The Tourism Grant Reality Show

It’s the sports and reality show season again. Yes it is the start of the annual great professional sports convergence and couch migration but the reality show I’m talking about is not on your TV.

shark-tankThis is the time of year where city councils everywhere are considering their destination marketing investments, including the annual review of “tourism grant” applications and also the divvying-up of “additional” room tax proceeds. If you want to partake in the reality show experience, set-up a Google alert for “City Tourism Funding” and enjoy.

This is my recent favorite from the past week: City Considers Boogie Woogie Tourism Funding. Believe me…there are lots of these. Regularly. Take note here NetFlix.

As taxpayers of every way, shape and form, we should take some degree of comfort in the fact that there is increased visibility and accountability for performance when it comes to public spending of all types. Including tourism.

While there is nothing new in how communities (politicians in particular) seemingly take delight in holding local DMOs accountable for their performance and spending habits, they still seem to have no problem handing out considerable sums of “tourism grants” to their favorite projects – some of which can be at-odds with the local DMO creating marketplace fragmentation and community dissension (along with some amazing public debates). And what strikes me the most is the fact that those politicians rarely hold these projects to the same performance accountability standards to which they hold their local DMOs.

I actually probably think its a good thing that they don’t dig too deeply because the results are likely to be scandalous and may reveal that many of these so-called “tourism grants” are a waste of money, necessitating the inevitable public review of the community’s whole destination marketing program. That approach serves no one and effectively throws out the baby with the bathwater.

Tourism is now Big League. Market forces are tough and the competition is intense. There is a ton of money and reputation risk at play. Focus outperforms fragmentation every time. Success in today’s hyper-competitive tourism marketplace requires a comprehensive and sophisticated plan, delivered by experts with plenty of visible accountability. It is not for reality show amateurs.

City councils looking to invest in tourism would do much better supporting a comprehensive, community-developed plan with plenty of visible accountability for the DMO rather than throwing money at a collection of bright, shiny “tourism projects” as part of an annual beauty contest ritual.

The alternative of course is to put them all on Shark Tank and let Mark Cuban sort them out.


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