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Our Takeaways from Destinations International’s Annual Convention

Megan Schlosser Filak Marketing Communications Specialist

Each year, Destinations International’s (DI) Annual Convention draws travel and tourism marketing professionals from around the globe for several days of connecting, sharing, and learning with thought leaders from across the industry. The event propels tourism forward as it helps marketers stay ahead in an ever-changing world.

The 2023 Destinations International Convention was held from July 18-20 in Dallas, Texas. Members of our Madden team were excited to be part of this year’s convention, both leading and learning from the conversations that are enhancing tourism for travelers and local communities. 

Following the conference, our team members shared their experiences and takeaways.

More than marketing

Increasingly, successful destination marketing doesn’t stand alone—it must work in concert with the community to uphold resident sentiment. DMOs must incorporate destination management strategies to safeguard and sustain environmental, cultural, and economic assets. This topic became a major focus throughout the conference.

“Excellent and emotional presentations from Dutch and Hawai’ian tourism authorities reinforced the changing global dynamics and its impact on this industry,” recalled Matt Stiker, Senior Vice President of Brand Strategy at Madden. “Sustainability isn’t a buzz word, and must be considered and incorporated into every DMO’s master plan if we expect to have a tourism product available to our children and our children’s children.”

DMOs cannot be so focused on attracting visitors that they lose sight of their locals.

“Your residents matter; if you’re not already considering them as a key audience, let’s talk about ways in which you can (and should) be engaging them in a mutually beneficial way,” said Kristin Dialessi, Senior Vice President of Destination Strategy, following the convention.

Taking it a step further, DMOs can no longer count on being able to showcase only the fun and positives of a destination. This has become more evident since the pandemic and other social and political events that have shaken communities. The ability to quickly pivot to damage control  to protect the local tourism industry and support residents became a theme in many of the conversations throughout the convention. 

“I sat in multiple sessions where PR and crisis communications were main topics and how those two play into an overarching destination strategy,”  said Jake Sillavan, Senior Director of Destination Strategy. “It’s important to be prepared for things that are out of your control, but also to be prepared on how to change the narrative when things out of our control happen.”

Connection counts

It’s no surprise that how people travel, where they go, and what they plan to do when they arrive is vastly different than just a few years ago. Today’s travelers want more than just a trip, they want an experience. But in an effort to sell potential visitors on all the experiences they can have in a destination, it’s critical not to miss the opportunity to connect with them. Being able to create that sense of connection is what ultimately guides them from awareness to inspiration, consideration, and conversion.

“Tourism marketing needs to feel authentic. There’s a lot of data and vendors in the space now (probably more than there’s ever been), but if you can’t connect authentically with your key audience, it doesn’t matter how many data points you have,” explained Sillavan.

Looking to the future

Over the last few years DMOs have overcome a range of challenges and have risen to meet them. 

“The most successful DMO leaders are recognizing that dramatic changes in the world represent opportunity,” said Stiker. “It may not come without speed bumps, but the benefit of embracing and working through the challenges means much greater long-term upside for both the destination and the organization.”

Changes coming to our industry run the gamut, from technology to the way the industry opens doors, to the inward look DMOs must take at their own destination.  

When it comes to technology, developments are happening rapidly and in order to stay competitive, DMOs must be able to keep pace. For instance, artificial intelligence (AI) and how to incorporate it into destination marketing was a hot topic during this year’s convention. 

“AI is a powerful tool — if you don’t have an adoption plan in place for both internal and external use, that needs to be a priority,” said Dialessi.

Also being discussed was how technology is reshaping mainstays of tourism marketing, such as visitors guides. 

“Guides are guides, until they’re not. What does the Visitor Guide of the FUTURE look like? Is it more lookbook style?” considered Sillavan.

A growing commitment to DEI

One area in particular where a positive shift is starting to become visible is the industry’s approach to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).

“Diversity, equity, and inclusion is being taken seriously, although the industry has not done nearly enough yet. A glance around the meeting rooms indicated that attendees were more representative of diverse populations than ever before, which is phenomenal,” said Stiker. “But intentional conversations reveal that more work needs to be done, and that with some notable and prominent exceptions, underrepresented voices still struggle sometimes to be heard.”

Part of a commitment to DEI also requires destinations to look in the mirror, so to speak. Not only to ensure that their marketing allows all travelers to imagine themselves there, but to also strive to ensure that the story they tell about their destination is truly representative of the whole community. 

Moving tourism forward together

With exciting developments and new challenges always arising in the tourism industry, the days spent at Destinations International’s Annual Convention and the conversations that were part of it serve as proof that those within the tourism industry are dedicated to working together and within their communities to ensure the future of travel.

“There is a collective feeling in the tourism industry that the proverbial high tide raises all the proverbial boats, that we are better and stronger when we are unified and collective, when we are working together and relying on one another,” said Stiker. 

This work shouldn’t rest only on the shoulders of a DMO. In fact, collaboration across the region is more important than ever in creating a successful and thriving area for visitors and locals alike. 

“Destinations who are doing the most impactful work understand how critical creative collaboration is across all key stakeholders and industries within a community to truly be able to accomplish collective impact and success,” said Dialessi.

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