Category Archives: Destination Management

Bursting the “tourist bubble”

Back in “the day” tourism in cities took place in the “tourist bubble”. The “tourist bubble” is that safe space downtown, full of chain restaurants and attractions, which cater for conventioneers and leisure visitors. In these bubbles, hotels, conventions centers and other businesses that meet the specific needs of tourists cluster. Businesses in these areas “understand” tourists and cater to them. So do host cities that ensure these areas are safe and secure for visitors. In some ways, the tourist bubble was an effective way to “manage” tourism. Of course, the downside of these bubbles is that all start to look and feel the same.

In recent years – an interesting thing has begun. The bubble is beginning to burst. Fueled in part by home-sharing services like Airbnb, travelers are moving out of the bubble and staying in neighborhoods. In these neighborhoods, travelers seek more authentic experiences. Places like Fitzroy in Melbourne, and “family friendly” West Seattle are now “hot” tourist destinations according to Conde Nast Traveler. For an article on “hot neighborhood destinations – check out this article.

There are benefits for these neighborhoods from the new business – new customers for instance – but there will be challenges as well. These new visitors are changing neighborhoods in ways that could not have been predicted “back in the day”. As a new equilibrium is achieved, it will be important to understand the impacts – positive and negative – of these new visitors. The challenge, as with all tourism, is to not destroy what attracts us in the first place. Now, more than ever, neighborhoods need to understand the principles of sustainable tourism.


Successful, sustainable tourism – The courage to start with the market in mind

From a marketing perspective, the answer to “where do I start?” is always with your target market. For many small tourism businesses that can be a hard thing to do – after all – your product is right there in front of you – and it is beautiful.

Over summer I had the great pleasure of visiting tourism product in the area of San Juan de Arama in the Meta region of Colombia. As the ink dries on the peace treaty that ends the war in Colombia, the people of this region are working to develop post-conflict tourism in their region. They are developing an exciting vision of the future in which tourism is a tool to improve their quality of life. They envisage tourism that respects their culture and preserves the incredible natural places in their region. Like all great marketers – even now, at the very beginning of the process – they are thinking about the market they want to attract and the type of visitor they want to welcome.

While the textbooks may make this sound easy, I applaud the courage of these tourism marketers. It is not easy to stay focused on a specific type of tourist – one that shares respect for the environment and local people – when there are easier markets to go after. And it takes courage and faith to turn away business – even business that doesn’t exactly fit your vision for the future – when you are a small business and need short-term cash flow.

One of the tourism micro-entrepreneurs I met in the region was Ferney Perilla from Rerserva Natural el India Acostado. Ferney, confined to a wheelchair, has created an outstanding nature-based experience designed for responsible travelers who are keen to learn of the culture and natural heritage of the region. He knows exactly the type of traveler he wants to visit the Reserva.

Targeting the mass market and providing tourism products for the “lowest common denominator” may be easier in the short term – but in the long run it makes it harder to achieve the goals of the destination community. Congratulations to Ferney Perilla and all the tourism operators of San Juan for their wisdom in working together to create a great tourism destination – starting with the ideal market in mind.

New Dimensions of Destination Branding

“A brand is no-longer what we tell consumers it is. It is what consumers tell each other.” Scott Cook – Founder of Intuit.

While Cook’s experience as a software developer may seem far removed from tourism, this insight is having profound impact on Destination Marketing. At a time when destination branding is becoming more important, there is a greater realization that branding is not just a function of “Promotion” – great advertising, PR, online advertising, etc –  another of the 4 P’s of marketing is taking its place in the spotlight: P for Product.

This makes a lot of sense – my brand experience of Apple is in using my ipad or iphone – not their advertising. My brand experience of Starbucks is in my visits to the “third place” – not from their (limited) advertising…. and yet for a long time we have talked about destination branding as though it was about finding a “magic message”.

Marketing is more than “promotion” and the time has come for DMOs to place more attention on “product”. The heavy lifting of brand development is being undertaken by a new breed of “customer experience managers” and DMO leaders engaging with city leaders and developers to ensure the destination product reflects the destination brand ideals.

Most DMOs have very limited budgets and building brand through advertising has little impact in a marketplace awash with messages. Destination Brand equity is created by consumers sharing with their friends, family and extended networks that the destination actually delivers on the promise. It probably always has been like this – its just that it is more obvious now.

DestinationNext, DMAI’s strategic road map for the future of destination marketing captures growing focus on ensuring the destination is managed to maximized benefits of tourism. The Destination Next theme,”Building and Protecting the Destination Brand”, recognizes that destination brand building includes being a cultural champion for the destination, supporting responsible and sustainable development and connecting visitor experience to resident’s quality of life. For many DMO’s that’s a very different “to do” list from years go past…

DMOs that invest in the visitor experience are using their branding resources in the best possible way…

Destinations of the future…

So what do the destinations of the future look like ?

It’s a great question. Too often it seems that as destinations become more popular – they become less appealing. We love our destinations to death.

That is why it is great that DMO managers are stepping up and engaging in the planning, developing and management of their destinations. No-longer are DMOs just promoting their destinations – they are actively involved in “product development” and “destination experience”. DestinationNext, DMAI’s strategic planning initiative, highlights DMOs important role in creating the destination communities of the future.

