Talk the Talk
The first step to better DMO relationships is understanding the organization you're working with. Check out these BMG resources for more insight:
It's become a familiar story -- destination marketing organizations across the country are facing funding cuts and seeing their value called into question by politicians, government officials and even their own residents.
Earlier this year, Bloomington, Ill., lost $200,000 in funding for the Bloomington-Normal Area Convention & Visitors Bureau. Visit Florida was nearly eliminated but managed to survive a budget cut of $26 million. Experts from Destinations International, the association for DMOs, warn that such challenges might grow more commonplace in the coming years.
"As we have seen in Florida and other places, defeating these attacks in any given year does not guarantee they will not return the next year," said Jack Johnson, chief advocacy officer of DI, at its 2019 Annual Convention in July. "There is a growing trend of people who seek to divert destination organization funding and start by undermining the credibility of the destination organization."
According to Johnson, part of the problem is that many guardians of the budget in state and local governments don’t know the vital role these bureaus can play in promoting a destination.
"Members of our industry often joke that not even their families know what it is that they do, much less neighbors and friends," Johnson noted at the DI convention. "Unfortunately, in way too many cases, it’s not a joke. It’s actually true. Worse, rarely is the community engaged as a whole or even partially."
Although DMOs are designed to help their communities create jobs, attract top talent and establish a thriving economy through tourism, this message seems to have gotten lost in translation over the years, said Johnson. This might be caused in part by a lack of clear, consistent and frequent communication between DMOs and the communities they serve. In an effort to bridge that gap, DI recently unveiled its new Tourism Lexicon, a guide listing key words for bureaus to use in describing their services.
As Johnson told convention-goers, "We need to learn how to interact with our residents and elected officials in a language they understand. A language based on shared values and emotions."
Learning the Lingo
The Tourism Lexicon has been developed as a tool DMOs can use to improve their internal messaging as well as external marketing efforts. It comprises a list of 20 words that are likely to resonate with target audiences and help convey the importance and value of DMOs in a direct, effective way.
The first edition of the Lexicon was published in 2018, at which point it included 10 words: community, local, need, opportunity, people, program, provide, public, support and work. The latest edition features 10 more: family, funding, help, information, investment, job, project, service, thank and neighbor.
Andreas Weissenborn, senior director of research and advocacy at DI, says incorporating these words into a DMO's website, mission statement and other materials can assist an organization in connecting with its community, improving public perception and safe guarding its budget against future cuts.
The Tourism Lexicon draws its inspiration from politics, and how certain words can frame a political conversation and alter public perception. For example, a recent poll from NPR and Ipsos found that 11 percent more people support abolishing an estate tax when it is called the "death tax." Similarly, DMOs that leverage emotionally striking but more positive words such as community, work and service to explain their value might develop greater support in their communities.
"The concept of a lexicon is something that political parties have been using for decades," says Weissenborn. "So, we thought, 'let's just apply the same concept here.' We fundamentally believe destination organizations are a common good. They serve the very communities that they're designed for, and we need to start changing how we talk about them to match other public and common goods."
To determine which words should be included in the Lexicon, DI turned to Quorum, a legislative tracking database. This tool allowed the organization to analyze political discourse on travel, tourism and economic development. The findings revealed that political leaders employed certain words repeatedly to communicate positive messages — a collection that the 2019 Lexicon winnowed down to 20.
DI recommends that DMOs across the nation begin incorporating these words into their messaging to match the discourse of other public goods and better communicate their value to residents and government officials.
Living the Lexicon
When the first edition of the Lexicon was released last year, a few forward- thinking cities began refining their messaging strategies to focus on these words. One such example is Visit Champaign County in Illinois.
"We had a city that cut our funding, and we found that we weren't telling the story of what Champaign County does for the community," says Jayne DeLuce, president and CEO of the bureau. "When you talk with your stakeholders about numbers, it's very hard for it to be relatable, especially when you're talking about millions of dollars. You need to talk about how it impacts the community directly and the people who live there."
Adopting the Lexicon enabled a paradigm shift in how Visit Champaign County communicates. Instead of focusing on the numbers, it began promoting itself as a vital asset that provides long-lasting value for the area's residents and local businesses. In a recent personal letter to constituents, DeLuce thanked the bureau's partners for their support and characterized its efforts as "an essential community investment to develop opportunities and build quality of life."
The results for the DMO have been striking. Visit Champaign's Instagram following has grown by 23 percent since last September, and the community has reacted positively to the rebranding of the bureau's Visitor's Guide to an ExperienceGuide, designed with residents and tourists in mind.
Training the Team
Another DMO that has learned the power of words is Visit Phoenix. After hearing about the Lexicon at DI's 2018 Advocacy Summit held in Philadelphia, Megan Trummel, the bureau's director of marketing and corporate communications, decided to use it to shift from language that focused on economic impact to a more people-based approach.
"When I got back from that summit I began to really rethink how we describe who we are," says Trummel. "We wanted to drill down and make our mission statement more purpose-driven — not just for the external audiences we have, but also to motivate our internal team."
Trummel and her group started by refreshing the "About Us" copy on the Visit Phoenix website. It now includes a vision statement laying out the bureau's philosophy and a mission statement on what it does.
In addition, notes Trummel, the language used throughout the site has been simplified and made more accessible, helping residents understand more clearly how they will benefit from the bureau's work.
Trummel also is putting together a "lunch and learn" training session for internal staff to dig deeper into the Lexicon. The session will help guide them on the new language and explore how to field questions from the community about the bureau's value.
More information about the Tourism Lexicon will be made available at the Destinations International 2019 Advocacy Summit, taking place Nov. 12-14 in Madison, Wis.