Critical DMO Leadership Actions for 2015 – Part One

In the last 30 days you’ve probably read more than your share of the typical New Years blogs and articles in the “best of 2014” and “critical trends for 2015” genre. And so you should. As the world continues to prove that every day is a new adventure in disruption and mind-shift, keeping abreast of “what was”, “what is” and “what could be” has never been more vital to executive leaders.

Particularly for those in the world of destination marketing where a booming global travel industry is catching the attention of entrepreneurs and disruptors alike looking to make a splash in the world’s largest industry.

Heated competition does that. So do legacy business models.

So…in the midst of intense competition and a wave of disruption sweeping an industry flush with profits, just what key actions should DMO leaders be considering for 2015? Over the next couple of weeks I’ll share two that I believe you ignore at your peril:

This Week: Making Content Creation a Primary Organizational Core Competency:

3-Reasons-Why-the-Content-Creation-Process-is-So-Important

At their very heart, DMOs are stewards of their destination’s story and scribe of all-things local and remarkable. And even though technology has made every traveler an instant travel-writer, no one knows the history and the future, the folklore, the personalities and the incipient destination magic like the DMO. Their leaders need to reflect on this once in a while and figure out how to ensure that this torch they bear remains bright and dry in their hands.

Entrenching content creation in their enterprise is one sure-fire way to do so.

With the fragmentation of the sales channel and the dominance of review sites like TripAdvisor (200 million monthly user visits, 50+ million new reviews in 2014), the DMO’s value proposition as dominant sales channel manager and destination information counselor has expired, forever disrupted by a hyperconnected marketplace and the global democratization of information. Get used to it and move on.

Now what? The time is now to develop content development competencies and lock-in a value proposition for which DMOs can and should be unrivaled: that of chief destination storyteller and dominant content creator.

Consider these metrics about the marketing power of content:

  • 78% of CMO’s believe content is the future of marketing (Hanley Wood 2013)
  • 46% of brands have an on-site, dedicated content director (Econsultancy 2012). Its certainly higher now.
  • 72% of marketers believe branded content is more effective than magazine advertising. 69% say it is superior to direct mail and PR. (Custom Content Council 2011)
  • Per dollar spent, content marketing generates 3X as many leads as traditional marketing (NewsCred 2014)

To be clear…content marketing is not about creating expensive new ads, taking endless selfies or generating press releases and pumping them out via social media or posting them on a YouTube channel. Content marketing arose out of the need to fix a marketing paradigm that was fundamentally broken – shifting the marketing posture from broadcast to engagement (which is the first transformational opportunity in DMAI’s DestinationNEXT project).

Engagement through content is designing your content in a way that informs, inspires, entertains, even irritates your audience (in essence clearly provides them with something of value, not you) to the point where they either respond, share or seek out more of the same from you. Telling your foodie followers that there is a weekend cocktail special at a local restaurant is broadcasting an offer. Sharing with them a short video on how to make the same establishment’s award-winning cocktail is engagement through relevant and compelling content marketing.

Screen Shot 2015-01-21 at 12.39.29 PMFor a wonderful primer and roadmap on developing content marketing for your organization, check this out: The Ultimate Guide to Kickstart Your Content Marketing Machine. (If you want to go deeper into the next frontier check out Native Advertising.)

As DMO legacy paradigms continue to disappear, one of the biggest opportunities for DMO leaders in 2015 is to develop the competencies and resources to build a destination marketing content machine for their organization as the dominant go-to source and resource for compelling content about their destination. It’s a high-value opportunity that every DMO can seize right now. And no one does it better.

But you better move fast before someone else figures it out.

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The Meetings Industry: Educate for Today. Innovate for Tomorrow.

startup-lab-episode-1

I read a great story in Associations Now this week about how the Country Music Association had created its own start-up accelerator to “bring music-focused start-ups to Nashville”.

Brilliant.

