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Nicholas Hall

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#DTTT Blog

Nicholas Hall, CEO of the DTTT, reflects on the Digital Tourism Innovation Campus and the Destination Transformation framework.

I’m taking some time out to write a post about Destination Transformation and why we’ve made it the theme for this year’s #DTIC2015 in Barcelona. The inspiration for choosing this topic actually stems quite far back in the Digital Tourism Think Tank’s history, but in 2015 it really comes to the fore.

If you ask me if DMOs will exist in five years from now, the answer is unquestionably “yes”, but I start with this question because it is one that I’ve been asked time and time again. The honest truth is, there are many critics in the industry who firmly believe that they shouldn’t exist and argue that DMOs are all too often ineffective, focusing on the wrong things, interfering with industry affairs or spending money that the trade could spend better.

Moreover, this critical point of view is usually supported with the claim that today’s travellers are sophisticated digital savvies who will use endless sites and apps to plan their trips, often giving little consideration to the official destination site in the process. These arguments I can understand, as a (very) frequent traveller myself, I have to confess I rarely use a destination sites unless it is for research on work we’re doing with a client, for a benchmark or some other non-travelling purpose. But then again, I also know exactly what I want in a travel experience and I know where to look for highly relevant tips and advice to help prepare my trips.

So if someone in my position would be the first to admit this, then you may say to yourself that I’ve somewhat answered my own question here, and at the same time I’ve put a knife in the back of the industry that I passionately believe in supporting.

In actual fact, it is precisely this question which leads us to re-think the role of the DMO, with an acute understanding that whilst the tourism industry has proven resilient on the most part to global crisis, it hasn’t always handled disruption from within with quite the same confidence.

You may be right in asking what role the DMO has in today’s world?

It is a fact that today’s travellers research their travel plans extensively in an omni-channel process, which in the last couple of years has become highly fragmented thanks to smartphones and tablets reaching near full adoption in developed markets. We used to refer to google research which showed an average of 30 sites used before a trip was booked to what is today a far greater number of snippets across multiple devices and all day long, as people snack on ideas, absorb and engage in discussions and carefully plan around opinions and recommendations to develop a highly informed understanding to support their destination choice. So if the official destination site doesn’t necessarily come into play, you may be right in asking what role the DMO has in today’s world?

So before I begin to tackle this, let me bring this post back on track and tell you that I do in fact believe strongly that DMOs have a key role to play here, but as consumer habits change, so too much our approach, which is why the critics of this industry are right to ask the question as too should every DMO in evaluating what role they should play in 2016.

Working with so many destinations I can fairly confidently say I’ve seen the whole spectrum when it comes to their operational models. There are those NTOs with pretty huge budgets who usually take the most flack from industry gawking at the numbers, there are those who have remodelled themselves to incorporate their industry and then there are others who are firmly attached to their government ministry, where direction is entirely politically driven. At a City level there are cities with huge teams and often big budgets too, with the industry behind them and then there are the smaller cities where their passion is insatiable but often with a sense of being overwhelmed by the task they set themselves. These are only a handful of the most common structures of a DMO.

With such a mix, it is interesting that every destination feels they have something to learn from their (friendly) competitors. When destinations come to #DTIC they do so with a view to exchanging knowledge and experiences and learning from each other. For us, Destination Transformation is not an action it’s an evolution and part of that process is having the opportunity to attend forums like #DTIC to learn from others, take inspiration from the brilliant case studies and build a personal network of other destinations who perhaps face similar challenges or can lend a word of advice when it’s needed. This is the true sense of the community that has been built up here.

There is quite a lot more to Destination Transformation than this, however, but what is important is to ask that critical question, “will my DMO exist in five years from now?” knowing that to just exist is not really an option. You have to be relevant, you to make a positive impact for your industry and even more to the point to your city, region or country. After all, the value of tourism extends beyond just visitor receipts; it can play a positive role when it comes to social cohesion, intercultural dialogue and to employment, which is so important for the modest prosperity of hundreds of thousands of so-called ‘micro enterprises’, or as we prefer to say in tourism, 'family run businesses'.

Having grasped Digital Transformation quite extensively here at the Digital Tourism Think Tank over the last few years and through the work we do, we’re excited to also use #DTIC2015 as a platform for launching our own framework for DMOs. It stems from four key pillars; funding, governance, engagement and innovation and then three key stages in the DMO’s journey, ‘get ready’, ‘transform’ and ‘succeed’. We think this is pretty exciting and we’ll be sharing much more on this when we get stage time in Barcelona, but for the most part make no mistake, the true journey to Destination Transformation starts by discussing it, talking about the challenges, hearing from destinations who’ve embraced change, tackling disruption head-on and focusing on the positive opportunities that could stem out of them. I should also say for the record that I do in fact believe in the strong need for destination's to have sites, research backs this up and we’ll be seeing some truly amazing sites and campaigns at this year’s event.

So as we put the finishing touches on this year’s programme, I can confidently say that not only is it going to be the best year yet, but it will hold perhaps even greater value and more strategic importance than anything that came before it. For us as organisers and leaders in this field, we too never take our success or granted, which is why behind all the frantic madness of event planning (we try to show the stress!) we are also active participants, thoroughly excited to learn ourselves from the true leaders, the DMOs themselves.

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