A Different Perspective on Understanding DMO Value

originally published September 30, 2020 at Future Tourism Group

Destination industry leaders have a wealth of tools to employ in their efforts to increase visitation and drive travel spending. From DestinationNEXT which describes the trends and opportunities that will shape the future of destinations, to marketing insights gleaned from destination image research, to long-standing visitor profiling methods that uncover customer behaviors, destination marketing organizations (DMOs) are able to collect the data and metrics they need to calibrate marketing and sales activities. Similarly, industry-wide tools such as the Event Impact Calculator allow DMOs to place a monetary value on the impact of these efforts. 

While these tools are helpful in identifying opportunities and measuring a DMO’s performance, they provide only a thin snapshot of the results. And that snapshot is largely focused only on the visitor and their interaction with the tourism vertical.

Beyond the tourism vertical

Juxtaposed against this limited array is a growing recognition of the importance of a DMO’s work for the entire community. Their efforts toward destination development and branding impact the community beyond the annual number of visitors, lodging tax generated, or number of impressions on an ad. 

However, if asked to validate this broader impact, DMOs would be hard pressed to provide a quantifiable metric or widely accepted rubric to do so. Instead, they most frequently rely on anecdotal examples or intangible measures. 

The need to take ownership of this “quality of place steward” role has been championed in Maura Gast’s call for “a place that people want to visit” and Jack Johnson’s reconfiguring of destination lexicon to have greater community meaning. The tumultuous effects of this year provide a heightened sense of urgency for DMOs to take on this charge. 

DMOs who have not yet claimed this “social license” (to borrow a phrase from Marsha Walden) must do so as soon as possible. This timely and much needed pivot will position them and their destination partners well as local officials weigh potential funding cuts to ease the sting of dramatically decreased revenues or envision ways to consolidate organizations or community outlays.

To fully articulate their value, DMOs need a standardized process to measure and monitor the entire destination ecosystem. These metrics require more relevant reporting and communication tools. Now more than ever, DMOs need a community-facing mechanism to demonstrate how tourism efforts shape communities and strengthen quality of place. 

Successful delivery of these messages and positioning the DMO to take on this role begins by understanding how their efforts are viewed within the larger community. This occurs through purposeful engagement with the broader stakeholder community in conversations that transcend merely the number of heads in beds or visitor behaviors. 

Community networking role of a DMO

By communicating the impact of destination development in the lexicon of shared community value, DMOs will earn their seat at the table as a critical actor in a community’s economic development success. 

More importantly, if the community understands and remembers why tourism and the hospitality sector matter for both residents and visitors, they are more likely to invest in and partner with the DMO for continued success in the aftermath of COVID-19 and beyond.

In the words of management guru H. James Harrington, “If you can’t measure something, you can’t understand it. If you can’t understand it, you can’t control it. If you can’t control it, you can’t improve it.” 

Let’s start measuring beyond the tourism vertical!


Clarity of Place logo

David Holder, Clarity of Place

David Holder, Co-founder, Clarity of Place

As a tourism professional for over 25 years, David Holder co-founded Clarity of Place with a hands-on understanding of what destination leaders need to be successful. 

Before starting Clarity of Place, David was part of the Global Tourism and Destinations team of Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL) Hotels Group. As the team’s Vice President, David developed destination strategic plans using research & extensive stakeholder engagement across a diverse range of organizations, each seeking innovative new approaches, focused problem solving, or stronger stakeholder connectivity.

In David’s earlier career, he served as the President of Visit Syracuse (the Syracuse CVB) and led all advocacy, operations, and programming.

Tina Valdecanas, Clarity of Place

Tina Valdecanas, Co-founder, Clarity of Place

As one of the founders, Tina Valdecanas has played a lead role in building the “backbone” of the Clarity platform and is responsible for the continued development of the client interface and other destination tools that are core to Clarity’s value. In addition to overseeing the compilation of market data and community input, Tina employs her 20+ year career in community and economic development to interpret trends and identify areas of opportunity.

Channeling her fascination for metrics and data visualization, Tina develops strategic and “right-sized” solutions for client challenges. Results-driven by nature, Tina successful delivers decision-ready materials and strives to ensure any output has left no stone unturned, while still being user-friendly and helping clients implement their vision.