You are NOT alone: getting local leaders, business owners and community members in your community to recognize the economic impact your destination’s travel and tourism ecosystem generates presents a unique challenge to virtually all Destination Management Organizations.
At its core, travel and tourism advocacy is using research and resources to communicate the value of visitors to local stakeholders. Break down and share annual impact numbers with them to demonstrate the important role visitors play in growing your economy. Bring your stakeholders into the fold. Be open with them about the numbers and how they can help contribute to the economic growth of their community.
Remember: as the leader of your destination marketing and management organization, you are the expert in this field and should feel empowered to address these challenges when sharing the value of the travel-related economy in your destination.
When Visitors Are Perceived as Invaders
Sometimes, residents view visitors as invaders who crowd their restaurants, clog their streets and cause parking problems. And with the exploding popularity of Airbnb, these visitors are “invading” residential communities, too. The challenge is that most residents simply don’t understand how much money visitors pour into a community when they stay in local accommodations, eat in restaurants, pay for parking and, on top of all that, pay taxes on lodging, food and other purchases. Often, relaying this information to locals (the economic impact through increased local employment and the reduction in local taxes) will give residents a better understanding of how visitors are benefiting their community and why exerting significant effort to promote your destination is a good thing.
Consider creating a business card sized “annual report” that can be distributed at civic clubs, during workshops, through schools, etc. Juxtapose revenue earned alongside the jobs that are supported and tax dollars residents save as a direct result of visitor spending. Consider creating videos that prominently feature testimonials from local business owners along with impact numbers and what they mean for the community. Planning an annual “media tour” where you visit all the local media outlets to discuss the impact of visitors in your market can also be very effective.
When Tourism and Travel Isn’t Recognized As a Primary Revenue Source
Business leaders, members of local government and sometimes even your own board of directors often don’t fully comprehend the economic impact visitors can have on their own city. They’re busy people with numerous priorities, and it’s your responsibility to grab their attention and present them with a compelling case for increasing—or at the very least maintaining—your tourism marketing budget.
Start by obtaining a STR Trend Report. This report is full of information regarding hotel occupancy and demand in your market, as well as average daily rates and Revenue Per Available Room (RevPAR). This invaluable data can help you demonstrate total rooms in your destination—this number alone is often a big surprise to local leaders. Multiply it by 365 (days) to illustrate the annual potential overnight room “inventory” available (the number of rooms that could be sold) in your city, and you will really have their attention. Use the occupancy trends in this report to educate constituents and illustrate where there is opportunity for visitation growth in your destination. Roll this information into an annual report that covers how much revenue your city received that year from visitors, and situate those numbers alongside other big sources of revenue for your market to give local officials a compelling visual of travel and tourism’s value in your destination.
Bringing Front-line Staff On Board
In an ideal situation, visitors will stop by your welcome center on the way into town to be greeted by some of the friendliest, most knowledgeable people in your area. However, we know that is less and less of the case. Restaurant servers, attraction employees, shop owners, and front desk hotel staff are often the first people to interact with visitors when they arrive in your destination. They are responsible for shaping first impressions and can often set the tone for a visitor’s entire experience.
Partner with business owners and management teams to execute customer service training programs that emphasize the important role these employees play in representing your city. Educate them on the resources available to them and your visitors like your welcome center, visitor guides, website, and social media channels. Make sure you communicate with them regularly about the direct impact they have on the local economy, and thank them for everything they do to represent your destination’s brand.
You Are Your Destination’s Strongest Advocate
It can feel tiresome to have to repeatedly emphasize your DMO’s impact and value, as well as constantly reminding stakeholders of the role they play in growing the local tourism and travel economy. But these efforts could make the difference in an annual DMO budget increase, or decrease. Either way, these advocacy efforts are worth it.
Institute good habits to share your DMO’s success. Get a STR report. Schedule a quarterly reminder to get out into the community and tell your destination’s travel and tourism story. Create a distribution list of people who would benefit from this information, nurture relationships with local leaders, business owners and front-line staff, and make sharing your DMO’s efforts to increase travel and tourism a top priority. Because tourism IS economic development, and your stakeholders need to be on board.