If country music is anything like the meetings industry, they probably got tired of having to educate start-up entrepreneurs on the nuances and dynamics of their industry on an after-the-fact basis. It’s a great way to accelerate industry innovation. It’s a great way to support passionate entrepreneurs for an industry. It’s a great way to make an industry, its quest and its communities better for the future. It’s a WIN-WIN of the highest order of magnitude.

It seems the CMA has figured-out that by being an upfront collaborator and investor with the start-up movement they can better shape the future of their industry. Other industry leadership groups like American Heart Association and National Association of Realtors have pursued a similar strategy over the last year.

So should/could this type of approach be pursued the meetings and events industry space?

It always struck me that for an industry that is as committed to industry development through education as the meetings industry is how few home-grown, game-changing industry innovations can actually trace their inspiration and support back to the industry in which they operate and serve. I’ve spoken to numerous start-up entrepreneurs and without exception they identify their biggest challenge as trying to explain the meetings industry to potential investors and employees. It’s an insurmountable obstacle for many which results in the death of many a big idea.

Of course, education and innovation are different animals. Perhaps its time for meeting industry leaders, just as the CMA did, to figure out a way to invest in the industry’s future by being a catalyst to innovation with the same spirit it does for education. Yes, this likely means putting-up some investment capital. And no, it’s not going to deliver business transactions for anyone in the next quarter which will likely be a deal-breaker for some. But it just might make a BIG difference for the industry in the next three years and beyond.

PrintWhat if meeting industry leaders, by combining investments from their respective foundations and also by attracting other financial partners as investors, were able to establish an “industry innovation fund” to support start-ups in the meetings and events space? Investments could be in the form of direct equity funding and/or infrastructure support such as through the establishment of a start-up accelerator or incubator. The fund could even create an event bringing together meeting industry start-up entrepreneurs, potential mentors and investors. The overall objective of this initiative is to attract innovators and investors to the meetings industry space, give their big ideas a chance to take shape through mentorship and investment and then deploy them into the industry ecosystem.

An investment in industry education will help the industry benefit now from what we know today. An investment in innovation will help the industry discover its future in order to ensure meetings and events remain powerful business and organizational platforms tomorrow.

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.

Connecting the Dots Between Destination Product Development and Destination Marketing

One of the most provocative elements in DMAI’s DestinationNEXT (Phase I) report is the expectation that DMOs should play a growing role in building and protecting the destination brand by extending the traditional DMO role beyond sales and marketing into the role of product development and even destination management. In fact, when asked in the DestinationNEXT survey where product development should rank as a priority for a new DMO, the response was as the #2 priority – three places higher than where it ranks with existing DMOs today.

Of course, the extent to which this is applicable to a given destination is a function of its position in the marketplace and also the specific interests of its stakeholders. Phase II of the report promises a diagnostic tool to help DMOs make that assessment.

The dynamics in-play around this transformational opportunity are complex. On one hand, DMO stakeholders expect DMOs to generate short and mid-term business transactions for their community in exchange for financial and political support.

On the other hand, the proper alignment of product-community-marketplace is increasingly impacting those transactions and the effectiveness of DMO sales and marketing initiatives. Consider two recent stories involving destination development and policy:

beach_06-1280x853In Guam: In order to remain competitive with other tropical pacific resort destinations the Guam Visitor Bureau invests up to one-third of its $22 million budget in destination development projects because the government is unable to deliver the necessary infrastructure at visitor marketplace standards. Tourism has continued to thrive as a result and local residents have enhanced public infrastructure in their community.

Naked Italians in BarcelonaIn Barcelona: The 7+ million annual visitors to the city are literally disrupting the quality of life for many of its 1.6 million residents. Claiming they are “…tired of low-cost drunken tourism”, residents are now taking to the streets to protest unruly tourists and local tourism policies. This can’t be good for business. Local authorities, including the tourism board, are now considering their options to manage the situation.

