If Destination Management Organizations (DMOs) want to ensure a thriving future for tourism in their destination, they need to ensure that tourism is serving their communities, that any adverse impacts are properly managed and benefits are shared and to do this they need to ensure they are talking to, engaging and enabling participation from a diverse, representative range of individuals. DMOs and consulting organizations need innovative and effective strategies to target and reach more diverse community members to achieve more representative engagement and participation in tourism development. It is imperative to include individuals who authentically represent the community, encompassing various cultures, including Indigenous populations, speakers of diverse languages, recent arrivals, individuals spanning different age groups, varying gender identities, adherents of different religions, individuals with disabilities, as well as those from racialized and marginalized communities.
So how can tourism destinations seeking resident engagement in decision-making and assessing satisfaction regarding tourism in their communities ensure representation from a diverse cross-section? While traditional methods like “town hall” meetings and surveys persist in tourism planning, they often fail to capture a broad demographic spectrum. These approaches frequently reach an older, primarily English-speaking audience, even in regions where nearly half of the population may communicate in another language. Additionally, the perspectives of younger individuals, vital in expressing opinions on what is significant, the impact on them, and their vision for the future of tourism in their communities, are seldom solicited. There is a tendency for community engagement to be more reactive, with individuals primarily participating when tourism-related issues arise. Conversely, in regions aspiring to develop tourism, a considerable challenge emerges in motivating individuals to actively partake in the process.
As part of destination stewardship planning processes we’ve been involved with in North America, we’ve collected some reflections on what is working, what could be improved, and where we hope the tourism industry will do better in the future to engage and involve stakeholders in tourism planning. The following tactics have resulted in more engagement with diverse community members:-
- Targeted focus groups: Hosting virtual focus groups by stakeholder type or subsector (for example: hotel managers, restaurant owners & managers, arts & cultural organizations, land managers, emergency service providers, tourism workforce, community organizations, etc.). Sometimes multiple time frames are needed but certainly representatives of particular groups should be consulted for most suitable time frames in order to achieve the highest level of participation.
- Info sessions in familiar spaces: This requires outreach to community organizations within the cultural communities one wishes to engage, and planning for info sessions during regular meeting times (going where people are comfortable).
- Info sessions in dominant second languages of the place: This may be done in conjunction with the above. It was done successfully in Lake Tahoe with Spanish-speaking women’s groups to gather input and feedback on tourism in Tahoe.
- Sessions for hospitality & tourism workers: In Vail we were successful in providing a session where employers brought workers to a meeting in order for them to participate based on their available time.
- Long term engagement with Indigenous communities (incl First Nations or Tribal Nations & Governments, tourism organizations, etc.): This requires more in-depth strategy than can be outlined here, but key to note is that the moment you need feedback it’s too late to start asking. This applies to all community groups and the most successful engagement will result when DMOs have long-standing relationships with partners and representatives from various community groups that can provide input and advice on best places and methods to gather input.
- Compensation should always be considered for community liaisons, whether asked to provide direct input, to support with recruitment or to support with building relationships across communities.
In some cases we have seen town halls go unattended, and surveys (while translated into another language), go unanswered. It’s essential that engagement tactics be continuously evaluated. Do not simply do what has always been done but look at what could be more innovative and effective.
We tasked student groups in Professor Rachel Dodds’ undergraduate destination marketing class at Toronto Metropolitan University to research and suggest further strategies for the tourism industry to consider. Their work resulted in a mix of new ideas and enhancements to processes currently utilized. Several of the ideas relate to building long-term relationships, being more present in diverse communities’ lives, providing foundational knowledge and building understanding over time, thereby enhancing participation and feedback opportunities when most needed. The winning team of students, Camila Aguila Cortes, Alexandra Ocay, and Navneet Osahan, presented the following ideas: Hosting radio call-in or podcast information sessions for diverse demographics; collaborating with universities & colleges to participate in surveys by providing incentives to learn more about tourism; and to employ community ambassadors to recruit participation at information sessions in familiar community spaces.