So what does the destination of the future look like ? There are encouraging clues in some of the recent work by McKinsey and Company – Building the Future of Cities with Green Districts.   If the trends identified by the folks at McKinsey are correct – we’ll see a greater emphasis on design in our cities, our destinations will be greener, more aesthetically pleasing and more cost efficient.

That’s good news for residents – and visitors !

What DMO managers need to know: Food Trends and Tourism

Sustainability and Social Responsibility are are the driving force behind the Top 5 trends in restaurants in the U.S. according to the National Restaurant Association. The top food trends, according to the  National Restaurant Association Culinary Forecast 2015 are locally sourced meat, seafood and produce and environmental sustainability.

Why do DMO managers need to know this ? Because this trend is helping them meet their goals of improving the economic and social well being of their destination communities. WhatsHot2015-Top5_Food_1200x1200

We are all becoming familiar with infographics touting the economic benefits of tourism.  An important way to improve the economic impact is to reduce what economists call “leakage” – the money that leaves the community. Locally sourced restaurants and “farm to table” restaurants keep money in the community ! The money tourists spend at “farm to table” restaurants does “leak away” – it stays close to home. These trends is helping raise the economic impact of tourism in many communities.

DMO managers spend a lot of time attracting new visitors to their destination – but strategies to improve the economic impact of visitors as less common. Leveraging these important trends is a way that progressive DMO management can get the most for their communities from visitor dollars.


Seth Godin nailed it (again) with this short post. In a couple of words he describes the reason for massive changes in destination marketing and management. Marketing used to be …

Acquiesce or consent ?

At a recent conference one of the speakers reminded the audience that tourism takes place at the acquiescence of the community. I thought the statement was eloquent and expressed an important idea…. but it has been bouncing around in my head ever since.

According to my dictionary, the noun acquiescence is tacit assent or agreement by silence. In the legal sense it is ” such neglect to take legal proceedings for such a long time as to imply the abandonment of a right’. It is unfortunate that so often “acquiescence” is exactly what happens in tourism destination communities. 

One of the principles of sustainable tourism is that destination community stakeholders have an active say in the development process. It is interesting that while this principle is applied in developing destinations around the world, it is rarely applied to communities here in the United States. Few CVBs track consumer sentiment toward tourism or reach out to diverse stakeholder groups in developing strategic tourism plans.

So – for the sustainability of tourism and the benefit of destination communities – I will say tourism takes place in destination communities,  not with their acquiescence but with their consent ( and I will continue to work with destination leaders to ensure that is, in fact, the case).


Beyond Sustainability… Regenerative, Restorative Tourism

While I am committed to promoting sustainability in tourism, I am sure that we can do better.
Sure – I know many destinations are struggling just to ensure that tourism is not a destructive force in their communities.But just not being bad isn’t good enough… I believe we should set the bar higher.
I am happy to say that some thought leaders in other fields are showing the way. I recently attended a presentation that highlighted the work of Bill Reed. Bill is one of the drivers behind the hugely influential LEED program. He has taken the next step – beyond sustainability- and committed himself to work that not only doesn’t harm the environment – but contributes to environmental regeneration. As it says on his website “Ultimately, his objective is to improve the overall quality of the physical, social and spiritual life of our living places”.

Tourism can be part of that future – a future that is not only sustainable – but restorative and regenerative.

Leading by Example – Surf City USA

Surf City USA really gets sustainable tourism. The folks at Visit Huntington Beach realized that their long term success meant protecting the environment, and celebrating the culture of the iconic SoCal Surf City while ensuring the visitor economy remained vibrant.

In other words – they recognized the importance of sustainable tourism and took

an active role in promoting within the

Huntington Beach Report


To support industry and community adoption of sustainable tourism they produced some great materials that explain sustainability and provide action tips to visitors, business owners and the community. To get the sustainability guide click through here. Its worth the read !

The Right Message Matters…

Most destinations marketers are familiar with the principles of target marketing. Targeting the right message to move a specific group of consumers through the buying process is standard operating practice at most DMOs.

It is surprising how few DMOs use the same principles of targeting their message to specific groups within the destination. Often the communication with these stakeholder groups is “one size fits all”. Of course, “one size fits all” normally means that no one is getting what they need.

This point was made clear to me during a recent research project led by my colleague, Dr. Mick La Lopa. In this project we examined the adoption of sustainable tourism practices in a specific destination and the results were clear. There were three distinct groups within the businesses we surveyed: one group that was “on the fence” and needed specific suggestions and assistance to get things moving, one segment that was “on board” and needed support and encouragement and a final group that wasn’t thinking about sustainability and needed to be introduced to the concept and convinced of its importance.  The strategies needed to support these three groups are very different – one size does not fit all.

As DMOs grapple with their role in product development “internal marketing” is becoming more important. Targeting the message to the folks at home is just as important as targeting the message to consumers.


Want to read the article?

La Lopa, J., & Day, J. (2011). Pilot study to assess the readiness of the tourism industry in Wales to change to sustainable tourism business practices. Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Management, 18, 130–139. DOI 10.1375/jhtm.18.1.130