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Market Realities Challenge Destination Marketing Organizations’ Role, Identity

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Not so very long ago, destination marketing organizations (DMOs) were tasked with driving visitors to destinations with the simple goal of getting “heads in beds.” Their paper-heavy marketing campaigns and promotional material eventually moved into the digital space, but the goal remained the same: convince tourists to visit their destination over countless others also competing for the tourism revenue.

Recently, DMOs’ role has once again evolved, but this time, the duties haven’t simply moved from one medium to another. The entire landscape upon which the tourism industry was built has drastically shifted: Through social media, consumers have become increasingly powerful in influencing travel decisions. Overtourism and capacity issues steal news headlines on a frequent basis. And disruptions (such as the peer-to-peer booking economy) have exacerbated and escalated once dormant and/or “minor” issues within the tourism industry. To keep pace with — and ahead of — these changes, destination representatives need to thoroughly understand the ever-evolving ecosystem in which they work and question what their future role within this environment could and should be.

Lofoten, Norway, is among the destinations rethinking how best to frame its tourism offerings.

The Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) and its more than 100 DMO members globally have been grappling with these issues for several years. The organization has been collaborating with Daniel Byström, a colleague in Scandinavia, to pilot innovation programs for the future of tourism design and development. Byström, a destination design expert and co-founder of, recently released Pre-Study Áfangastaðastofur, a comprehensive study that includes perspectives and first-hand accounts from highly respected DMOs addressing the challenges of defining their future roles in tourism. It also offers guidance on how to establish destination management organizations.

“We’ve seen the change to DMOs coming for quite some time and, here at the ATTA, have been working with individual entities on addressing destination management issues,” said Chris Doyle, the ATTA’s executive director, Europe and Central Asia. “Though destinations are still eager to encourage travelers to visit, they want and need to do so in a way that carefully considers and balances out the needs of a multitude of stakeholders — the local communities, local businesses, tourism boards, governments — while ensuring the destination has the physical capacity and that travelers understand the expectations of visiting this particular destination. This is definitely a shift in mindset from how DMOs used to operate.”

According to Byström, destination marketing and destination development are central tools for destination management. Though DMOs were traditionally referred to as destination marketing organizations, he argues the responsibilities extend far beyond the traditional role of promotion, sales, and advertising, and it is more accurate to say they take on the role of destination management organizations. Today’s DMOs should not only lead on destination marketing, but they must also be strategic leaders in destination development, which requires them to drive and coordinate destination management activities within the framework of a coherent strategy, Byström explains.

“Tourism should not be considered as an isolated sector, but must be managed as part of the whole community,” he said. “Without destination management, the impacts of tourism can have deleterious effects on cultural heritage and natural resources. Destination management leads to desired impacts from tourism with positive effects for preservation and further development of cultural heritage and protection of natural resources.”

The 40-page Pre-Study Áfangastaðastofur (a word that means “destination agencies” in Icelandic) includes contributions from 10 destinations that have proven experience working within destination management. Success factors for these destination management organizations include a focus on sustainability, value before volume, and collaboration among stakeholders in a place’s development.

“This easy-to-read, easy-to-digest study is full of first-hand perspectives and serves as a guidebook on how DMOs ought to organize and think about their current and future roles. The framework of this study, its perspective, findings, and recommendations directly affect the entire tourism supply chain,” Doyle said. “It’s also a worthy read for tour operations, accommodations, NGOs, agents, and the very communities affected by the global tourism industry.”

Pre-Study Áfangastaðastofur can be accessed here.

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