“Sustainability” has been described as one of the most “jargony-ist” words of recent times. Because I talk about sustainability a lot, I get this feedback from everyone – students, hoteliers, tour operators and DMOs. I agree ! The word “sustainability” is used way too frequently and too carelessly – and it’s too bad – because lost in the “I’m so over this word – sustainability” attitude is the important fact that DMOs are important agents of sustainability.
Imagine working to make the destination the best place it could be – a beautiful environment, people treated well and locals celebrating their unique culture, a healthy economy. Imagine you are doing it to get the best from/for the destination today – and that you are working to ensure the destination community remains a great place to be in the years to come. This scenario doesn’t take make imagination for many DMO managers – it is what they do every day.
So – sustainability and improving the “triple bottom line” – people, planet, profits – is core to the role of a DMO manager. Might be time to update the job description ….
As an educator committed to building a better world, I spend a lot of time thinking about how we can equip the new generation to tackle the challenges they will face ( or should I say – the challenges we leave them….)
While it is hard to anticipate the specific skills needed in the world of tomorrow, I believe there are some core values that will be critical to developing a better tourism system in the years to come. My friends at TEFI – Tourism Education Futures Initiative – have identified 5 important sets of values that make a great foundation on which to build curriculum – and a career. Those value dimensions and their specific values/skills include:
- Stewardship: sustainability, responsibility, and service to the community
- Mutuality: diversity, inclusion, equity, humility and collaboration
- Ethics: Honesty, transparency, authenticity
- Professionalism: leadership, practicality, relevance, timeliness, teamwork and pro-activity
- Knowledge: critical thinking, innovation, creativity and networking.
Now – I’ll be the first to admit there may be a few things missing in this list – but it sure looks like a great place to start to me.
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).
One of the real challenges in creating change for sustainable tourism is creating meaningful support for practitioners. We know what needs to be done – but it is hard to do. Seth Godin’s Blog “How to Draw an Owl” captures the problem perfectly. Its easy to draw the two circles that form the basic structure of the owl – but the challenge is in drawing the rest of the damn owl….
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
Air travel is the biggest single contributor to Greenhouse Gases in the tourism system. Airplane manufacturers work to reduce emissions even as demand for new plans increases. Nice to see some progress