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Expecting the Unexpected: Showcasing the Value of Your DMO Efforts

Posted: April 18, 2014
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“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” ― Abraham Lincoln."

Now I am not sure how much honest Abe knew much about Destination Marketing, but i like to think about this in regards to our industry as it is one of my favorite Abraham Lincoln quotes.

For a DMO, expecting the unexpected is commonplace, especially when it comes to our funding sources. In reference to President Lincoln's quote above, preparation is indeed our first line of defense as those sources at any given time can be affected by a number of factors including: the global economy, the effects of natural disasters, and even political change at the local, state & national level.

Martha Sheridan

So how do we stay in a state of perpetual preparedness you ask? I recently sat down with President and CEO Martha Sheridan, CMP of the Providence Warwick Convention & Visitors Bureau, and current Board Chair of Destination Marketing Association to get her thoughts.

We've seen recent examples where cvb funding can come under threat from local, state, and possibly federal scrutiny. How does a cvb combat this when the issue arises, or simply takes a more pro-active approach to combating it?

The key is to not wait until the “issue arises.”  DMO’s should consistently educate stakeholders about their relevancy within their community.  In Providence we employ a number of tactics to insure that our message is heard.  Of course we regularly communicate with our core stakeholder community about key initiatives and accomplishments.  We utilize social media, member meetings, annual reports and other tools to deliver our message. 

But perhaps more importantly we also try to go beyond our traditional tourism-related audience with our messaging. Several years ago we engaged an advisory committee made up of community business leaders that aren’t necessarily directly connected to the tourism industry-bankers, real estate brokers, utilities executives, members of the corporate community.  We try to meet with them on a quarterly basis to educate them on our mission and update them on our program.  We also communicate with them via an electronic newsletter and a printed quarterly piece that highlights industry trends and features product development updates.  We also disseminate the printed newsletter to elected officials throughout the state. Connecting the dots between tourism and the overall benefit to the community related to jobs created, tax revenue and quality of life has been a huge eye opener for this group.  We know that they will be there for us should we ever need them to advocate on our behalf. 

How does an organization cope with the loss of such an enormous source of funding? I can imagine you have to get very creative in terms of stretching dollars and placing more emphasis on doing more with less.

In many cases hotel tax revenue is the highest source of funding for a DMO.  A loss, or significant reduction in this dedicated funding can have profound and lasting effects on an organization’s ability to perform even its most basic functions.  Of course you need to focus on doing more with less in times of funding cuts, which I think most DMO’s already do at their core.  Should a DMO experience a profound loss in funding they will need to assess which of their programs nets the highest ROI for their community and focus on allocating remaining resources to those efforts.  DMO’s should also, when possible, maintain a reserve fund to allow them to continue their operations should an interruption in funding occur.  Having these funds to fall back will allow a DMO to address a crisis without having to immediately cut staff or operations. 

How important does justifying the ROI of your organizations efforts become? Economic impact studies, publication of the DMO business plan and annual reporting I would imagine becomes vital.

DMO’s now have so many tools available to them to assist in reporting on the economic impact their efforts have in their community and the ROI of programs engaged in to generate this economic activity.  From the DMO reporting standards, to the event income calculator, and now the new Destination Arena benchmarking product, we can, and should be able to, at a moment’s notice, generate information about how our programs impact our community in terms of tax revenue, job creation and overall spending. 

From the DMO reporting standards, to the event impact calculator, and now the new Destination Arena benchmarking product, we can, and should be able to, at a moment’s notice, generate information about how our programs impact our community in terms of tax revenue, job creation and overall spending. Being prepared and having the information on hand at a moments notice is vital.

Martha Sheridan has over 20 years experience in destination marketing.  Prior to her current position she served as Vice President of Sales at the Newport County (RI) Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Sheridan has been actively involved with DMAI for a number of years serving on the Education Committee and chairing the Technology Committee.  In addition to her current role with DMAI, Sheridan has held leadership positions with several local, regional and national organizations including the RI Hospitality and Tourism Association Education Foundation, Meeting Professionals International New England Chapter (MPINE) and the New England Society of Convention and Visitors Bureaus.

She is a graduate of the University of Rhode Island and lives in Wakefield, RI with her husband, Arthur and three children.