Countdown to English DMO review

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There are 14 days left to the closing date for DMO review submissions on 28 April. In the Britishdestinations.net page containing the link t the consultation document included a number of strategic concerns, potential additional issues that had emerged from initial discussions with member destination managers (see for more detail: https://britishdestinations.net/consultation-responses/open-consultations/independent-review-of-destination-)management-organisations-dmos-consultation-closes-28-april-21/) .

Subsequent areas for consideration and potential inclusion in British Destination’s own response and those of individual DMO may now include:

We all understand the complexity of the DMO landscape (arguable created or induced by previous reviews of National and Regional Tourist Board structures, changes to regional and local government structure, funding and priorities, and of course as a result of earlier DMO reviews) but it can’t be assumed that those conducting the review will understand that complexity either in its totality or in the case of each DMO responding.

Individual responses need to clarify what the roles of the individual DMOs responding are, who are the stakeholders, how they are funded how the work with other DMO and services providers below, alongside and above, the division of responsibility and how those activities are funded or contracted. This might usefully be achieved within an annex or using a simple wiring diagram with notes? Unless the extraordinary diversification which has evolved to cope with local circumstances and realities is illustrated its critical yet usually fragile nature will be entirely missed. In the wort case that could result in the review we gifting us unrealistic, unworkable one size solutions, in a world where we move well beyond returning to that idealist position.

Market failure needs to be discussed and not simply in the traditional context that the typical tourism market does not naturally support the necessary destination place making, the administrative and coordination functions of destination management, nor the distant domestic or international destination marketing needs. Market failure should also look at the rapidly changing impacts of online sales, the growing power of OTAs and of sharing platforms. No longer is it a given that the individual business can’t reach far flung markets, albeit now at the cost of a considerable commission on each actual sale. However, this exacerbates the free loader problems of our traditional understanding of tourism market failure and adds a new dimension.

With few exceptions OTAs and sharing platforms don’t support the symbiotic relationship between the multitude of different businesses and the recognised destination within which they sit but rather create a parasitic relationship, feeding of the lifeblood created by years of good destination management and marketing to create a place people recognise and wish to visit. Ask a sharing platform to promote a destination in order to help enhance that attraction and in doing so drive business to that platform and they will use their growing market dominance, to seek considerable payment for the privilege. That isn’t how local destination partnership function and isn’t what most destinations can afford to do. Notes on the traditional form of tourism market failure produced within DCMS but never published can be assessed at: https://britishdestinations.net/strategies-and-policies/tourism-industry-strategies-policies/market-failure-in-tourism/

The critical role of DMO’s of all types and sizes in communications, coordination and direct business support during the pandemic needs to be highlighted (where it has happened). That role which functions largely unnoticed during normal times has been a godsend especially for an industry largely based on SMEs and micro businesses. False lessons, like the ability of some national bodies to engage directly with an artificially attentive, often enforced idle and therefore largely captive audience needs to be called out. Busy small businesses often need to be forced to water and made to drink and in normal times that can only be done by knowledgeable and engaged mangers using bespoke means and methodologies for the latest set of circumstances.

The role played by some destination management organisations, in providing critical local tourism value and volume measurement, research and statistics should also be highlighted. This is a function more likely to be retained by those DMOs that are public sector based, as business interest aren’t keen on funding general research not directly related to their own business or specific business purposes. The provision of good quality comparable tourism statistics has not simply proved its worth during covid-19 but it is likely to become even more critical as tourism redevelopment and investment starts to have to fight its own corner in fewer bigger funding streams but in direct competition with much higher productivity sectors, with potentially more compelling stories to tell. National tourism statistic (designed largely for use at National and down to English Regional level) remain vital. However, these survey-based estimates were suspended during the pandemic, informed guestimates have been produced in the absence of key survey data. The baseline and methodologies for future data sets will now be reset, so there will be no longer term comparability before 2021/22. Further losses of already sparse local data collection can’t be allowed to happen.

A combination of covid-19 and the development of new routes to and new products in the market have brought the issues of legal compliance, inspections, self assessment, the role of user reviews and the like back to the fore. Going forward do we wish to see at one extreme an unregulated and unchecked free for all, or as is a now, a traditional regulated trade, increasingly questioning why it should follow regulation that others don’t and a new and burgeoning unregulated group of businesses which, at least as far as taxation is concerned, are increasingly being drawn back under a more traditional regulatory regime. Destination management bodies and especially those operating within or alongside local authorities have an increasing role to play in ensuring that the core standards meet: destination brand, customer and minimum legal standards, whether those standards delivered or maintained via gentle coercion, commercial quality assurance schemes and/or robust application regulatory controls (the later increasingly difficult as a consequence of austerity measures). Covid-19 has reinforced the view that meeting necessary standards can’t simply be left to the individual consumers, individual businesses or simple market forces to police and while customer review has a role to play in informing opinion, inspection has a bigger role in both informing businesses of and in then maintaining standards.

If business can’t or won’t support destination management and marketing alone and Central Government is reluctant to enable local government to do its necessary share then there are few other alternatives but to look to the consumer and in all likelihood toward a simple tourism tax, which for ease of application would have to be accommodation based.

The continuation of an application based competitive bidding solution as per the Discover England Fund is not the solution, particularly if the focus remains stubbornly set on international marketing. The vast majority of destinations need t spend their limited funds where their stakeholders decree and for most that is the 80% national average (often high 90s) domestic market. Bidding for money for activities you don’t want or can’t afford in a process that you are not staffed to conduct results in the engagement of a few not engagement of the majority. That majority represent the interest of some of the hardest to reach businesses and arguably those most in need and most likely to benefit from support and engagement with and from national bodies.

Is the review aiming to simplify engagement for the benefit of the centre or to improve engagement for the maximum number of businesses at the coal face currently, for good reason, serviced by a multitude of different types styles and sizes of DMO often working together on different aspects of destination management and marketing across overlapping geographical areas.

Not all of these theme will be appropriate for individual responses assuming that you agree with the thrust of any or all of them. However, unless some DMOs expand their responses into wider and associated areas the review will only get answers to the questions it directly posed.

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