St. Gallen Model for Destination Management

The St. Gallen Model for Destination Management (SGDM) brings a fresh perspective with no boundaries for destinations.

Travel is an integrated phenomenon in society. There is a need for DMOs to explore and fully understand the origins of travel, how it changes and how it has already developed and transformed. More importantly, DMOs should actively react to the changing dynamics of travel and its impacts, and rather than just possess social and economic implications as a focus, to incorporate the environment into their strategies as sustainability and climate change become global priorities.

Travel is an integrated phenomenon in society. There is a need for DMOs to explore and fully understand the origins of travel, how it changes and how it has already developed and transformed. More importantly, DMOs should actively react to the changing dynamics of travel and its impacts, and rather than just possess social and economic implications as a focus, to incorporate the environment into their strategies as sustainability and climate change become global priorities. It is crucial now that suppliers in the travel industry provide services for long term development at each destination to ensure sustainability targets are met and to also encourage customer loyalty. It is mandatory for DMOs to take into consideration all these aspects to truly be sustainable and to ensure brand and destination longevity.

Our team met with Dr Pietro Beritelli in Switzerland, Associate Professor at the University of St. Gallen. Additionally, he also works at the Institute for Systemic Management and Public Governance, as part of the research team on tourism and transport, specialising in destination management. As a former student in Business and Economics, with an emphasis on tourism and transport, his knowledge in the field is very extensive. Dr Beritelli had helped construct, develop and implement the St. Gallen Model for Destination Management (SGDM), and kindly explained it to us, alongside how other DMOs can use the model. He assisted in implementing the model at both the Italian regions of Dolomiti Paganella and Val Di Sole – later discussed – who worked together to embrace the transformation process.

Dr Beritelli highlighted how the travel industry experiences many challenges, such as transportation issues, positive visitor experiences, predicting consumer trends, and meeting consumer needs to name a few. He explained that in a world where the visitor journey begins at home before tourists even arrive at the destination, it’s important, as a DMO, to assess collaboration amongst partners and enterprises, gauge public space, the environment, culture and other elements to ensure the whole experience is relevant for the consumer, alongside being desirable and meeting expectations.

Destination management combines all these features, including challenges faced. Every DMO should understand the importance of hospitality, transportation, travel and the decision-making process for consumers at a destination, and how they are all interlinked. Destination management is expected to remain an important research topic in the future of tourism marketing within a rapidly evolving digital world.

Dr Beritelli explained that in the 80s and 90s, travel was developing rapidly, and DMOs had a need to remain agile and relevant in the fast-evolving market. They believed that promotion was the most important aspect to destination marketing, focusing on features such as ensuring the area is aesthetically pleasing and excellent customer service. Granted, these are important things to consider, however, DMOs were blinded by their own comfort zones and considered attracting people to the destination as the primary focus, so pushed heavily with advertisements. They were led astray by fixating on the competition, and arrived at difficulties, struggling to understand their lack of ROI.

He continued, explaining how DMOs in this era attempted to overcome their challenges by increasing their standard of promotion, to become more active in sales and distribution, and even though these methods helped somewhat, they soon realised that this was not enough to truly stay relevant and prosperous in a saturated market. Hereafter, DMOs assessed their destinations as independent areas and defined them by institutions like municipalities, states, and authorities. They adopted new approaches – to perceive the destinations from the demand side, rather than from the supply. In today’s climate, this is super important as visitors continue to search for innovation and stories and to remain relevant, there is a fundamental need for DMOs to fully understand what the consumers want, in order to stay ahead of the competition.

The St. Gallen Model for Destination Management

The St. Gallen Model for Destination Management (SGDM) brings a fresh perspective with no boundaries and provides solutions to the complexities in managing, tracking and predicting tourist behaviour amongst ever-evolving systems in the travel and tourism industry. Initially, it observes how a variety of tourists move as visitor flows. Strategic visitor flows (SVFs) are used as the foundation of analysis and in planning a new model - the SGDM simply connects these flows to supply and demand networks, alongside explaining the social forces controlling and influencing tourists’ behaviours. The team at St. Gallen realised that a simple understanding of the multiple visitor flows and the subsequent network allowed participants in the journey such as restaurants and hotels to let go of their preconceptions. The model enabled these players to rethink tasks, campaigns and strategies, which allowed them to become more efficient and effective in their efforts through their resources – subsequently benefitting both destination players and visitors alike.

The SGDM uses a combination of theory and practical tools in tourism management to aid DMOs in developing their destinations, and offers a realistic, market-driven and forward-thinking perspective for DMOs while enabling them to interpret their own visitor flows. It allows for a thorough understanding of the visitor journey and assists DMOs in making valuable decisions based on accurate and reliable data, while helping them understand their key problems, and selects those to prioritise first. The model uses travel as an example of integrated experience in society and portrays the need to understand the industry’s origins and growth, in order to understand and transform it.

The Approach

The approach of the SGDM addresses businesses within hospitality and tourism, such as hotels, tourist attractions and restaurants, but also addresses DMOs, visitor centres, public administrators, regional planners and developers, to name a few. The model possesses practical experience in over 30 destinations across Europe, Asia and Africa, alongside valuable insights into destination management and marketing. For individuals studying tourism and destination management, such as students and researchers, the SGDM provides innovative and relevant ways of understanding and gaining perspectives of destinations as complex systems of interdependencies, which are constantly evolving. These interdependencies are then activated and manipulated by visitors within specified places over selected periods of time.

