Destinations and destination marketing organizations (DMOs) evolve — that’s a given. Just how they evolve is unique to each. Still, if the results from our March 2022 Future of Tourism survey are any indication, a growing number of DMOs will be factoring sustainability into their destination-management equation.
For Visit Durango, sustainability refers to what’s known as “the 3 Ps” — planet (environmental sustainability), people (local culture & heritage), and profit (economy). At a time when only about 30% of DMOs have a dedicated in-house resource, Visit Durango created a sustainability & policy position this past year.
Rachel, tell us when you realized the need for a sustainability position at Visit Durango.
When I took the helm of Visit Durango three years ago, it became obvious right away that sustainability and destination management were going to be key goals of our new direction; however, at that time, "sustainability" didn't even have its own line item in our budget. Encouraged by feedback from the community, stakeholders, and elected officials, we began the transition from a DMO (destination marketing organization) to a DMMO (destination management & marketing organization).
With stewardship, advocacy, and community engagement becoming increasingly important, we evolved, and now "sustainability" is its own department and accounts for one-third of our budget. We knew that we would need a dedicated full-time staff person to lead this charge and began searching for a sustainability & policy manager in July 2021.
Rachel, when hiring for this position, what were you looking for? How did you go about finding the right person?
We had seen that when other organizations or governments hire for a role like this, they often hire someone who is only focused on environmental sustainability. But we know that destination management, for our organization, is focused on all the 3 Ps: planet (environmental sustainability), people (local culture & heritage), and profit (economy).
We focused our search on someone who understood and was ready to lead the charge in all three pillars of sustainability. We also knew we needed someone who could work on policy and advocacy issues because this role would ultimately have the greatest impact on sustainability if they were able to be involved at the policy level of decision-making.
It is also helpful for this position to have historical and legacy information about how the tourism industry and sustainability have evolved in the Durango area over the years. For that reason and others, we were very lucky to find Weylin Ryan, a born-and-raised local resident, for the role.
Weylin, what have been your priorities for your first year in the position?
My first priority is a stakeholder mapping and community engagement process, which is still ongoing ten months later and will wrap up by the end of the year. This work will help us with the master planning process and, ultimately, the direction Visit Durango moves towards in the future. My second priority has been working on a GSTC-accredited certification, Mountain IDEAL.
Weylin, tell us what a typical day or week looks like for you.
My days and weeks vary greatly depending on the needs of the community or the organization. I have some days where I am out in the community working and having meetings, and other days I am in the office all day working on data entry or following up on projects. There is no typical day, also related to that this position is not a "9-to-5" position; weekends, early mornings, and late evening work happen.
What advice do you have for other DMOs that are considering creating a sustainability position?
Don't be short-sighted about what this position should have strategic influence over. A sustainable strategy is most effective when it is implemented top-down. For this reason, I encourage DMOs to hire for this level at a manager or director level when possible.
It is essential that it is not just a position that works on projects but can enact change through the organization, operations, governance, etc. Also, looking for someone with a breadth of experience in different sectors. For that person to be influential, they have to know how to work with governmental entities, NGOs, and private businesses of all types, not just tourism businesses.
For more on the “three Ps” of sustainability, check out “Good tourism balances people, profit, and planet,” featuring Anna de Jong of the Good Tourism Institute, a podcast hosted by David Peacock, senior advisor of the Future Tourism Group at Simpleview.