In both cases leadership from the local DMO was required to deal with product and policy issues impacting the overall tourism experience. No direct visitor transactions were generated. But in both cases the destination experience and ultimately its brand reality for visitors AND local residents was enhanced or preserved.

Screen Shot 2014-08-26 at 12.08.00 PM

There’s no doubt this will take many DMOs into a new, perhaps uncomfortable, space outside of their traditional sales and marketing space. But in a hyper-connected, socially-engaged, digital media world where DMOs can no longer broadcast to consumers about their brand, destination experiences (be they influenced by infrastructure, policy or environmental events) have more immediate and acute impact on a destination’s brand than ever before…significantly faster than what a destination’s sales and marketing machine can address through transaction generation. Which is why in today’s Destination Marketing 3.0 world, DMOs need to see their role in product development and destination management as an essential foundation for building an effective destination sales and marketing program.

And let’s face it, if not the DMO…then who else is going to do this remarkably?

We Need More Purple Cows in Destination Videos

HaveYouSeenThisCowCheck your Facebook News Feed at any given moment and thanks to the wonders of Facebook’s algorithm ninjas you’ll probably find videos in 2-4 (sometimes more) of the top ten posts…which is what you would expect when 100 hours of new video content gets posted to YouTube alone every minute of the day.

But let me ask you something: with the continued explosive growth of travel and destination events how many destination videos do you EVER find in your Facebook News Feed? With research clearly indicating that peer recommendations are the most important travel influencer, and that video is the most powerful media format for telling a story or sharing an idea, why then are there so few destination videos being shared and viewed…particularly when social media channels now dominate travel information dissemination?

In researching this posting I decided to check out DMO destination video content from about 50 DMOs from all over the world and found that the majority of their videos had less than 5,000 views PER YEAR (many were less than 1,000) while the number over 100,000 per year were very limited. In a world with 1.3 billion active monthly Facebook users where three billion people traveled on airplanes last year alone I find these stats sad…but not entirely startling.

So what’s going on here?

First of all, I don’t think it’s about production quality or intent. I think the answer lies in the fact that many destination marketers are struggling to make content (in particular video) remarkable and relevant for their target audience…and at the same time satisfy local stakeholders expectations for visibility. For most destinations the development of video content remains an extremely formulaic exercise based on two primary parameters:

  • Representative: Feature as many destination stakeholder groups (or members) as possible to demonstrate that the DMO is doing something for everyone in the community.
  • Inclusive: Showcase as many activities and experiences as possible to demonstrate that the destination has something that appeals to everyone in the marketplace.

What does that get you? If you look at most destination videos over the last 20 years here is what you will undoubtedly see:

  • Iconic local architecture
  • Hotels and attractions
  • Local arts and culture
  • Local natural environment of one way shape or form
  • Local wildlife – the animal kind
  • Food and people eating and drinking
  • Sports and people playing
  • Children and families laughing
  • BONUS: Government official

All jammed into one video.

In some cases you can almost see the fingerprints of councils and committees on the final product to ensure checklist compliance with their prescribed formula. Which begs the question: who is the video really for anyway?

Seth Godin has a pretty good take on what remarkable looks like. His litmus test for remarkable is the purple cow analogy: “The world is full of boring stuff — brown cows — which is why so few people pay attention. A Purple Cow, though: Now, that would really stand out.“

So how can destination videos be more like Purple Cows? Here’s a few thoughts:

Tell a Story: Travel is about an emotional journey as much as a physical one. Its not a commercial shot list. Adopt a unique and differentiated perspective. Create some tension. Create some entertainment. Show some attitude. Check-out Booking.yeah

Use a Different Look and Sound: Great cinematic photography used to be remarkable. Now its standard stuff for everyone. Try another format. How about using a Go-Pro camera to showcase a destination experience? I’d love to see someone use some elements of animation. Use a soundtrack that doesn’t sound like it came from an elevator. The point is to try something different to be purple in a sea of brown.

