A 2017 Destinations International (DI) policy brief states, “The devotion of members is the biggest asset to any advocacy organization, even more so than funding”. This assertion rings true, especially in these difficult times.
Many Destination Marketing Organizations (DMOs) find themselves under the microscope more so than ever before and advocacy efforts are at the forefront of many organizations’ attention right now. The same DI brief provides direction for messaging that can help translate the importance of our work for non-tourism audiences, but how does a DMO cultivate community advocates who will stand with us during times like these? I argue in this essay that, when it comes to the hospitality business community, this essential support is something that must be built up over time through an attentive focus on partner services.
The devotion of DMO partners is something that cannot be garnered on command. Devotion is cultivated over time through true service, meaning both customer service and impactful business development. It is based on inclusion and trust, both traits that link human beings together in a “band of brothers” of sorts, so that stakeholders see their DMO as their ally and any DMO advocacy battle as theirs as well.
‘Identity fusion’ is a term used by cognitive anthropologists to describe the phenomenon where individuals align themselves within a group in a very powerful way (Swann 2012). More than just simply self-identifying as a group member, ‘identity fusion’ refers to a strong allegiance toward the collective group and a loyalty to fellow group members. Members within the group are seen much like family and external threats to internal group members are taken personally. In a time of war, this allegiance can lead to a willingness to fight and die for fellow group members.
And while sometimes this might feel like war, what we are really talking about is dependency and devotion, trusting that each group member can lean on one another. This reliance is only sustainable if it is reciprocal. DMOs culminating tourism advocates should also examine the last time they asked their business partners what they can do for them.
Jack Johnson, Chief Strategy Officer at DI, has argued that DMOs must become a shared value in the eyes of the community (DI 2019). Essentially, the call is for aligning the DMO within the community ‘clan’ so that it is seen as an essential group member. As a identified member of the group, the DMO becomes an ally worth fighting for.
Many DMOs offer members a bullet-list of benefits that may not have changed much over the years. Besides the unquestionable impact of destination stewardship, brand alignment, and economic development for the benefit of the entire community, what else can we do on a more individualistic way to assist our hospitality business community?
Recently Seattle Southside RTA asked our partner businesses how we can support them during this unusual time. Through conversations with our hotels, restaurants, and attractions, it became clear that they were eager to spread the word of their increased cleanliness protocols to keep their guests and staff healthy but had limited in-house marketing and no budget. The RTA happens to have talented staff skilled in video production who produced short social-media worthy videos that visually demonstrated the new cleanliness protocols, to the gratitude of our overwhelmed hospitality partners.
Much like pivoting a marketing campaign based on client buying habits, a DMO’s partners services team must advocate within your organization for the development of new programs and solutions that can support partner businesses (Hogdins 2020). Sometimes the solution, or even the problem, is not clear to either party. A good liaison must be able to identify the changing needs of the hospitality business community and be able to recommend ways to solve problems in an ever-evolving landscape.
The first step is open dialogue with partners to brainstorm services that might be within a DMO’s control and ability. Perhaps the answer lies in providing consumer research data or community business reports, assistance with reaching a specific allusive market, or with the development of destination promotional tools that the partner business can use to help sell their product. The solutions will vary by destination and business partner.
Examining the changing needs of partner businesses should be incessant. These services are essential for cultivating trust and proving to partners that their DMO is a trusted partner instead of a tactical vendor. We want partners to see us as their tourism consultants. We want them to turn to us when they need help and trust that we will, to the best of our ability, find solutions to their needs. If we expect a partner to fight on our behalf, we need to identify how we can help fight their challenges as well.
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