100 Years of Advancing Destinations

Disrupt Yourself

Author: Guest Martin Stoll, Founder & CEO, Sparkloft Media
Posted: March 02, 2016
Blog Topics Covered:
1 of 1

The two buzzwords heard most often when discussions turn to Silicon Valley these days are “disruption” and “unicorns.” Fortune lists 174 companies as unicorns, which in Silicon Valley-speak, are private businesses that have a valuation of over $1 billion USD.

As you might guess, high on the list are disruptors — companies with business models built on doing things completely different than their competitors.

Often the disruption happens by breaking the shackles of regulation and not playing by the official rules or laws, while also spending millions on advertising, promotions, PR or public affairs efforts. This approach isn’t necessarily right or wrong, but there’s no question that some of these companies create a vastly better and, at the same time, more cost-effective experience.

Of the 174 disruptive unicorns, we’ll focus on three: No. 1 Uber, No. 3 Airbnb and No. 25, a company named Zenefits (full disclosure: we are a Zenefits customer and we love the product). Everybody in the tourism industry is well aware of how Uber and Airbnb are changing their markets, but not everybody has heard of Zenefits–– a digital platform that allows companies to manage the human resources processes through a beautifully designed website and solid customer service. Though the company gained valuation up to $45 billion USD in 2015, the company is currently fighting some legal trouble in the highly regulated insurance market.

Unicorns like these that build business models on disruption have a few things in common. Not only do they attack markets that are highly regulated at various levels (city, state or country, for example) – they also use superior technology solutions paired with great customer service models.


We connect and interact through technology more than ever before. Quick check: When was the last time you were more than 100 feet away from your cell phone? Just the thought made you uncomfortable, didn’t it?

The cost to create great technology has decreased dramatically. Need a data center? Put it in the Amazon cloud. Need a good looking, fast-to-build website? Use Squarespace. Need website analytics to see how mobile users are interactive with your new online business? Use Google Analytics.

We are surrounded by many new digital products, and easy access to them is elevating expectations. As a company or organization — like a DMO, for example — your website and/or mobile app needs to offer the same ease of use that Uber’s or Airbnb’s do. Consumers want slick maps with geolocation, reliable reviews and ratings, and content that can be filtered and customized to individual needs. This is not even the new gold standard. It is the minimum hurdle you need to clear to even be considered by consumers.

Don’t benchmark your website against your direct DMO competitors. In fact, a great destination website isn’t always produced by the official tourism entity of the destination. Instead, compare to a website like Marriott Traveler, which focuses on compelling content, weaves in visitor photos and experiences, and does not include a listing of CVB members in alphabetical order (shocking, we know).  Look to new technologies, like 360 degree videos, to provide your potential visitors a new and compelling way to consider your destination experience.

Customer Service

When was the last time you had a great taxi experience? How many bad rides with Uber have you had? Do your Airbnb hosts fall short or exceed your expectations? There is a key difference between the first and the latter two business models.

Besides hosting great technology, Uber, Airbnb and Zenefits have also figured out how to deliver excellent customer service. The critical element in all three is the ability for transactional parties (driver and passenger, renter and host, etc.) to rate and review each other. This creates a high incentive for everyone involved to be on their best behavior, thus creating a better experience.

Apply that model to the tourism industry: think about the customer service delivered by your destination including partners like hotels, restaurants, attractions etc. DMOs should encourage visitors to rate, review and recommend as well as to share their unique experiences. This dynamic forces every destination partner to step up their game. 

DMOs should also develop systems to foster and reward positive behavior. One easy way to accomplish this is to engage with visitors who share their experiences on social media. Actions such as linking to a visitor’s Instagram photo (or better yet, commenting on it) and responding to questions on Twitter in a timely manner go a very long way. 

Embrace Disruption

None of the ideas presented here – leveraging technology and focusing on customer service – are new. But DMO marketing might be falling into the same trap the taxi industry did: thinking your product is good enough until, suddenly, it no longer is. DMOs do not have the monopoly on great destination content nor are they the only ones that can create meaningful relationships with visitors. Avoid becoming a victim of disruption by fully embracing emerging technologies and developing new ways to serve your customers. Disrupt yourself – before somebody else does it for you.

About Sparkloft Media

Sparkloft Media is a full-service social media agency with 40 employees and offices in Portland (OR) and Atlanta (GA). Our industry of focus is travel and tourism but we also work with clients in the entertainment, consumer products and meetings and events sectors. Since 2008 we have delivered innovative and award-winning social media solutions for clients around the world.