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If you found your way to this article, chances are that destination marketing organization (DMO) is a term you hear often … or maybe you're more familiar with the destination management organization? Perhaps you’ve never considered the difference between the two types of organizations and their day-to-day operations, but don’t worry — we have. In fact, it keeps some of us up at night.
Interested? Puzzled? Read on as we get a deep dive into destination marketing versus destination management from Simpleview’s own Senior Advisor to the Future Tourism Group David Peacock, who hosts a popular podcast about the topic, interviewing DMO and travel professionals from around the world.
Read on as we interview the interviewer, the host with the most — Simpleview’s own, David Peacock.
In your view, what are the main differences between a destination marketing organization and a destination management organization? Do they serve the same purposes in the industry or are there big gaps in their roles?
If you had asked this question even 10 years ago, there would be a much, much clearer distinction. Today, in the summer of 2022, the distinction is largely one of semantics. The modern DMO exists in a world where marketing itself has changed.
As my friend and peer Rodney Payne, CEO of Destination Think, likes to say, “You can no longer control the message around your destinations to the same extent we used to be able to many years ago. At best, you can hope to influence it.”
In a world where marketing is about influence, amplification, and authenticity, there are very few destination marketing organizations as in “all we do is marketing, period” left. Even those that use the moniker out of historical convenience or a well-established role and function within their communities have expanded their activities to include sourcing, creating, and distributing content.
Prior to the pandemic, there was an ongoing dialogue in the industry, especially in North America, about the need to shift to becoming destination management organizations — or in some cases, that hybrid thing they call the “DMMO” (a combination of destination marketing and management organizations).
The truth is the whole industry was already getting ready to shift to a more engaged, stakeholder-based, holistic, integrated, and regenerative model, and the debate was really just a precursor to that. But COVID-19 changed everything — the relevance of destination organizations, the importance of the tourism economy, and the necessity of engaging local stakeholders in order to build resilient places essentially vaulted every DMO forward into a role where it just has to be far more engaged locally.
Today, we're all involved in marketing and, to some extent, managing elements of our destinations. I think the most appropriate term to use is simply “destination organizations.”
DMO functions in different countries and continents naturally differ. In your opinion, what are two of the most interesting ways they differ?
You can make some general observations about how the role and function of the destination organizations differ by country or continent, but the truth is that destination organizations differ literally by destination.
European organizations began to shift and adapt to a stakeholder-engagement-based model and move from a marketing to a management-type role and function more than a decade ago.
They are also about five years ahead of North America in terms of defining the roles and functions in sustainability and regeneration. But by the same token, you can look at North America, Asia, Latin America, and the continent of Africa to see small pockets of inventive tourism adaptation and development that are on par with anything anywhere in the world.
At the core of the matter is this: a destination organization exists within the context of its place — and in that place, it must work within the structures that abide. A destination organization defines and manifests its role and function through its interaction with its stakeholders, civic partners, and citizens.
So, in a world where every destination is unique and different, the role and function of a destination organization evolve differently. You will find that there are literally no two destination organizations in the world that are exactly the same in terms of function, budget, or constitution.
Which way are the winds blowing in terms of the DMO functions of the future?
In the introduction to the 2016 United Nations Global Report on the Transformative Power of Tourism, Taleb Rifai, Secretary-General of the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), wrote, “Tourism is much more than a leisure activity; tourism holds an immense potential to set new paradigms of thinking, to encourage social and cultural changes, and to inspire a more sustainable behavior. With over one billion international tourists crossing borders every year, there are one billion opportunities for accelerating the shift towards a more sustainable future.”
The forces that were shaping the future of destination organizations — the thinking that was already at work and moving us from a marketing to a more integrated destination development role — were all in play for the past two decades either here, in Europe, or in some pocket of innovation like the Bay of Plenty, New Zealand, or Elora, Ontario, Canada.
Those forces were moving us towards taking on a more relevant, integrated, and engaged role within our communities. That journey was progressing at a steady pace, but COVID-19 forced not just the industry but also citizens, cities, and places to reassess the following:
- What is it that tourism does that's making this a better world?
- Why should we have tourism here?
That is the beginning of a new era of tourism that is more thoughtful, more intentional, and more relevant.
Tourism done well ennobles people and places and shares cultures and ideas. The destination organization is uniquely positioned to play a key role in facilitating and focusing the efforts and resources of stakeholders who make up the destination network. To do that, it must continue changing and adapting to a new model of stakeholder engagement, distributed marketing, and catalytic destination development.
What is the potential role of the destination organization in sustainability?
Whew! Tough question. I was invited to Hamburg, Germany, in March by European Cities Marketing/CityDNA to argue a simulated court case about whether or not the destination organization has a role and function in sustainability and regeneration.
The trial was kafkaesque, sublime, and humorous all at the same time, replete with Queen's Counsel wigs and gowns and a four-member European Union panel of judges. The inevitable outcome and ruling of the magistrates was the following:
In terms of sustainability and regeneration, it's not a question of should destination organizations get involved, it is a fact that if destination organizations, businesses, cities, citizens, and industries don't work together, all of them all of the time, then the goal of sustainability is absolutely unattainable.
Think about it … destination organizations have an immense capacity to move and inspire people and share ideas. They can also influence stakeholders and change their perceptions and practices — and those are just a couple of starting points. We are all in this together, and great destination organizations do just that: they bring people together within communities and from all over the world.
So therein, the destination organization must find its own “best” role and function in sustainability, given its unique skills and abilities.
Overall, as destination organizations, I think we need to be looking at the future in terms of how travel and tourism can make the world a better place and how we contribute to that. We can’t do it all, but we are part of the solution.