Create Smaller Content Slices: Ditch the mandatory shot list. Research shows that people will watch a video for 2.5 minutes before moving on…as long as you grab them in the first ten seconds. Narrow your scope to one clear message and one emotional takeaway for a very precise audience personae. This will get your run time down and you’ll develop a diverse library of short (less than 30 seconds) story videos which are easily consumed and readily shared. VisitFlorida does a great job with this.

Use Different Story-tellers: Most destination videos are told from the generic omnipresent perspective of the destination as in “here’s all what we have to show you and it is good”. Personalization and authenticity rule these days so align your destination stories with the proper story-tellers. If it’s a gastronomic experience, I want the perspective (not just the picture) of a chef or a farmer. If the story is about arts and culture, what do the artists want to share? Tourism Vancouver uses a Chinese musician to engage the Chinese youth market. Tourism Tofino uses an aboriginal surfer-artist to tell its “end of the road” story.

Go Deep With Your Audiences: With so much video content available on most destinations, forget trying to cover everything in a staccato of one-second fast cuts. People already know the typical top ten lists. Instead, develop specific video content for the jewels that most don’t know about and won’t learn from anyone else but the DMO. After all…you’re the expert. The Greater Palm Springs CVB has a great selection of local knowledge videos.

The power of video to market a destination is unmatched. And now Its easier and cheaper than ever to produce great video content about a destination. But to make it remarkable and relevant in a world of content shock means to think “purple” to avoid being lumped into the endless herd of “brown” stuff already out there. And that usually starts with having the courage to act.

Content Shock (and Awe)

EveryMinuteOfTheDay2-644x1024One of my enduring indulgences is to get up early on Sunday morning and read the New York Times.  It seems almost sinful for a Sunday. That’s because its now the only print publication I read with any frequency. My magazine subscriptions have now all expired and I have no plans to renew them. And why should I? Between my social network peeps, curation tools like Feedly and Google News and all the free stuff out there…I can’t keep-up with all the great content (be it digital or print or broadcast) being created even if its relevant and delivered to my phone, desktop or front door. My FOMO – Fear of Missing Out – alarms are blaring as a result.

Recently I read a great blog posting by Mark Schaefer that called this phenomenon “Content Shock”. He went on in the posting to describe its implications in business models and industries everywhere. That it took almost six months for me to put my eyeballs on the article is validation of its premise.

In short, Schaefer offers that our collective ability to create and distribute content has far surpassed our ability to consume it. And that gap is going to continue to widen forcing marketers everywhere to consider what they have to do to with their brainchild content strategies to get anyone’s attention when they are competing with the likes of PSY, TMZ, Buzzfeed, your kids’ math teacher and even your dentist — all of whom are producing content and delivering it 24/7 to any digital device they can gain access to.

Source: Schaefer Marketing Solutions

Source: Schaefer Marketing Solutions

Another OSM.

In response, some advertisers have adopted a “resistance is futile” approach as a result and are now flocking to something called “native advertising”.  NA is basically a strategic paid message placement cleverly “engineered” into the native content making it appear as if its not an ad placement at all but part of the overall content experience with the same tone and feel. Weren’t these once called “advertorials”? John Oliver on Last Week Tonite does an amazing summary of what its all about:  Roger Daltrey’s vocals on Won’t Get Fooled Again would have been a nice close to the piece.

So what does this all mean for destination marketers who have begun to mercifully ditch traditional media placement advertising (even USA Today’s owner Gannett has seen the writing on the wall and has spun-off its print publications into a separate company, presumably to rot) and are now aggressively developing and activating their own content strategies to support their brand and business?

Schaefer offers these 10 Suggestions to Battle Content Shock in a subsequent blog posting. I’ll synthesize these down to three relevant and actionable buckets as suggestions for destination marketers:

(1) Be Committed: Build a team (can be permanent or partner-networked) with the competencies and mandate to make your content strategy deliver results. Make content development part of the organizational DNA. This means understanding the science of getting visibility (e.g. Facebook and Google search algorithms), having access to the necessary production resources (e.g. video, infographic design) and of course, having great communicators/story-tellers on the Team. The money you’re saving by no longer advertising in the USA Today can more than cover the required investment.

