Local stakeholders’ frontline staff are often the first to greet visitors to your destination, they interact with visitors the most while they are in your destination, and they are often the last to engage with them as they are leaving. These interactions play a vital role in shaping the visitor experience and encouraging conversations about your destination as a whole—both good and bad. And, because stakeholder staff interact with visitors more than anyone else in your destination, they often have valuable insight to offer based on those interactions. So, in the broader context of curating the visitor experience, nurturing healthy relationships with restaurant owners, lodging providers and attractions and their respective frontline staff should absolutely be an important component of your tourism development efforts.
But getting a majority of your local stakeholders and their frontline staff on the same page is no small feat. It requires purposeful consideration and the ability to balance multiple inputs, perspectives, values, and interests to achieve a balanced and mutually beneficial partnership. In the midst of these efforts, the issue of identity often emerges as a pivotal—and sometimes divisive—factor. If management and frontline staff at local stakeholders don’t already take pride in their city, how could you expect them to expand their customer experience efforts to incorporate what your destination has to offer?
One strategy to employ in what really needs to be an on-going, multi-prong approach to stakeholder engagement is to establish a strong, shared and believable identity that will motivate your stakeholder’s frontline staff to eagerly represent both themselves and your destination. And fostering the sense of community pride that makes this possible begins with encouraging them to literally take a seat at the table.
What are some ways to do this?
- Reinforce their role in your destination’s success: Every time you have an opportunity to interact with stakeholders, be clear about the value and character they bring to your destination, and the part they play in your city’s narrative. Without them, there would be nothing to do, nowhere to eat and nowhere to stay. And help them understand the important role they play in helping propel local economic activity.
- Let them know they are appreciated: Start by simply thanking them for what they do every day. You could even do an initial outreach by mailing a Thank You card with a handwritten note.
- Create stakeholder engagement opportunities: Use that Thank You note to invite them to a monthly stakeholder’s roundtable. And be strategic about the days and times for each stakeholder category roundtable. For example, try accomodations on Mondays at 9:00am, restaurants on Tuesdays at 2:00pm and attractions Wednesdays at 8:30am. Keep in mind, in order for this effort to be sustainable and affordable, try to plan in time windows where none of the attendees will expect to be fed. And changing up your venue each month will allow you to get space donated and expose stakeholders (over time) to all that their destination has to offer. And even think about surprising them with goodies and giveaways from a series of other stakeholders who want to be sure others know they exist and what they are about.
- Educate them on your brand, message and objectives. Present any new branding or messaging to them before pushing it live within the market—explaining how you got to it and the importance of the new messaging. Consider developing an advertising co-op program with your stakeholders to put your money where your mouth is.
- Ask them for their input. Be open to hearing about the insight they receive from visitors on what they love about your city, recommendations on what can be improved and advice on how your DMO can better support them.
The goal of engaging regularly with stakeholders is to gauge their interests and expectations, communicate yours, and move forward together in the pursuit of shared objectives—namely to elevate your destination’s brand, increase visitation and increase economic development for the gain of all involved.
We’ve written about the evolving role of the DMO and the importance of destination management. Growing stakeholder partnerships is an important part of that. We know that it doesn’t come without its challenges, though, and a big concern for many destinations is balancing tourism development with community interests, as well as establishing a unified vision for the future. This case study on Tucker County, West Virginia offers some valuable insight on how DMOs in small and rural towns can build productive relationships with local stakeholders that both maintain the integrity of their individual brands and further their destination’s economic growth through tourism and travel development.
The value of stakeholder partnerships can be measured by how they harness multiple perspectives and create opportunities for innovation and growth. Listen, and you will learn about the experiences visitors are having while in-market and about the support your stakeholders need to further enhance the visitor experience. All of this can work to help cast your destination’s brand in an increasingly positive light—and that should make everyone happy. If you’d like to talk more about how we’ve helped our clients foster deeper stakeholder partnerships, reach out to me here.