Isn’t it time small #tourism businesses looked beyond the DMO membership fee?

It’s time to look beyond the membership fee for new opportunities in the travel and leisure industry. It’s time for tourism businesses to really engage and start promoting their destination first, their product second.

Why then, should DMO’s now support the businesses who supply into their destination offer?

We are all so inter-connected these days aren’t we? Sharing content with consumers the world over, yet still so isolated in the way we work and jostle for position in our respective business communities. Fear? Suspicion? Too focused on the product alone?

At a social media workshop I was running recently, I was struck by a comment from a well-established visitor attraction who said that whilst it’s fantastic to have all this free stuff to reach and share content with (potential) customers, who has the time or the inclination to be ‘on’ 24 hours a day?

This comment has stuck with me because it’s true! It’s an oft-quoted statistic that at least 80% of all tourism and hospitality suppliers are small or medium-sized enterprises (SME’s), who are in my view, the nuts and bolts of the leisure and hospitality industry. These business owners are also the business managers with small teams who are often already spread thinly across their organisation. Too many lack the time and the technological sophistication to take advantage of what can seem to be an inexhaustible list of wonderful, easy-to-use new distribution channels.

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They are delivering on the destination promise after all and are the ideal channel from which to harness destination ambassadors. And it seems to me that as DMO’s no longer have the control they once had over the brand, message and advocacy, there must now be capacity surely?

I smell a couple of opportunities; how can destinations support their SME’s and how can business affectively access just a few of social media outlets with confidence?

Why should DMO’s support the businesses who supply into their destination pool? They deliver the experience, can harness word of mouth and repeat visits, or they can scupper the collective efforts and deter future visits. That’s why.

The role of the DMO in the customer purchase journey is evolving so fast, as the number of online channels increases, OTA’s offers become more sophisticated and the rise and rise of online review sites shows no sign of slowing down – all around us the offers proliferate and yet we don’t know where it’s going to end up. How much traction do DMO’s have against what the private sector now offers? Unless you want to be left behind, now is as good a time as any to be looking to ways of staying relevant. And for those of you in destinations where public money is plentiful, I wouldn’t be too complacent as social needs will always win through in the end, and no matter what you say – tourism is not a social need!

That’s not to let the businesses themselves off the hook either. Marketing budgets are never going to be big, resources are never enough to deploy on training and development, there just isn’t the capacity. For a business to survive and thrive however, internal systems must be evolving at least in line with external changes and environmental developments. And top of that list must be evolution of online communication. It’s where your customers are, socialising, sharing, recommending and planning their next night out on the town, shopping weekend, spa break, walking holiday with friends or a visit to a relatives wedding in another country.

Is it possible for a DMO to communicate with the world from their desk? Hell yes! From a virtual office I manage all the communications for Visit Chilterns, a private tourism company who promote tourism in and to the Chilterns in southern England. We’re a small business and a DMO wrapped up in one. The future?

As it’s always about time and money, I can’t believe SME’s have never spent any on marketing, PR or advertising, so it’s a question of reviewing and culling some existing channels in favour of shiny new social media and suggest starting with these;

1. The pay-off in terms of time from budget-draining events such as trade shows no longer have the hold over the market they once did. Do you have to be there to engage new or existing customers, or is there another way?

2. If I had a pound for every advertisement placed because the cost was under the magic £300 threshold….but unless you know your customers spend money with your regularly because they have seen your advert, stop!

3. If you’ve never liked the way your destination has been promoted, you can take matters into your own social media hands and say what you feel is important. You can now be in control of your own messages and those of the destination. What’s to stop you?

4. How do you communicate with your existing customers? And I don’t mean asking them to ‘like your Facebook page’?

I believe it’s all within your grasp, and if you work with DMO’s or partner with a regional tourism organisation, the conversation has to move on beyond the membership fee and marketing opportunities doesn’t it? Turn the tables and be asking questions about how relevant your official DMO’s role really is.

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