The Big­gest Chal­lenge Fac­ing DMO’s Today

Des­ti­na­tion Man­age­ment Or­gan­i­sa­tions (DMOs) have a unique his­tor­i­cal op­por­tu­nity to help lead the shift from an old and ob­so­lete way of do­ing tourism to one that is re­gen­er­a­tive rather than ex­trac­tive.

Tourism Tattler - - EDITORIAL - Anna Pol­lock.

Af­ter in­ter­view­ing dozens of des­ti­na­tion mar­ket­ing lead­ers, Des­ti­na­tion Think! iden­ti­fied fifty chal­lenges fac­ing the tourism in­dus­try. They then grouped these con­cerns into the fol­low­ing four themes: Profit and Planet; Cost and Rev­enue; Prod­uct and Pro­mo­tion; Com­mu­nity and Col­lab­o­ra­tion; while also high­light­ing Lead­er­ship and Or­ga­ni­za­tion ( see Four crit­i­cal trends im­pact­ing des­ti­na­tion mar­ket­ing lead­er­ship).

What’s fas­ci­nat­ing about this list is what’s ab­sent. Vir­tu­ally all the items re­late to is­sues as­so­ci­ated with per­form­ing a des­ti­na­tion mar­ket­ing or­gan­i­sa­tion (DMO)’s tra­di­tional and pri­mary func­tion – i.e., do­ing what­ever it takes to at­tract more vis­i­tors. The fifty con­cerns sug­gest that there is clearly an aware­ness of change – e.g., the shift from prod­ucts to ex­pe­ri­ences; the emer­gence of con­tin­u­ously evolv­ing, more com­plex and di­verse me­dia chan­nels; the need to in­volve res­i­dents in tourism pro­mo­tion; plus adapt­ing to dwin­dling bud­gets, changes in con­sumer be­hav­iour, tools and tech­nol­ogy, etcetera. These are fa­mil­iar, fix­able prob­lems spe­cific to des­ti­na­tion pro­mo­tion.

By con­trast, the list pro­vides few in­di­ca­tions that DMOs are pay­ing much at­ten­tion to the big­ger, deeper, meta change driv­ers, the “wicked prob­lems” and sys­temic risks that, ac­cord­ing to the World Eco­nomic Fo­rum in their Global Risk re­ports and the work of Goldin and Mariathasan in The But­ter­fly De­fect, are turn­ing the fa­mil­iar up­side down and will, in my opin­ion, ne­ces­si­tate a fun­da­men­tal shift in DMO role and fo­cus.

“Sys­temic risks are now en­demic every­where – in sup­ply chains, pan­demics, ecol­ogy and cli­mate change, eco­nom­ics and pol­i­tics. Fail­ure to ad­dress these con­cerns will lead to greater pro­tec­tion­ism, xeno­pho­bia, na­tion­al­ism, and, in­evitably de­glob­al­iza­tion, ris­ing in­equal­ity, con­flict and slower growth…” (back cover of The But­ter­fly De­fect).

Since all these out­comes are well known and have the po­ten­tial to se­ri­ously im­pede tourism’s progress, their ex­clu­sion from the DMO’s list of con­cerns should be an­other rea­son for con­cern.

Our in­dus­try, and es­pe­cially the DMOs ac­count­able to des­ti­na­tions, will in­creas­ingly find it­self caught be­tween a rock and hard place. In global terms, growth would ap­pear as­sured – this al­ready huge sec­tor has barely scratched the sur­face of global de­mand em­a­nat­ing from an ex­pand­ing mid­dle class in emerg­ing mar­kets and the global rise of Mil­len­ni­als and Gen Z who view in­ter­na­tional travel as both a right and rite of pas­sage. But that same growth is clash­ing with the re­al­ity of ex­pand­ing phys­i­cal foot­fall on a fi­nite, “full” planet.

Even the en­light­ened few who choose to go to less con­gested, re­mote places of­fer­ing ever more eco­log­i­cal di­ver­sity and cause for won­der will, as their dis­cov­er­ies are shared and copied by the many, cause more harm than in­tended un­less there are fun­da­men­tal changes to busi­ness prac­tice. The days when so-called mind­ful or con­scious trav­ellers could per­suade them­selves that their ven­tures into the un­fa­mil­iar are less harm­ful com­pared to those made by tourists sip­ping mar­ti­nis by the pool in an all in­clu­sive re­sort or from the top tier of a 9,000 pas­sen­ger cruise liner are over. We’re ALL re­spon­si­ble now. Tourism is, to use an old pro­mo­tional slo­gan, “every­body’s busi­ness” and all of us will be af­fected by it.

So for me, the big­gest and un­recog­nised chal­lenge fac­ing tourism right now is the lack of ap­pro­pri­ate lead­er­ship.

Old mod­els of com­mand and con­trol ex­er­cised by those few that have (al­beit limited) con­cen­tra­tions of power and bud­get seem bent on sus­tain­ing “busi­ness as usual” while adding com­fort­ing terms like “green” and “sus­tain­able” to give the im­pres­sion of progress.

The fo­cus must now shift from in­cre­men­tal im­prove­ment to sys­temic trans­for­ma­tion un­der­taken by every­body if we are to have any hope of staving off or min­imis­ing the afore­men­tioned sys­temic risks. As long ago as 2000, W. Ed­ward Dem­ing, the fa­ther of To­tal Qual­ity Man­age­ment ob­served: “Long-term com­mit­ment to new learn­ing and new phi­los­o­phy is re­quired of any man­age­ment that seeks trans­for­ma­tion.”

A host of highly re­garded thought lead­ers ar­gue that trans­for­ma­tion will re­quire new forms of dis­trib­uted, coura­geous, emer­gent, awak­ened, or sys­tems lead­er­ship that is start­ing to emerge from the grass­roots. The pro­lif­er­a­tion of awards cer­e­monies for in­no­va­tion, imag­i­na­tion and ef­fec­tive re­spon­si­bil­ity is proof that many in­di­vid­ual en­trepreneurs are in­deed al­ready wak­ing up, grow­ing up and show­ing up.

Given the place-based na­ture of tourism and its ut­ter de­pen­dence on com­mu­nity sup­port for the ac­tiv­i­ties of its host en­ter­prises, DMOs have a unique his­tor­i­cal op­por­tu­nity to help lead the shift from an old and ob­so­lete way of do­ing tourism to one that is re­gen­er­a­tive rather than ex­trac­tive. The first step is to ac­knowl­edge that such sys­temic risks are real and need to be ac­knowl­edged and ad­dressed. But un­less DMOs shift their gaze away from their growth tar­gets and KPIs and make a com­mit­ment to “a new learn­ing and a new phi­los­o­phy” they will be­come in­creas­ingly ir­rel­e­vant as oth­ers as­sume the lead­er­ship role.

Lead­er­ship, like global travel, is be­ing democra­tised and noth­ing will be the same again.

About the au­thor: Anna Pol­lock is a vi­brant thought leader, speaker, con­sul­tant and Founder of Con­scious Travel, which aims to en­cour­age health­ier, more sus­tain­able tourism busi­ness mod­els.

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