(2) Be Remarkable: With so much travel and event-related content being created every minute, destination marketers need to push the envelope and serve-up unique and compelling content that appeals to their target audience in order to build loyalty and some kind of viral effect. Stock photos of attractions and poorly disguised sales pitches are not going to cut it. Get organic. Find non-traditional niche partners. Be entertaining. Be gut-wrenching. Tell a real story using real people. Check-out what the Dallas CVB did with their BIG INFLUENCERS initiative to share elements about the destination that are new and emerging…AND they engaged the local community in the process: 

(3) Be Engaging: Content marketing is not a seasonal sales campaign or something that gets activated in advance of the opening of a new destination venue or attraction. Its ongoing and needs to be thought of as a core engagement element as much as sales. I did a random check of about 15 DMO websites and found that over half had blogs – the first-stop for any DMO content strategy. Sadly…most were sales pitches or special offers and were linked to the destination’s social media activities almost like an email attachment. Effective content marketing is not about sales. Its about engagement. THEIR engagement. And if all you are doing is broadcasting offers then you are wasting your time and money. (In the blog that I felt was the least sales pitch-oriented someone posted a comment that it was the best blog on the destination they had seen.) Surviving content shock is about providing real value to your audience, be it intellectual or emotional. Providing remarkable and relevant content value creates loyalty. And loyalty drives…sales! Gary Vaynerchuk provides a great roadmap with how-to and how-not-to examples in his book Jab, Jab, Jab, Right HookThis should be required reading for every destination marketer.

Content shock means that destination marketers are in the battle of their lives for attention, not just with other competitors but with the global content machine. Time to suit up.

The Last Mile in Destination Marketing

Last-MileIn the world of telecommunications engineers often point out that the biggest source of service challenge occurs somewhere between the last relay box owned by the provider and the end-user. Its metaphorically referred to as “the last mile” and its typically where the speed bottleneck in communication networks happens because of bandwidth limits and capacity differences between what the provider can serve-up and what the user’s configuration can accept. In service terms it’s what impacts network performance and user-experience the most. It’s also the segment in the experience channel over which the provider has the least control.

The Last Mile metaphor struck me as I listened to some of the outstanding content sessions at last week’s Destination Marketing Association International annual convention.

On one hand I was struck by how destination marketers were finally having truly serious discussions about the transformation required as a result of the emergence of Destination Marketing 3.0 drivers: the collaborative economy, the mobile visitor, government fiscal realities and social media etc. But at the same time, one of the most frequently stated participant comments/questions in just about all the sessions I attended was: “how do I get my members/partners/stakeholders/city council to understand all of this and be part of where we need to go?”.

In other words: “I get it. But they don’t or won’t.”

They need to. Because they are a more critical part of today’s (and tomorrow’s) destination marketing ecosystem than ever before. They are the Last Mile.

DMOs are coming to grips with the reality that even though they are now taking bold measures to reimagine their organizations and role in the world of Destination Marketing 3.0, many of their local stakeholders are still living in the destination marketing paradigm of the past.

Its like being a Fios Quantum subscriber with a dial-up modem.

But unlike in the past, today’s fragmented marketing channel gives suppliers and buyers equal access to each other. Now, through a myriad of low-cost, easy-access marketing channels, a DMO’s stakeholders have as much influence on destination equity as the DMO does…impacting destination brand perception, destination performance and visitor experiences more quickly and acutely than ever before. And just like with telecommunications, a well-configured Last Mile can create experiential magic for the visitor. Unfortunately, a poorly aligned Last Mile creates a world of performance disconnects in both cases.

