Tourism is big business and can often mean the difference between a vibrant local economy and one that is struggling just to get by. This is especially true for smaller destinations, and it likely isn’t news to your DMO. But getting everyone to recognize the economic stability tourism can generate presents a unique challenge to a lot of Destination Management Organizations – how do you get local leaders, business owners and community members to understand the important role they play in the life of your community?
At its core, advocacy is using research and resources to communicate the value of travel to local stakeholders. Break down and share annual impact numbers with them to demonstrate the important role they play in growing your economy. Bring them into the fold. Be open with them about the numbers and how they can help contribute to the economic growth of their community. An alarming number of local stakeholders consider tourism to be a peripheral issue — one that they can neither influence nor benefit from — and getting them to understand otherwise can feel like an uphill battle. But remember: you are the expert in this field and should feel empowered to address these challenges when sharing your DMO’s value.
When Visitors Are Perceived as Invaders
Sometimes, residents view tourists 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. However, many residents simply aren’t privy to just how much money visitors pour into their community by eating in local restaurants, paying for downtown parking and paying taxes for lodging, food and other purchases. Unless they have been explicitly told, they likely don’t realize that their taxes are less because of visitor spending in their market. Often, relaying this information to locals will give them a clear picture of exactly how tourism is benefiting their community and why exerting significant effort to promote your destination is a good thing.
Designing a quarterly mailer that prominently features testimonials from local business owners along with impact numbers and what they mean for the community is a great way to do this. Juxtapose revenue earned alongside the tax dollars residents save as a direct result of visitor spending.
When Tourism Isn’t Recognized As a Primary Revenue Source
Business leaders, members of local government and sometimes even your own board of directors hesitate to readily acknowledge the economic impact tourism can have on their city. They’re busy people with numerous priorities, and it’s the responsibility of your DMO to grab their attention and present them with a compelling case for maintaining — or preferably increasing — your tourism marketing budget.
I’ll say it again: you are your destination’s strongest advocate. And when your tourism marketing efforts are successful, local leaders need to know. Start by obtaining a STR report. This report is chock-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 tool can help you demonstrate total room revenue and occupancy trends, decline or growth, and demand in your market, as well as help you calculate projected tax revenue from overnight stays. Roll this information into an annual report that covers how much revenue your city received that year from travel and tourism alone, and situate those numbers alongside other big sources of revenue for your market to give local officials a compelling visual of tourism’s value.
Bringing Front-Line Customer Service 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 and helpful people in your area. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. Servers, restaurant managers, attraction employees, shop owners, and hotel staff are often the first people to interact with visitors when they arrive to 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.
It can feel tiresome to have to repeatedly emphasize your DMO’s impact and value, as well as the role stakeholders play in growing the local economy. But it’s the price of an annual budget increase, and that’s worth the fight.
Institute good habits to share your DMO’s success. Get the STR report. Schedule a quarterly reminder for yourself to review the numbers. Prepare to share that information quarterly (or annually, if that’s how often you can realistically do it). 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.