December 1st, 2021

Lesson in a Camp Cup: A To-Do List for DMOs

The value of packing a reusable camp cup for a three-day rafting trip probably is pretty obvious to most outdoor enthusiasts. Unfortunately, with my one prior camping experience, before Yeti was even founded, it was not obvious to me.

Thank goodness the river-wise organizers of last month’s epic passage through the canyons of Dinosaur National Monument packed some recyclable cups. I took away so much from that 44-mile journey, but two lessons really stand out. One, pack a camp cup next time. And two, there can be a lot of value in what may seem obvious.

That second lesson keeps coming to mind as I’ve talked with others about the latest DestinationNEXT “Futures Study,” commissioned by Destinations International from MMGY NextFactor and released over the summer.

This beautifully written, insight-packed study distills thinking from 706 participants in 52 countries into three “Transformational Opportunities” for destination organizations to consider — Destination Alignment, Sustainable Development and Values-Based Marketing. By integrating these three practices into a framework guiding future decision-making, it says, destination organizations can accelerate recovery of the global tourism economy and rebuild it in better and lasting ways.

A case in point: DMOs across the U.S. suddenly found new civic and resident support last year when they turned their creative energies and powerful marketing channels away from promotion to share COVID-19 safety messaging. Many also won new credibility by touting “Shop Local” initiatives or encouraging residents to explore their own backyards.

Almost by a twist of fortune, these savvy organizations took big steps toward Destination Alignment, making themselves far more relevant to their communities.

For Glacier Country Tourism in northwest Montana, that newfound purpose led to fielding a non-promotional, “Recreate Responsibly” campaign this past summer, winning broad support. Now Glacier Country leader Racene Friede is taking an even bolder step, engaging MMGY NextFactor and Better Destinations to create a first-ever Destination Stewardship Plan for the eight-county region.

The second transformational opportunity — Sustainable Development — is all about creating thriving destinations through holistic consideration of the famed “Triple Bottom Line” — People, Planet and Profit — plus a fourth “P,” Policy.

The benefits of the third — Values-Based Marketing — are ever clearer. It’s about making deliberate choices of whom to attract and recognizing that the keys to a destination’s appeal are held by the people who live there.

Earlier this year, I was laying the groundwork for a strategy to attract “low-impact travelers” whose interests would make Colorado the obvious choice — and whose conscientious ways would be welcomed by Coloradans. Our team activated an outpouring of “low-impact” travel offerings, including 10 electric vehicle-ready Scenic Byways. The only thing holding us back from a full promotional launch was the scarcity of electric rental vehicles.

Once crafted, that positioning around “low-impact travel” seemed so obvious. And, by the way, it touched on all three Transformational Opportunities — Destination Alignment, Sustainable Development and Values-Based Marketing.

With fresh challenges for tourism at every turn these days, what a gift to know that common-sense solutions may lie right in front of us, with potential to transform destinations for the better.