Friday, March 29, 2013

Engaging visitors: the important role destination marketing organizations (DMOs) play in destination marketing

In today’s tourism industry, Destination Marketing Organizations (DMOs) have a larger role and responsibility to go beyond their historical role of marketing and simply disseminating information to visitors but to also engage all stakeholders, including travelers, to create lasting connections that enhance the experience as well as conserve the integrity of the destination. DMOs must act as more than just the promoter of the destination but also coordinate the disparate tourism offerings and stakeholders in order to maintain a consistent destination brand.

In order to fully engage the visitor and create lasting connections, DMOs need to take full advantage of the tools at their disposal – specifically the numerous opportunities on the Internet and other new technologies to foster this relationship. Rather than only fulfilling the traditional task of disseminating information to the visitor, DMOs can use these tools to facilitate conversations between the visitor and potential visitors. By encouraging the visitor to share their experience, the DMO is in affect using word of mouth marketing, creating ‘buzz’ and allowing the visitor to do part of the DMO’s job for them, including: sharing their experience on Twitter or a status update on Facebook; posting a story on their blog; “checking-in” on Foursquare; sharing photos on Flickr; posting videos on YouTube; leaving a review on TripAdvisor or Yelp; or giving advice in travel forms like Lonely Planet’s Thorntree. By aggregating and analyzing the information shared about their destination, the DMO can conduct targeted marketing that is relevant, effective and engages market segments most likely to create higher yields and returns on investment.

Instead of only focusing on increasing the number of visitors, DMOs should focus more on improving the quality of the experience and how tourism benefits the destination with a greater emphasis on the yields and authenticity of tourists’ experiences. For the visitor, this includes respecting the destination’s inhabitants through activities such as providing resources for learning the local language, teaching proper traveler etiquette and encouraging cultural exchanges between the locals and visitors so that visitors engage rather than remain spectators. Ultimately, the interaction needs to be beneficial to both the visitor and host community.

Through the multiplier effect, tourism provides a significant contribution to the economy beyond direct tourist spending with indirect and induced impacts, for example increased employment or hotels buying linens from a local manufacturer. This puts DMOs in the unique position to not only connect visitors with information about a destination’s attractions and activities but to also influence where the economic benefit is distributed through maximizing linkages between businesses and minimizing leakages outside of the destination. While strictly speaking, a DMO should be unbiased, thus providing information so the visitor can make the most informed decision, it can also distribute information about how tourism can affect the local population through travel philanthropy. By providing tourists with this additional information and encouraging them to help benefit the local population, which, if properly managed, can encourage conservation and ownership by local stakeholders and thereby increase the sustainability of the destination.

Current trends are moving away from the old notion of a “holiday” where a tourist simply lies on the beach and goes home. Today, with an increasing emphasis on experiences, a destination must provide engaging and authentic experiences that set it apart from competitors. Increasingly transforming from CVBs to DMOs, these organizations must coordinate with the many stakeholders giving them added responsibilities as well. It isn’t sufficient to simply market the destination; the DMO must help to manage the brand by maintaining and enhancing its image and character, thereby having a more valuable and attractive product to market in the end. By seeking to engage with the visitor and create a lasting relationship, the DMO will not only succeed in promoting its destination, but it will also secure the integrity of the place and ensure that wonderful trips are being shared back home to drive further visits!

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