The “Oh-Shit-Moment” is this: if many DMOs are only now dealing with the increasingly sophisticated realities of Destination Marketing 3.0 as presented in DMAI’s DestinationNEXT report, how are they ensuring that their community stakeholders are also onside with those destination marketing transformational realities? And that in a hyper-connected, peer-reviewed world they play a critical role in the transformation.

Today’s DMO role in aligning the Last Mile has to go beyond the typical provision of information to stakeholders at the annual marketing plan briefing and annual report presentation. To effect a truly transformational change, the DMO has to deploy whole new educational engagement imperative with its community stakeholders.

One approach to this educational imperative used by diverse, global companies like Coca-Cola and Unilever to get everyone on the same page and working together is the development of a dedicated internal marketing academy. Business units and diverse cross-functional teams from throughout the enterprise gather to review global trends and discuss local results; sharing information and ideas…often co-creating innovative new strategies for activation. Everyone leaves connected and aligned. Repeat as needed.

For DMOs a Destination Marketing Academy should bring together key community stakeholders (members, partners, government) to create a common destination marketing 3.0 vision, approach and language for their community helping to better ensure Last Mile synchronicity and alignment, instead of a painful disconnect. Academy participation needs to go well-beyond the usual suspects (e.g. marketing committee) and connect with stakeholders who can help deliver the strategy (e.g. economic development group, universities). Ultimately the academy should make co-creating and activating transformational destination marketing strategies with all stakeholders much more effective…with better performance results for all.

With DMOs now taking bold strides to create new value in today’s disruptive global tourism and business events ecosystem, the critical first step starts at the Last Mile.

A New Currency for DMO Relationship Capital (Part Two)

HR-Man_Icon-resized-600Earlier this week, Destination Marketing Association International released the Phase I report of its DestinationNEXT initiative at their Las Vegas convention. (Full disclosure: I was a contributor to its development.) The report synthesizes insights from global futurists, industry leaders and marketplace customers into a blueprint for how DMOs can evolve, survive and thrive in a “fluid” (today’s hipster term for uncertain) tourism/event ecosystem environment. The DestinationNEXT study refers to these as NEXTPractices and will be more fully explored in Phase II.

So…following on last week’s posting about how Apple is leveraging the relationship capital of its former PC nemesis, IBM, to enter a new space as its existing space becomes more crowded, the question of the moment is: what opportunities exist for DMOs to leverage their existing relationship capital to create new uncontested value in such a fluid environment?

I believe one such compelling opportunity is for DMOs to use their existing marketplace and destination partner relationship capital to become the expert on tourism/event analytics and insights for their respective destinations.

The new relationship currency for DMO’s?: Insights..not just Room-Nights.

And just like Apple did, DMOs should find partners with big data infrastructure and expertise to collaborate with around the provision of marketing analysis and operational insights for their marketplace clients (e.g. tour operators, meeting professionals etc.) and also for their destination partners (e.g. venues, attractions, governments etc.).

Now…I’m not saying that DMOs should dump everything else they do and bet the farm here as the applicability of the opportunity will obviously depend on a DMO’s particular scenario, priorities etc (the DestinationNEXT report defines four differentiated scenarios to consider). What I am saying is that as DMOs struggle with to find their future in a highly fluid ecosystem, this is a space ripe with opportunity for DMOs to not only to create exclusive uncontested value but also to create new service revenues for their own enterprises.

I can see the eyes rolling now. But can you imagine what would have happened three years ago if someone suggested to Steve Jobs that a partnership with IBM was a good idea? For everything there is a season.

Before you hit ALT-Q to shut this down, consider this:

  • At the moment, this space is largely uncontested. A veritable blue ocean of opportunity.
  • Is it valuable? A recent HBR article – The Ultimate Marketing Machine – notes that a survey of 10,000 marketers in 92 countries identified “Big-Data, Deep Insights” as one of three winning marketing characteristics of high performing organizations.
  • Decisions around everything from convention center expansion investment to tour itinerary development to event destination selection now require increasingly credible and relevant data. Better informed decisions improve destination performance (i.e. room-nights, event attendance, visitor experience) and investor returns. The destination that can readily provide those data insights will have an advantage over those that cannot.
  • For-profit big data enterprises (e.g. IBM) cannot do this on their own. They need a partner with marketplace and destination credibility in order to access, package and monetize the data analytics. Only DMOs have built the powerful trusted relationship capital with their marketplace clients and their destination partners to access the data and to pitch it to their clients.

