Destination Exchange: Top five shared challenges for tourism and how to tackle them 

Earlier this year, the Travel Foundation worked with Travel Oregon to support their vision to create a destination exchange between tourism leaders in Oregon and five destinations in Canada, as a platform for inspiration and innovation.  The aim was to share ideas, challenges and solutions for the creation of better, more resilient destinations.  The result included useful insights and takeaways that are relevant to DMOs all around the world.  Here we share five of the key challenges that were discussed during the exchange, alongside some of the ideas and solutions used to tackle them, as well as examples from the destinations involved.   

1. Achieving destination stewardship goals

In recent years, there has been a strong trend towards taking a stewardship approach to destination management. However, designing effective stewardship strategies and programmes is not always straightforward.  Many DMOs are still figuring out what this shift in approach means for them and how destination development, stewardship and marketing all intersect.  A particular challenge highlighted in our destination exchange was how to the ensure the goals of different departments are all aligned towards stewardship and to understand how they should work together. Solutions discussed included: reviewing the activity of different departments through the lenses of destination stewardship, such as climate action and regenerative tourism, as well as diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility (DEIA); and reducing silos across departments to ensure that everyone is working towards the same goals.  For example, Destination Vancouver has created a matrix to show how each role contributes to each department and to the organisation’s broader goals.  The destination also has a stewardship team that works cross-functionally to support work towards their vision.


2. Creating meaningful indicators of success

An important step towards a stewardship approach is to move away from solely using economic measures of success and adopt a wider set of key performance indicators (KPIs) that take into account stakeholder priorities, local procurement, DEIA, carbon emissions, etc.  The destinations involved in our exchange were all at different stages of developing new KPIs.  Some were establishing baselines across new goal areas and setting targets and evaluation processes to aim for, whilst others were using the organisation’s vision and mission, as well as stakeholder priorities to determine their KPIs. 4VI (Vancouver Island) published their new KPIs in their latest Impact Strategy, with measures for each of their pillars of communities, businesses, environment, and culture.   Accessing good insights and data for these KPIs remains a challenge for many DMOs, as environmental and social indicator data can be harder to come by and track. However, there are significant opportunities for collaboration amongst DMOs regionally and nationally, particularly those that share similar natural and cultural assets, as well as common challenges. Some destinations involved in our exchange have joined together to identify data points and source them from government agencies, as well as to establish new primary data collection methods. For example, an initiative in development is the Tourism Impact Portal, which is attempting to combine sources of economic, environmental and social indicators for organisations across some of BC’s tourism regions. Provincial DMO, Destination BC, publishes industry performance, market, and resident research resources for all DMOs across the province to access.


3. Defining the DMO’s role in climate action

There is a huge diversity of roles and actions that DMOs can take when it comes to climate planning and for many; the initial challenge is to decide what to measure, as well how best to hook into existing climate action plans.  The key message that came out of our destination exchange, was that the most important role for DMOs is to ensure that the tourism sector is involved.  This may include guiding individual businesses in climate action, or ensuring tourism is at the table at the city, regional or state level.  For example, British Columbia’s regional organisations have taken a certification approach to ensure businesses across the province can align behind a clear set of practices, see the Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association’s (TOTA) Biosphere certification programme.  DMOs are well placed both to support collaboration and partnership, as well as to educate and empower others.  The Oregon Coast and 4VI are both flying the flag for climate action across their destination and internationally.  Similarly, Destination BC has aligned climate targets for the tourism industry with the province’s net zero goals to ensure tourism is responding to and part of the efforts.


4. How to meet diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility goals

All of the destinations involved in our exchange have recognised the importance of improving DEIA.  One of the challenges around setting policies relating to this, is to ensure that they go beyond surface-level and that time and resources are made available to do the deeper work required to turn intent into action.  Solutions shared to strengthen these efforts include partnering with organisations from underrepresented communities and/or embedding representative specialists as in-house staff to guide DEIA, an approach that has proven successful for BC regional tourism organizations in the form of its regional Indigenous Tourism Specialists in partnership with Indigenous Tourism BC and Accessibility & Inclusion Specialists for example, in partnership with Spinal Cord Injury BC.  To create their DEIA strategy, Destination BC started internally with an audit of organisational culture, practices and employee perceptions and has used this to inform clear goals, measures and actions covering intercultural development, inclusive marketing, stakeholder engagement and more. An important insight from the destinations that took part in our exchange was the difference in what is acceptable and respectful in terms of terminology relating to Indigenous communities across different jurisdictions (particularly internationally). DMOs need to build relationships with Indigenous tourism organizations in their regions to understand preferred language use and recognise how this may be perceived by source markets, including Indigenous communities elsewhere.  Provincial DMO Travel Alberta and Indigenous Tourism Alberta share offices which strengthens the relationships and strategies for all of their tourism development work throughout the province.


5. How to create strong and effective engagement among local stakeholders

Successful destination stewardship involves ensuring effective stakeholder engagement. This means focussing not just on resident sentiment, but also on whether tourism is providing benefits to communities, the economy, the environment, cultures and quality of life, as well as gauging whether residents feel that their voices are being heard and that their priorities are influencing and informing decision making.  The destinations involved in our exchange found that breaking down stakeholder engagement by region and for more localized destinations is helpful to better understand and address specific challenges and opportunities.  Partnering with educational, or research institutions may also prove useful for DMOs in accessing data.  Travel Alberta is taking a joint approach to engaging regionally throughout the province, alongside Indigenous Tourism Alberta, as well as the Tourism Industry Association of Alberta, to ensure consistent alignment. Together they bring a unified message and show of support to tourism stakeholders and residents across the province to increase engagement in the development of its regional plans.


Participating organizations in the destination exchange included Travel Oregon, who sponsored and coordinated the peer exchange and learning tour, Astoria-Warrenton Chamber of Commerce, Columbia Gorge Tourism Alliance, Mt. Hood Territory, Oregon Coast Visitors Association, and Visit McMinnville. Canadian DMOs included Travel Alberta, Destination BC, Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association (TOTA), 4VI (formerly Tourism Vancouver Island), and Destination Vancouver.

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