At first glance, the role of a destination marketing organization can appear to be an odd one. Have you ever asked yourself why, as a community, you would purposely invite strangers to come visit your beaches, hike on your trails, eat at your restaurants, or stroll your boardwalks?
To take it a step further, why would you, as a community, funnel tax dollars to a destination organization for promotion of the destination when those tax revenues could otherwise be spent on funding police and fire services, improving educational programs or roads, or investing in a public art installation?
The answer is a simple one: You would only do this if it improved your quality of life as a resident.
Let’s break this statement down a level to see why this is true:
In order to welcome visitors and generate economic opportunity, destination organizations take on a wide variety of activities, such as:
But these actions represent the means — not the ultimate ends the destination organization is after.
A simple analogy may help here. If we think of a destination organization as a corporation and community residents as its shareholders, then a traditional definition would suggest that the destination organization’s job is to maximize the benefits to local residents. (Even a somewhat more updated understanding of the role of a corporation would prioritize the desires and values of the shareholders, while also acknowledging a destination leader’s shared responsibility to other stakeholders such as employees, local business owners, etc.)
Thinking of residents as the shareholders of a destination organization gives clarity to how leaders should hold themselves accountable. To carry the metaphor a step further, it creates a “profit and loss” statement of sorts for a destination — which could look something like this:
Postives / “Revenues”
Negatives / “Costs”
Considering a destination’s “ledger” provides leaders of Smart Destinations with a powerful tool to evaluate opportunities and challenges.
For many destination leaders this way of thinking represents a shift in mindset — away from a focus on activities (ad campaigns, sales efforts, website leads) and toward the actions leaders can take to align community (aka, shareholder) values with destination strategies.
* This is why tourism is classified as an export in economic literature — because these are goods and services sold to those outside the resident tax base.
** Ideally these jobs are held by residents in the community. I know in reality this doesn’t always happen, and this is one of the negative aspects of tourism we as an industry we need to address.