Destination matters

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Assistance required, potential lesson to be learnt from a DMO’s 2020 failure and changes at the top of tourism at one of the UK’s principal coastal destinations:

1. Can you help colleagues in Scarborough with their review of internal service and destination KPIs? See the full request under the “Forum: ask questions get answers” main menu tab or go direct to the page at: https://britishdestinations.net/need-an-answer/internal-and-external-kpi-dec-21/

2. Some months ago a local BBC reporter asked me why Visit Cambridge and Beyond (VCB) was apparently the only high profile/major “DMO” to collapse in to administration and, why, despite support from the City Council, it did so relatively early in the pandemic? To be honest I am still not absolutely certain it was the only one. Moreover, I know with certainty that many were, still are and in all likelihood will continue to be vulnerable until both tourism’s fortunes improve and the inherent structural and funding issues of “DMOs” are properly addressed.

My main observations in response to the questions were that no two DMOs are the same, so like for like comparison isn’t easy, nor can you just assuming there must be blame or fault, simply because all the other didn’t fail when faced with seemingly similar external pressures. The answer I suggested almost certainly lay in the precise nature of the business model adopted and any inherent vulnerabilities within that. I heard no more but on subsequently investigate, many weeks later I found that my off the cuff assessment as to the why was reasonably accurate, as is witnessed by, among other things, paragraph 5 of VCB’s still active LinkedIn entry:

“We believe that the Visit Cambridge and Beyond business model is distinct from many other DMOs nationally, as it relies almost entirely on earned income”.

Seemingly the collapse in both international and domestic visitor numbers and the direct loss of associated income from B2B and consumer services to them, rapidly pushed the company into difficulties by May and into insolvency by early July 2020.

This year Cambridge City Council, the Cambridge BID and Fitzwilliam Museum Enterprises bought the Company assets at auction (£52k) and have since (October), wisely I think, reformed and reopened Visit Cambridge as a CIC (confusingly one of two Visit Cambridge’s listed).

For context, Visit Cambridge and Beyond was originally incorporated in 2015, absorbed the Council’s tourism services in 2016 and then started trading (continued the motion) that year. Going forward one of the many Council reports on the creation of the new CIC states: “Taking the learning from VCB (Visit Cambridge and Beyond) and its associated unsustainable business model, Visit Cambridge’s approach is to operate as a lean and agile organisation with minimal overheads, ie office, staff etc.”

Whether this “learning” is about levels of financial risk the partners are willing to accept, pure affordability or, more to do with the scope, scale and efficiency of services to be undertaken, isn’t made clear. I suspect only time will now tell what the drivers are and how effective a lean, agile destination management body can be if it is to genuinely manage and take on all the tasks given to them, or inferred, by the role of managing a tourism destination of the scale and complexity of Cambridge.

Also of interest is the memorandum of understanding laying out the aims and objectives of the new “DMO” and the tasks explicitly expected of it in its destination management role. It uses and quotes in full the UNWTO definition of a destination management organisation and their roles, presumable in the absence of any other agreed definition in use in England/UK: https://democracy.cambridge.gov.uk/documents/s55968/Appendix%20A%20-%20Vist%20Cambridge%20DMO%20Memorandum%20of%20Understanding.pdf

Why am I bothering you with all this? Notwithstanding the relatively unusual but not totally unique circumstances surrounding the demise of VCB, combined with the local imperative to recreate a replacement DMO (rather than the alternative of doing without) and the manner and means behind both, I believe provides some potentially very useful lessons. The Cambridge experience could be used to evidence the strengths and weakness of public sector engagement, or the lack of it, the pros and cons differing structures and business models and merits and demerits of pure commercial v part or full public interest approaches. Above all it suggests genuine destinations, genuinely need to be managed and that somewhere in that the public sector have, at the very least, a responsibility for ensuring it happens, if not arguable, a key role and/or functions in that management themselves? As ever, I could be wrong but I just wanted register the example of Visit Cambridge and Beyond within the corporate memory.

Experience tells me that due to financial pressures Council will continue to look at the private sector and commercial approaches, enviously and in the often potentially false hope of easing their current burden and/or permanently shifting some or all responsibility for a, or the, key local social and economic generator. While the private sector will continue to struggle to provide fully functioning destination management and to positively influence all that needs to be managed, on a purely commercial basis and will necessarily have to seek at some point significant local or national public support and contribution. Meanwhile a multitude of other hybrid, third sector and BID base arrangements are making best as they can, somewhere in between, often concurrently experiencing both the good and bad features of both the other two main camps.

For the next few years at least, the demise of VCB offers some potential pointers and food for thought for against both sides of the public v private debate. It is never a popular approach but learning from failure can be as good or much better than learning only from other’s apparent successes.

3. On a much more personal basis I am sure colleagues would want to join me in wishing Alan Carr, stalwart of destination management and, we believe, by far the longest serving, member destination manager with some 28 years of service at Great Yarmouth and, well over three decades of destination management experience in total, a very long and happy retirement, as of today’s date.

He and his wit and wisdom will be sorely missed. If colleague and friends would like to wish Alan well directly, or to keep in touch with him, I can happily help with that. For the time being I am assuming Alan’s work emails will still get to him: alan@gyta.com .

I am also certain that you would want to join me in congratulating Asa Morrison on his appointed, in open competition, to the post of CEO of Visit Great Yarmouth and Greater Yarmouth Tourism & Business Improvement Area. “Young Asa”, with a mere 20 odd years of destination management experience in both Suffolk and Norfolk will doubtless continue to ensure that the Greater Yarmouth area prospers as one of the UK’s principal, popular coastal resort town and coastal areas. I for one am delighted that we will all continue to enjoy Asa’s support and his extensive knowledge and understanding of coastal resort tourism, in his new and well-deserved role.

One thought on “Destination matters

    David Andrews said:
    December 17, 2021 at 1:01 pm

    Another point on DMO demise, is that many DMOs can keep going on reduced funds because they reduce their activity to only do what income-payers pay for, eg continue with a website and bit of short-term marketing and a few other ad-hoc bits. So they might look like they haven’t demised, but from a wider DMO-role perspective a lot of what they should be doing has demised and been well and truly buried.

    From: British Destinations
    Date: Friday, 17 December 2021 at 12:55
    To: David Andrews
    Subject: [New post] Destination matters
    British Destinations posted: ” Assistance required, potential lesson to be learnt from a DMO’s 2020 failure and changes at the top of tourism at one of the UK’s principal coastal destinations: 1. Can you help colleagues in Scarborough with their review of internal service and desti”

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