Yes, the traditional DMO model is broken. But it can be rebuilt.
As a destination marketing organization (DMO) professional, you’re accountable to a wide range of stakeholders, including DMO members, governmental bodies, travel professionals, community leaders, and local media. All these people are pressing you to do one thing: manifest more visitors.
But the Internet has shattered the traditional DMO model, and the ability to reach potential visitors is harder than ever. Consumers can visit online travel agencies (OTAs) to find abundant travel information with a level of detail that member listings on a DMO website cannot possibly match.
Furthermore, independent travel bloggers/vloggers, social media platforms, and sites that include user reviews may pose even stiffer competition, in the sense that they’re perceived as highly trustworthy because they feature raw, honest opinions.
Then why would travelers limit themselves to a DMO website knowing that it only presents a subset of member-only businesses that haven’t been vetted by customers?
To rebuild the DMO, destination marketing professionals must hyper-focus on the needs of just one group: potential visitors. The first building block is to create detailed personas—representations of your ideal visitor that go beyond demographics to consider areas such as behavior patterns, motivations, and goals.
Less than 25% of travelers always or usually use official DMO websites, and only about 40% of that group “always or usually” finds them trustworthy.
With your personas firmly in mind, the next building block is to make sure your digital platform communicates in the right way, thus responsive design is mandatory. According to the fall 2016 edition of The State of the American Traveler, the majority of travelers prefer to do advance trip planning on a traditional desktop or laptop computer and then use their mobile phones while they are traveling.
A well-designed tourism marketing website can turn its greatest weakness—limited information—into its greatest strength. An abundance of information may seem great, but it’s overwhelming. Among all the different travel information sources available to the prospective visitor, DMO websites are uniquely positioned to offer a curated experience tailored to personas. Some strategies to consider include:
1. Add build-a-trip capabilities or sample itineraries: although there’s a great deal of competition for individual needs, like hotels, there’s usually zero competition for planning a holistic trip.
2. Make social sharing effortless: choose the social platform(s) that you can truly master and make it incredibly easy to share photos, videos, tweets, and so on.
3. Profile neighborhoods: short-duration visitors simply can’t see everything an area has to offer. Make it easy for them to experience the most of a smaller area. Who wants to sit in traffic on vacation?
4. Consider advanced geolocation tools for your mobile view: once they’re in your area, your visitors need fast, easy guides to get where they want to go.
Yes, the traditional DMO model is broken, and shifting to a world of mandatory consumer engagement will be uncomfortable for those destination marketers whose skill set is in traditional advertising and public relations. Tight budgets are a huge constraint: how many industries rely on everyone except their actual customers to generate revenue?
Each DMO is unique, so there’s no single solution that will fit each. But by relentlessly focusing on the needs of well-defined visitors and creating a valuable digital experience for them, you’ll rebuild a successful DMO.