor guides—are still useful, printed collateral has taken a backseat to digital marketing endeavors.

Key Pivoting

Travelers across all demographics want an authentic experience and are much more cognizant when they are simply being “sold to.” Empowering, curating and sharing genuine stories about your destination is one example of how to make your messages resonate with your target audiences. Social media, influencer marketing, content marketing, and crowdsourcing user-generated content are all methods that travelers respond favorably to. This shift means that the DMO will need to be more of a facilitator not only to travel planners but to current visitors as well, in order to make sure that they have plenty of platforms on which to share their own story. These stories can then be recycled to other potential visitors and can continue to propagate positive messages. Residents are often seen as a less important target audience for DMOs. But as the landscape evolves from marketing a destination to managing it, this new role increasingly requires that residents and locals also be actively engaged in the promotion process. Copenhagen, for example, has done a great job of acknowledging where they’ve been, creating a roadmap of where they’re going, evolving the role of the DMO, and outlining how they will measure success collectively with stakeholders. In their report, 2020 Vision—The End of Tourism as We Know It, Copenhagen specifically states that they realize their expiration as a marketing and promotional superstar is eminent and that they are embracing management of the destination. Instead of pushing content, they will promote through others, enable others to build and share experiences, and grab ahold of locals (not physically, of course!). “Locals are the destination,” says the DMO, a network organization with over 300 commercial partners. CEO Mikkel Aaro-Hansen recognizes that the future of their tourism efforts includes “enabling more people to engage in the conversation about Copenhagen and developing the right experiences to tell the right stories.” The report acknowledges that while travelers are still a DMO’s core audience to influence, locals are the core product and largest asset. Let the locals shine!

Taming the Wild

For smaller destinations, product development is particularly important. This will not be the direct role of the DMO, but instead of the stakeholders, government and private industry. Successful destinations have a healthy amount of private companies developing everything from museums, aquariums and theaters to tours, excursions and theme parks. Think wine country in Napa Valley— privately-owned wineries. Orlando—privately-owned theme parks. Las Vegas—privately-owned casinos. Master planning is in order as well. Government, stakeholder management and charrettes are needed to uncover these opportunities. DMOs need to foster strong connections with government and planning authorities to encourage growth. And as the DMO's role shifts from marketing to management, the organization should help facilitate a long-range Tourism Master Plan for the destination in partnership with the local government. Only then may roles within the organization shift to support new efforts as they begin this evolution from marketing to management. The first step in this process is to cultivate a vision with influencers in the community. Then, map out a strategy to get there. The old way to market was for the DMO to do it all on its own. The new way to market is through destination management, facilitation with partners and reaching everyone who can share the brand story. A DMO is the best organization in a community to promote and protect the destination’s brand because they have the unique ability to bring everyone to the table and every asset together to create an overall lift. Not only are DMOs the best organization bring it all together, but they have a responsibility to do so.