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DMO Destination Management – What is Realistic?

Updated: Oct 18, 2021


Issue # 3 (839 Words/4 Minutes)


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DMO Destination Management – What is Realistic?

(One size does not fit all destinations)

While many DMOs have taken the lead on shifting from destination marketing to destination management, many of those plans have fallen short both in implementation and results. The reality is that DMOs who, over many years, have built sophisticated marketing and communication expertise and are the center of tourism promotion often times do not have the capability legally or administratively to implement policy changes to support destination management strategies and plans. They simply can’t make and implement policy or regulatory changes like a city or county can, or even like other agencies can such as the US Forest Service or state parks.


This recent article in Skift illustrates this challenge first-hand. The article “The Key to Hawaii Tourism’s Future Rests With State Elections in 2021” recognizes that true changes and destination management will ultimately rest with state and local makers. The key point in the article is that the Hawaii Tourism Authority doesn’t have the authority and all the powers needed to ensure the state embraces sustainable tourism growth. The article also points out that next year’s elections could be pivotal to elect candidates at the state level that do support destination management and tourism sustainability concepts.


My own analysis conducted for the Insights Collective Tourism Think Tank (located in Denver CO, of which I am a part of) also bears this out. We identified twenty-three destination management strategies for overnight and day visitors as well as for year-round residents and second homeowners. It is important to note that out of the 23 strategies identified, there were only six that a DMO actually had any control over.


The challenge of not having control over the implementation of a destination management plan is a major/considerable one for DMOs. For example, they don’t have budget availability to develop capital projects like a municipality can; they can’t change vacation rental ordinances, provide parking, manage trailheads etc. In fact, they control very little except communication.

But there is an additional challenge beyond not having the ability to implement needed policy or regulatory changes. A second challenge has to do with setting community expectations. From a community perspective, the most visible manifestation of peak tourism comes from residents concerned with traffic, crowding, and congestion everywhere, from the grocery store to parking lots at favorite trailheads. Additionally, residents are concerned with how some visitors impact the natural environment with overuse, parking issues, and often abandoned trash. It is because of this disruption and oftentimes the resulting political pressure from local government that many DMOs have moved to the destination management model. When a DMO develops and releases a destination management plan the local community expects the issues like crowding, traffic, and congestion to subside. A year or two later those same issues often still exist and, in many cases, have gotten worse. This often manifests itself in a backlash against the DMO. Oftentimes this results in local government “taking action” i.e., reducing support for the DMO. As such, another strategy may be for DMO’s to not take lead but to be a part of a broader community approach. A DMO can act as a catalyst and facilitator for bringing the appropriate partners together. I have identified three different destination transition models for DMOs and their destinations to consider. A brief description of each can be found below:


Destination Management Models

Source: Carl Ribaudo


Each model has strengths and weakness and depends on its specific application. But in two of these transition models the DMO is a participant, not the focal point leader, in managing the destination. DMOs may do well to have a nuanced approach to how and at what points they engage in destination management.


The is no question destination management will be an important part of tourism moving forward and DMO’s are in the process of transitioning. But one approach does not fit all destinations and the creativity with how you implement it can be as important as the plan itself. A strategy to consider might be Ready, Fire, Aim. In that way, the DMO can best leverage its skill set while at the same time working to transition to a new destination management model for tourism. One that has implementation and accountability in the hands of agencies that can do it.


This article on Hawaii recognizes that true changes and results with destination management will rest beyond the DMO and with political and regulatory and policy makers. Perhaps there is a lesson learned from the Hawaii experience.