It is perhaps the simplest yet most provocative of business leadership questions.
Twenty-five years ago when I was just getting started in the world of destination marketing an industry titan of the day told me that at its very core, destination marketing was essentially a “make and sell” business…and you were either a maker or a seller.
Clearly the business of the destination marketer in those days was exclusively as a seller. We were there as an intermediary to sell whatever the “makers” in our destination made for visitors to buy…no questions asked. The makers were the hoteliers, attractions, bus companies, restaurateurs etc who “made” the stuff that we were directed and expected to sell.. Our domain was the sales channel, the client relationships and the sales scoreboard that we controlled…or at least thought we did.
This was all very simple and clear to everyone in the industrial tourism economy of the day.
Then the world changed.
PROBLEM: Fast forward to today’s networked economy, the destination sales channel has become complex with more intermediaries on one hand and more ways for clients and makers to bypass those intermediaries on the other. Disruption, as it has done for so many other industries, has compromised the value of the traditional sellers’ sales channel by commoditizing those legacy relationships. (Check out: Selling is Not About Relationships from the Harvard Business Review) In fact its the DMO’s shifting role away from the dominant seller in the traditional destination sales channel that is the source of most of today’s DMO role relevancy challenges. (Here we could get into a juicy debate about the current disconnect in how DMO’s are measured in relation to their role in the sales channel…but that’s a whole other blog posting.)
At the same time, those very same forces of disruption to the sales channel are also blurring the lines between “sellers” and “makers” everywhere. Here’s why: In an industrial economy it was the “makers” who dictated what got sold to the customers…because they could. This is no longer the case. It’s now co-creation and collaboration between “makers” and their customers/stakeholders in successful businesses that now drives how and what gets sold in today’s disrupted sales channel. And it is increasingly the role of the destination marketer to bring the customer into the collaboration conversation about what gets “made” as part of the destination experience.
SOLUTION: Why not be masters of your own domain and change the rules of the game: The “sellers” can now also become the “makers”.
Destination Marketing 3.0: Less transactional selling. More experience development.
This is not to say that destination marketers are going to extract themselves from the sales channel in the process. But as the DMO’s role in transactional sales becomes less relevant, leading the collaborative development of a destination’s experience is a significant business opportunity for high-value relevance. Ensuring the fingerprints of current and future customers are all over any kind of destination development plan or experience will unquestionably drive sales at the strategic level. And by getting industry (the makers) and community stakeholders also engaged in the process, the end-to-end alignment will drive long-term demand for the destination. Ding. Ding. Ding.
The good news is that some destinations are already recognizing the value of taking an elevated role in destination development. Tourism Vancouver earlier this year completed Vancouver’s first-ever Tourism Master Plan. Destinations as diverse as Winnipeg, Curacao, Nairobi and several states in Mexico have done the same. Some DMO’s like the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Association have taken a leadership role in shaping a transportation master plan for the future of their state…a critical element for any successful destination.
Other destination marketers are going even further into experience development (something I call “Destination Animation”) by being founding partners and/or equity investors in actual destination experiences. We all know what SXSW has done for Austin, Texas as a destination and a brand. In Grapevine, Texas (pop. 48K) the DMO not only are founding partners in several community events (attracting 1.5 million visitors each year in the process) they also own and operate a train experience. In same vein, the Greater Palm Springs Convention and Visitors bureau is exploring the development of a large, multi-day event in the community to target out-of-town visitors.
Today’s cluttered destination sales channel coupled with the urgency to introduce co-creation and collaboration into the destination development process, creates an opportunity for destination marketers to shift from “sellers” to “makers” and create significant value for their communities. But it all starts with having the courage to ask the simplest of questions: “what business are we in?” and then having even more courage to pursue the answer.