The 99th Destination Marketing Association International conference was one of the best industry conferences I've ever attended. I couldn't believe that in my previous 11 years of working at a Destination Marketing Organization I had never gone before! The content was mixed with rich information and useful tips for our industry. Fellow attendees were friendly and knowledgeable, and the speakers/panelist provided priceless advice by sharing their experience and insight. 

My goal for attending DMAI was to learn more about the challenges facing DMOs and find realistic solutions for my clients. I ended the three day conference with so many ideas and notes that my head was still spinning when I returned to Tucson.

The common topic at DMAI was the unsettling trend that DMOs are spending the majority of their time and energy trying to prove their relevancy to local governments. It seems that some DMOs may have become mired in this effort and lost sight on using available industry tools to achieve their economic goals.

Personally, I think DMOs are the voice of the visitor and not the local governments. Destinations Marketing Organizations are best served to align their goals with promoting their destination/region, increasing booking, and improving travel industry jobs - all which enhance their local economy.

So I asked myself, what can be done? And then I heard the answer - engage with potential visitors and build relationships!

A great first step is for your DMO to reassess the goals for your economy, partners and employees. Once the mission is well defined, discover the available ways to make a DMO experiential and approachable to potential travelers - so they'll visit your area. An interactive website is one marketing channel that provides visitors with the feeling that they're engaging with a ‘local', as well as getting a preview of what your location offers during a vacation.

Another good step is to engage visitors by integrating social media into your DMO website. Make it easy for visitors to LIKE and share your (and their) photos and updates with their friends. Travelers are also four times as likely to trust your website as an authority of your area if you include visitor reviews of restaurants, hotels, and other attractions (via Trip Advisor, Yelp, etc). And finally, start capturing email addresses so you can follow up with visitors - sending newsletters, special offers, birthday cards and more. These integrations and personal touches make a DMO more than just a ‘business' in the visitor's mind - the DMO becomes a part of the visitor's world... even after their vacation ends.

My experience at DMAI provided me with more information and insight then I had originally sought. I know that some of my recommendations are not viable for everyone, so please let them be food for thought. But for those who are ready to make this leap, good for you and congratulations on leading your DMO to greater success!