There’s no such thing as “one size fits all” when it comes to destination marketing organizations (DMOs) and their partners. Sure, all partners (or members as they are sometimes referred to) benefit from local tourism, but often that’s where the similarities end.
The businesses, organizations, and attractions that join with a DMO are large and small, owned by both giant corporations and individual families. Some have whole marketing teams, while others have the owner in what little time they have left after managing budgets, schedules, and inventories. With so many differences, it can be difficult to create a strategy that speaks to each of them and that generates engagement and participation across all levels.
A little perspective goes a long way
An eye-catching infographic illustrating the impact of local tourism can sometimes be all it takes to get partners to participate. Research shows that people pay more attention to visuals, rather than hearing numbers or seeing plain text on a page, so seeing the direct economic benefit to the community can motivate some to step up and be more involved. But others may need a little more insight into how engaging with their DMO can directly affect their business.
“We would tell our partners, it’s like a gym membership,” said Liza Gutshall, Madden Account Strategist and former DMO employee. “Just because you pay for that gym membership, doesn’t mean you’re going to lose weight or build muscle. You have to actually show up to the gym and put in the effort, to get the results you want. The same goes for a membership with your destination marketing organization. If you want to make the most of your member benefits, like marketing opportunities, you have to show up to meetings, share events, and communicate with your DMO. Just like that gym membership, the more effort you put into it, the better your results will be.”
Pull back the curtain
An end-of-year meeting or report is great for highlighting all the work that’s been done throughout the past 365 days. But during the months in between, it’s easy to forget all the work that goes on behind the scenes at a DMO.
“The goal of our marketing efforts was to bring visitors to our area, so most of our campaigns were targeted outside of our local market, which meant that most of our partners never saw them,” said Megan Filak, a Marketing Communications Specialist at Madden with DMO experience. We created these great ads, but many of our partners never even knew what they looked like. Once we got better at sharing our out-of-market ads, we got such a positive response from our partners.”
Allowing a look at the work as it’s happening is a great way to remind partners of what you’re doing for them. Here are a few “works in progress” that you can share:
- Send a partner email announcing the launch of a new ad campaign. Share a peek at the ads and the markets in which they’ll be seen.
- Offer a first look at the visitors guide cover.
- Offer a behind-the-scenes glimpse of a recent video shoot.
- Share photos of your destination represented at a trade or travel show.
It’s no secret that people respond better when there’s a personal connection. Building relationships with your DMO’s partner businesses sounds simple on the surface, but becomes complicated when you multiply it by the number of partners and then add in your other responsibilities. But rather than focusing on the overwhelmingly big picture, start small to open up avenues for conversation with your partners:
Pay attention to partners on social media
Make sure that the people or person behind your DMO’s social media (If it’s not you!) know who your partners are and are engaging with their content. While you’re scrolling your personal social media feed, watch for posts by partner businesses launching new products, announcing an event, or celebrating an achievement. Reach out with a quick email congratulating them, wishing them success, or just telling them you’re looking forward to their event. That quick note can be enough to help them feel seen.
Let them know it’s more than just business
Did your personal weekend plans involve dinner at a partner restaurant or did your kids have fun at a partner attraction? Tell that partner! Before diving into the work week, send a quick Monday morning email to your contact there letting them know what a great experience you or your family had and how glad you are that your destination can offer it to visitors.
Schedule the communication
There’s a saying that claims if you wait until you have time to start something, you’ll never start. Whether you utilize your CRM to schedule emails or block out time on your calendar, make intentional time for personal communication. You can also use National Travel and Tourism Week (May 7-13, 2023) as a (nearly) mid-year prompt for checking in with partners. Divide your partner list among your team if needed and make it a priority that every partner receives a personal phone call or a visit from someone with your DMO during that week to thank them for being part of your local tourism industry.
Call in reinforcements
Let’s face it. Sometimes no amount of scheduling will allow you to make all the individual connections you’d like. That’s when it might be time to tag in some help. Invite a small number of partners who are already engaged and who hold a firm understanding of your organization’s mission to become tourism ambassadors. Assign them partners to check in with regularly and encourage them to share their tips for staying engaged.
Reward your supporters
As you work to increase engagement, don’t take for granted the ones who actively participate and interact with your DMO. Share their latest news in a partner newsletter, spotlight them on social media, stop by the business with destination swag for your contact and their co-workers.
Your partners are many and each is unique and while it can make an engagement strategy tricky, it’s what makes your destination special. Finding effective ways to increase engagement is worth the time and energy it takes. Engaged partners understand your mission and see the value in the work you do. They will be more likely to support your efforts and to share their insights and concerns, which leads to better visitor experiences. While there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to increasing engagement, what matters is that you try and when you don’t get the response you hoped for, you try something different. By putting in the effort, you are opening the door to new opportunities, ideas, and connections.