When I first started teaching in 2004, one of my responsibilities was to attend recruitment events that functioned very similar to the average trade show. Universities and colleges set up table top displays and sold their programs to prospective high school students who were in attendance with their parents.
Of course, representing the hospitality and tourism program, we always had fun things like mini-golf to draw attention to our booth. We also had pros working the booth ... we had all worked trade shows in our pre-education careers. We tried to be what Seth Godin calls “Remarkable”.
I remember the first mom I ever talked to about our program. I dove into my “sales pitch” and told her all of the glorious things we had to offer. Her response was, “I don’t want my daughter to wait tables for the rest of her life.” Then she was gone, and so was her daughter. Not so “remarkable”. My heart sank. I’ve heard variations of that same statement repeated by many a parent over the years. I now use these moments as a way of educating people about the tourism industry ... as a way of advocating for what we do and why it is so very important.
These moments also made me realize how bad we, as an industry, were at being our own advocates. That was ten years ago. Things are better now, but it’s still imperative that industry stakeholders, especially DMOs, take opportunities to educate the general public on the importance of the industry and how it impacts us all on a daily basis.
You’re probably wondering why I’ve singled out the DMO. We – destination management professionals and organizations – are possibly the most misunderstood sector of the tourism industry. People generally don’t know what a DMO is, let alone how and why it functions within a community. People don’t understand that the DMO is the Godfather of attracting travelers of all types to the community which, in turn, impacts the community and its residents in various ways.
As a result, one of the underlying goals of the DMO should be to advocate for itself ... to educate the community at large, not just tourism stakeholders, about the DMO mission.
Enter community involvement. Having DMO staff at all levels involved in community activities and organizations is one of the best ways to create awareness about your mission. Community involvement extends well beyond serving on the Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, or being involved in MainStreet events. It means being involved with Morning Rotary or the Elks Lodge or other fraternal organizations. It means being involved with the women in business group or the federated women’s club. It means volunteering at the soup kitchen or animal shelter. It means guest speaking in elementary and high school classes. Ultimately, it means creating a bit of buzz about your DMO just by having the conversation with someone.
In the long run, you might find the more DMO staff are involved in your community, the less resistance the DMO will encounter during times that matter. Of course, you still have to prove your worth when it’s time to renew funding, but at least people will understand why your “worth” is important to the community.
Dr. Davis is a faculty member in the Hospitality and Tourism Administration program at Southern Illinois University and President of the International Society of Travel and Tourism Educators.