00935PTo be clear, this is not suggesting that DMO’s should develop their own big-data infrastructure. This is about finding a partner who already has it and then leveraging the DMO’s existing relationship and tourism expertise capital to build a whole new destination business service. The DMO’s role is as trusted owner of the destination data undertaking the necessary analysis and packaging up the insights (which will require new organizational competencies e.g. data scientist) for marketplace clients and destination partners as required.

Who knows, maybe the tourism industry is one of the industries being targeted by the new Apple-IBM partnership for specific analytic app development…the possibility of which should be motivation enough for DMOs to give this some serious thought. And if its not, maybe this is an opportunity for DMOs to help build a smarter planet.

 

A New Currency for DMO Relationship Capital (Part One)

How many times have you heard during the course of your career that the tourism and meetings industries are built on personal relationships?

As DMOs the core of our business development strategy was to build relationship capital for our destination: find qualified client-opportunities, tell our story, build trusted relationships and then monetize those relationships into business transactions for our destination partners. DMO folklore stories of barroom deals sketched out on cocktail napkins are legendary. We made our client pitches. We drank. We ate. We golfed. We assembled partnerships. Repeat as needed. We got the deal done. All in an effort to build enough trusted relationships to secure business transactions.

Some of that has changed…with the advent of transparency policies and corporate purchasing compliance regulations, the likelihood of using that relationship capital to carve out a deal over a tequila shot or a spa appointment is exponentially lower. The other part that has changed is that neither clients nor our destination partners are exclusively dependent on DMO relationship capital to cultivate transaction-producing relationships for themselves. The marketplace has figured out how to go direct and build their own relationship capital.

So then…what’s the new currency for DMO relationship capital?

One possible answer can be found in Wednesday’s Apple-IBM new partnership announcement. In a nutshell, the new partnership is about creating industry-specific Apple iOS apps for IBM’s enterprise clientele to leverage IBM’s big-data capabilities…in effect making Apple’s iOS devices the platform of first resort for enterprise big-data analytics. Of course, Apple will sell a boatload of iOS devices and IBM will introduce new iOS big-data consulting services. Apple, in effect, is using IBM’s corporate relationship capital to access enterprise level opportunities (which Apple currently lacks), expanding its consumer-focused iOS footprint into the enterprise space. That flushing sound you just heard was Blackberry leaving the building.

The irony of the deal is that these new partners were once the fiercest of competitors in the battle for personal computer supremacy…and now neither of these pioneer brands have personal computers as a major business line (today only Apple sells personal computers, representing less than 10% of its total revenue). Instead they chose to use their brand equity and relationship capital to redefine their core business when the personal computer marketplace became over-crowded and less profitable. Are you listening Dell?

And they are doing it again here with Apple entering the enterprise space and IBM providing new big data services in the exploding mobile space.

Which brings us back to the value of DMO relationship capital in the world of Destination Marketing 3.0.  As has been shared in this blogspace, with the destination sales channel now overcrowded, DMOs need to pursue new high value opportunities that benefit BOTH their marketplace clients and their destination partners.

Here’s what DMOs can learn from the Apple-IBM partnership approach: find a partner with complementary competencies that allow the DMO to leverage its established relationship capital to establish a new offering in an uncontested, high-value space.

So the challenge for DMO leaders is, just as it was for Apple and IBM leaders then and now, what could that new reality look like?

“Reality can be beaten with enough imagination.” – Mark Twain

I’ll share further thoughts next week from the DMAI conference in Las Vegas but in the interim I would love to hear yours.

