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Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Need for New DMO Performance Measures

by Bill Geist / Zeitgeist Consulting

It’s amazing how asteroids disrupt the perfect world in which DMOs always imagined they lived.

Of course, the asteroids of which we speak were a cornerstone of the Strategic Map within the DMAI Futures Study just over a year ago. Many of us in the audience in Las Vegas collectively scratched our heads at the concept of asteroids...only to understand far more clearly weeks later as the mortgage markets began to collapse the same week as a hurricane slammed into the Texas Coast.

Asteroids indeed.

But the “Armageddon” sized asteroid is the internet. Once welcomed as the ultimate marketing tool that offered unlimited potential, it now conspires with the private sector to render DMOs obsolete. Disintermediation is no longer a fear...but a reality.

For, at our core, DMOs are but intermediaries. We put buyer and seller together. We don’t really own the product we sell...thus, we have little control over how it is sold. And, if we have no control over the product, just how can we be expected to be accountable for the sale of the product?

Put another way, if an iPod factory is running at 120% production, how can the sales division be expected to sell more? On the other hand, if the media starts reporting that iPods are exploding, how can the sales division be expected to sell more?

The previous model of how DMOs and CVBs were designed and programmed is coming to an end. While there is no doubt that many of us will continue to deploy professional salespeople to market our destinations to meeting, group, sports and event planners, we’ll likely not utilize the same tactics in 2010 that we did a decade ago. We’ll travel smarter, employ technology more effectively and view the roll of tradeshows more judiciously.

Most importantly, the DMO industry will need to broaden its definition of success if it is to leave a lasting mark on the destination it serves. And, this concept falls into two broad arenas. First, we can no longer ignore the crucial role we must play in destination development policy and advocacy. Far too many communities bear the unfortunate scars left when unsophisticated city planners unknowingly blunted an opportunity to create a visitor magnet. In most of these cases, it was a disengaged DMO and visitor industry that allowed the unwise development to occur.

So, on one side, the DMO of the future will need to be fully engaged and, as Past Chair Maura Gast said, at the “adult table.” DMOs and our industry partners must be engaged peers at the highest level of community leadership and development.

On the other side, we’ll need to broaden the definition of success when it comes to accountability. And, as tough as you may think fighting for a seat at the table can be, this will be even tougher. Many of us have focused our DMO’s primary resources on meeting and sports sales because it’s trackable...not necessarily because its the best use of our limited budget.

Especially in smaller destinations, these resources may be much more wisely spent developing marketing strategies that reinforce or enhance destination awareness and appreciation...and intent to travel. Our hotels are vigorously selling their meeting space. And we’re right their next to them, vigorously selling their meeting space. But, who is selling the concept of the destination? And, if no one is selling the notion that our destination is worth considering, how will all that selling succeed?

It’s one of my favorite concepts contained in the Durham CVB’s adaptation of the “Maltese Cross” of roles and responsibilities of tomorrow’s DMO, found in the Future Study. The Bureau’s “Primary” Role: “Tell the Durham Story. Inform, Educate and Advise the Visitor. Get Durham on the List for Consideration.”

Nothing there about selling. But, of course, they do that too.

This is not to challenge the notion that the sales function isn’t important to many destinations, industry partners and DMOs. We all know it is. But, as Bill Peeper opined in his book “Managing Destination Marketing Organizations: The Tasks, Roles, and Responsibilities of the Convention and Visitor Bureau Executive,” the first CVB didn’t sell room nights and convention space. They sold the notion that Detroit was a pretty cool place (though I’m guessing they didn’t use the word cool). At the end of the book, he muses whether we shouldn’t consider a return to such a concept.

But, therein lies the rub. How do we track our impact on getting consumers to consider our destinations? How do we track our destination advertising, brand awareness and appreciation, intent to travel or return? How do we track our ROI on Twitter and Facebook? Sure, the Grand Rapids CVB facilitated the booking of a convention through a Twitter conversation...but how do we prove that our Tweets have piqued the interest of hundreds of people to sample our Thursday night riverfront music festival...and stay the night?

I was recently in a conversation with a group of hoteliers in just such a town. Most were questioning how important that summer long series of concerts by nationally known entertainers really was in driving tourism spending. Sure the downtown was packed on Thursday nights...but those were probably just locals, they said. Until the hotel closest to the festival grounds casually offered, we sold out every Thursday night this year. Mouths dropped. And mental notes were quickly made by the smarter ones in the room to consider concert packages next year.

But how many of those rooms were influenced by the DMO? I’m guessing a bunch. And, it will take research to prove it.

Soft marketing (versus sales) is criticized because it’s hard to track. It’s’s just not what we’ve been spending our money on because we want to eek out five more ads. The DMO of the future will need to budget for research to prove the relevance and value of its Social Media and Marketing programs.

And, we’ll need Boards and Destination Leaders to redefine what success looks like. For some DMOs, it’ll be about Sales and Room Nights...and that’s OK, if that’s what they decide success is. For others, it’ll be about brand awareness...and that’s OK too. But, for most, it’ll be about a lot of things...because the Maltese Cross makes it clear that few of us have the luxury of being one trick ponies.

As the Future Study suggests, slight correction changes may be in the cards for some DMOs. However, as soon as the private sector figures out how to monetize Destination Marketing, you can be sure that it will look vastly different than the way we are doing it today. That’s why I think radical change for many of us is just around the bend...because the private sector is getting closer.

I look forward to continuing the conversation with you at DMMI...and in the months to come.
Author: Terri White

Categories: Articles, DMO Impact, Research/Trends, Management/Crisis, AdvocacyNumber of views: 79107