100 Years of Advancing Destinations

The disconnect between DMOs and their communities

Author: Jim McCaul
Posted: September 15, 2015
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Almost every day an article like this one comes up in my Google alerts. The headline is almost always the same, “Destination X sets record with Y number of visitors.” This is an incredibly exciting time for the travel and tourism industry. Over the past six decades, tourism has become one of the largest and fastest-growing economic sectors in the world. International tourist arrivals increased by 4.3% in 2014, reaching a total 1.13 billion, after topping the 1 billion mark in 2012. And there’s no sign of slowing down. International tourist arrivals worldwide are expected to increase by 3.3% a year between 2010 and 2030 to reach 1.8 billion by 2030, according to UNWTO’s long term forecast Tourism Towards 2030.

This is all great news right? The problem is that to go along with all of these record breaking stories, I am increasingly seeing headlines like this one, Venice's Rowdy Tourists Have Locals Fed Up, Says Italian Tourism Official. Or this, Barcelona residents say tourism is a bigger problem than poverty. Ouch! Wondering if it’s an issue in your community? Just turn to social media to find out as the Huffington Post did. 

This is nothing new. There has always been dissention between residents and tourists. But with global urbanization and a new breed of travelers who seek local experiences, the dissention may become more pronounced. As Jason Clampet of Skift says, “Locals really, really don’t want tourists to live like a local. They just want them to let locals live their lives without tacky shops and sky-high housing costs geared toward by people living on big vacation budgets.”

There is a disconnect between DMOs and their communities in terms of their view of visitors. For fun, I asked some of my friends here in DC what they thought about the District setting a visitation record. The result was not surprising; most of them were not very happy about it. “They crowd up the sidewalks and traffic.” “They steal my seat on the metro.” And the most common response? “They stand on the both sides of the escalators!” (You’re supposed to stand on the right and walk on the left. You have no idea how big a deal this is in some cities.)

The Washington Post published a nice article to educate residents why it’s all worth the annoyance. It was titled Tourists getting in your way? There’s a $7 billion reason to be patient. They highlighted the billions of dollars that these visitors brought to the local economy. The nearly 75,000 jobs that were supported as a result of this spending. These are fantastic talking points when you are addressing your local politician, or perhaps even business and community leaders. But do residents really care?

I would venture to guess not. Certainly not enough for them to rally behind you when you’re pushing for your funding to be continued or increased. 

So what kind of message does resonate? Well how about something like this: Tourism Supports a More Sustainable Oregon. This is a wonderful of an example of showcasing to residents how tourism contributes to the quality of life in their community. The kicker? The DMO actually had to invest in the quality of life in their community. In this case Travel Oregon not only put together a funding mechanism to support such an investment, they rallied the tourism community around the initiative. 

One of the most profound shifts in destination marketing today revolves around the role of DMOs to convince governments and stakeholders that tourism promotion should be viewed as an investment in a destination's economic growth and community well-being, versus an expense line item for "tourism promotion." If we want to make that shift, it not only requires defining new measures of success, but communicating those successes with our communities more effectively, and putting our efforts into creating ways for tourism to meet the standards and values of said communities.