Meetings Industry Review Sites: Opportunity or Non-Starter?

Aaaannnd…we’re back!

Word of MouthIt’s an axiom all of us have burned in our brains: “Word of mouth is the best form of advertising.” Getting someone to recommend our products and/or our services remains one of business’s most holy quests – particularly in the tourism and meetings industries where the competition is so intense.

Until recently, activating that word of mouth or unleashing the voice of the customer was cumbersome and expensive. For years, tourism and meetings/events space buyers and sellers have effectively activated word of mouth at tradeshows and industry events, discretely networking with each other to get the inside scoop on the latest hot…and not-so-hot places, service-providers and spaces. In fact, decades ago I recall a survey from a major industry event that identified “candid conversations with peers” as the second most valuable reason to attend the event.

Enter the community review digital platform. Consider TripAdvisor: Between 2000 and 2012 there were 100 million reviews posted. As a result of an integration with Facebook in 2013, another 50 million reviews were added last year alone! And if that hasn’t got your attention TripAdvisor is now seeing 260 million unique visitors… per month! One can challenge the validity/credibility of some of the reviews but when over a quarter of a billion people are checking out reviews monthly on TripAdvisor alone, there’s some serious cred in play that fill a significant consumer traveler need. And for DMO’s consider these user stats from a 2013 PhoCusWright survey of 12,225 respondents:

  • 77 % usually or always reference TripAdvisor reviews before selecting a hotel.
  • 50 % usually or always reference TripAdvisor reviews before selecting a restaurant.
  • 44 % usually or always reference TripAdvisor reviews before selecting an attraction.

While TripAdvisor is a leisure-focused consumer experience site, I’ve heard from meeting/event professionals and business event attendees that they will typically check out TripAdvisor as part of their destination/venue/vendor due diligence. They are also quick to point out that because the reviews are not specifically for the meetings/events experience, they do not carry as much weight as a recommendation from a professional colleague or peer.

TripAdvisor Yelp

Which begs the question: why isn’t there a community review platform specifically for the meetings and events experience? (I fully realize that there are several meetings industry sites/platforms that have a review component or function. What I am exploring is a community platform similar to TripAdvisor or Yelp!.)

I’m envisioning a digital community where planners, their attendees and exhibitors (if applicable) come to seek feedback/guidance, post and consider reviews of specific destinations, venues, services and events (e.g. tradeshows and exhibitions) etc. I’ve not thought much about the business model but for some digital businesses that’s a very fluid element.

I have asked meeting professionals this question for years and I always receive the same two answers:

  • “I wish we had one specifically for meetings and business event experiences.”; and
  • “I don’t want to burn any personal supplier-partner relationships so I won’t participate.”

Hmmm…let’s unpack these answers:

  • Clearly there is a need. In private conversations, in client advisory board sessions and in focus groups, planners admit to checking out TripAdvisor and other service-provider review platforms in the course of doing their jobs. If they don’t, they know full well that their bosses, attendees and clients are. But they are also quick to point out that they have to hunt through the reviews to try and find one from a meeting/convention attendee. And while few, if any, planner reviews exist on these sites, I am aware of some private, invite-only social media group spaces where conversations take place about key meetings industry venues and suppliers.
  • The “sharing is caring” ethos in the age of transparency seems to take a back seat to planner personal relationships at the moment. And this is a significant barrier to effective content generation (i.e. reviews). As a boomer I know the value of personal relationships in determining my business partners and clients.  I also expect that they will be direct: sharing the good and also the opportunities for improvement with their peers exactly the same way they would share them with me. I also know that for many millennials, providing a review is almost a social obligation to their peer group.

The question then becomes: Is it merely a matter of time before the needs of the many (or the attention of a TripAdvisor or a Yelp!) outweigh the personal relationships of the few and a community review platform for the meetings industry gets developed?

Let’s see what the future holds…