Funding Challenges? Its Your Choice.

Regularly I hear from destination marketers that they don’t have enough money to do the job expected of them or that they are being outspent by their competitors. Which is probably why DMO leaders spend so much of their time focused on trying to grow their revenue base or, at the very least, ensuring what they have remains protected.

Hard to argue with that choice of leadership focus in any business.

But two media stories last week got me thinking that DMO leadership focus needs to, above all else, constantly define, redefine and steer the core business of the organization. Which means making tough choices that often involve saying “no more”.

The first is from Natchez, Mississippi (made famous by John Grisham) where a consultant concluded that the DMO there was primarily focused on managing and finding sponsors for local events and not on the job of actually inspiring visitors to visit Natchez. It’s a good thing John Grisham is so prolific.

The second story is from the Boston Globe that reported in great detail about how DMO’s wined, dined and buried in swag, meeting planner attendees at a recent meetings industry convention.  It was reported that one destination even went as far as providing “skinny jeans” to a client prospect.

In both cases I understand the need for destination marketers to keep their local stakeholders happy by supporting their communities and driving sales transactions. But are these the type of things that a high-performing marketplace organization should be doing to build a thriving tourism ecosystem in its community? Is this what Jeff Bezos or Marissa Mayer would do if challenged for funding and relevance?

Which brings me back to my point: if the primary business of your DMO is running local events, outfitting your client prospects in the latest fashion or even printing maps and brochures for your visitors, you will never have enough money to do the job. In fact, you’ll probably lose some or most of what you already have because eventually someone else will do these things better and more cheaply.

Like most businesses today, funding and capital are attracted to new ideas that confront disruption or define new market spaces for their brand. Why would a destination marketing business be any different?

Before destination marketers invest their time and local political capital in the quest to increase their funding, it might be a good idea to first banish low-value “legacy” tactics. And just like any start-up pitching investors, destination marketers need to have more than a spending plan…they need a vision for how they are going to evolve their business and brand to new levels of performance.

Many DMO’s don’t have a funding challenge. They have a business challenge. One that can often be addressed by DMO leaders asking tough questions about their current investment choices for making a real, sustainable difference for their communities. More often than not those choices start first with having the courage to stop-doing some long-standing habits that are now becoming vices.


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