The approach of the model follows a series of six steps:

  1. Identify visitor flows and define, create and outline strategic visitor flows (SVF).
  2. Discuss the variable geometry by overlapping these SVFs and assess their portfolios.
  3. Analyse the supply and demand networks and reconstruct these networks’ main drivers.
  4. Describe the management and marketing processes for each SVF and delegate tasks to assist these.
  5. Arrange strategies and actions with organisations and delegate resources with those most suited.
  6. Update SVFs, alongside the marketing and management processes and resources, and finalise destination learning and decision-making processes.
Image courtesy of Institute for Systemic Management and Public Governance, University of St. Gallen

The SGDM uses technology such as GPS tracking which can be downloaded in the form of an app. DMOs are able to plot the movement of tourists onto maps, using points and lines depicting how they move. The advantage is that there is no need to manage a whole area, with a sole focus on the tourist areas. Here, the SGDM aided the DMO in helping it manage where the key problems were located, and how to adapt its strategy in response to this data.

The SGDM has opened up a new world for DMOs, instating ideas to reconstruct visitor flows on maps while supplying information, placing people front and centre, and monitoring where people go and what they do. From this, DMOs can see what is working and what is not, which is fundamental when it comes to understanding the visitor journey and shaping communications around this insight. On the maps, they have begun to notice that even in small areas, the activities and routes varied daily. Tourist behaviours differ due to a variety of factors, such as the weather, their energy levels, and different availability and opening times for the various activities on offer each day. This is allowing DMOs to study and compare the regular and new sequences, helping them understand the changing dynamics of their consumers’ behaviours and trends.

DMOs using this are realising that reconstructing these visitor flows allows them to see an alternative perspective on not only who the visitors are, but what they do, allowing for comparisons and key themes on their profiles. By doing this, DMOs can place themselves into the shoes of the visitors, of which need to be understood primarily in order to produce a worthwhile script in the production of the whole visitor experience. The visitor is the trigger that ignites the experience process.

Using the SGDM, DMOs are able to achieve a broad view of the whole visitor experience, in order to fully understand the consumer’s journey and to understand how and why visitors make decisions. Looking at the whole picture avoids details being unnoticed and allows key trends to be spotted quickly. The responsible DMO can take the lead in the process and can communicate effectively with different partners to gain further perspective. The SGDM serves as a foundation of a new prototype in destination management and highlights potential directions for further research.

Putting the model into practice

The SGDM was used as a destination transformation method through the experience led DMO transformation of Dolomiti Paganella and Val Di Sole. The application of this model gave the opportunity for the DMOs to analyse the tourism flows within the region and the available tourism experiences that the visitors can enjoy at the destinations. This created a fertile territory to expand the role of the DMO by starting to manage the destinations in three different ways.

Firstly, the DMO helped the industry stakeholders in the coordination of projects to improve tourism mobility. Here, the DMO acted as a project manager, ensuring stakeholders implemented strategies effectively. Secondly, the DMO identified three key strategic points for the future to characterise the destination. After these three aspects/products were identified, it focused on developmental and promotional efforts to represent the region. Lastly, the DMO ensured a good promotion of the destination, including communication, content creation and sales support. Here, the DMO coordinated all marketing activities.

Image courtesy of Institute for Systemic Management and Public Governance, University of St. Gallen

To finalise Dolomiti Paganella’s new masterplan, the DMO started by acknowledging several key points. To be competitive, the destination has to focus on specific products. Specialising in key products was essential alongside focusing attention and investments on 4 key product areas: bike, hiking, climbing, family. Additionally, identifying these key product areas allowed the DMO a stronger collaboration with stakeholders to develop new experiences and products. This partnership was necessary to share the new vision and strategy for the destination and to unify the destination to increase competitiveness. The third point was to understand that the DMO is not only meant to promote the destination, as the role has shifted from a marketing approach to a product and experience development approach with the adoption of three pillars for the new strategy: Product development, Experience development and Storytelling. The DMO plays a supporting role in the creation of products and experiences with stakeholders, and takes a major role in the storytelling stage, shaping the destination’s image. The internal structure of the DMO had to change with the new approach – departments were restructured through changes in the organisational chart, to allow staff to become specialised in each product. For more information, see our case study here.

Key Takeaways

1. Every DMO needs to understand the importance of hospitality, transportation, travel and the decision-making process for consumers at a destination – and how each of these aspects is stringently linked

2. There is a need to predict tourist behaviour amongst the ever-evolving systems in the travel and tourism industry, and observe how a variety of tourists move as visitor flows. SVFs are used to analyse and plan new models, with the SGDM connecting these flows between supply and demand networks.

3. The model enables stakeholders and marketers to rethink tasks, campaigns and strategies, allowing them to become more efficient and effective in their marketing efforts.

4. The SGDM assists DMOs in decision-making using accurate and reliable data while helping them understand their key problems, and selecting those to prioritise first.

5. DMOs should actively react to the changing dynamics of travel, and incorporate the environment into their strategies as sustainability and climate change become global priorities. Suppliers in the travel industry must provide services for long term development at their destinations to ensure sustainability targets are met. DMOs should take into consideration these aspects to be truly sustainable and to ensure brand and destination longevity.

6. DMOs should actively react to the changing dynamics of travel, and incorporate the environment into their strategies as sustainability and climate change become global priorities. Suppliers in the travel industry must provide services for long term development at their destinations to ensure sustainability targets are met. DMOs should take into consideration these aspects to be truly sustainable and to ensure brand and destination longevity.

Access our  worksheet on the St. Gallen Model👇

Published on:
November 2020
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