Rethinking the Purpose of Convention and Visitor Bureaus

When destination marketing organizations improve their communities, group business follows.

Illustration by Prostock-studio for Adobe Stock
Illustration by Prostock-studio for Adobe Stock

Destinations International’s Jack Johnson presents in Baltimore.

It was only two years ago that Jack Johnson, chief advocacy officer for Destinations International, began urging convention and visitor bureaus (also known as destination marketing organizations) to rethink their core purpose. Bureaus should serve their communities, first and foremost, with local residents as their key customers. By making their cities better places to live and work, destinations would attract more meetings organically, he told participants during DI’s annual convention in St. Louis in 2019.

“We were thinking it would take four to eight years for the industry to start investing in the community and looking at them as the ultimate reason why they do everything,” Johnson told me during this year’s DI convention, held in Baltimore in mid-July. But the pandemic dramatically accelerated that transformation.

SMU International
Hosting North American meeting and incentive travel buyers for two days of learning, networking and activities in the Big Apple, this Northstar event will feature Travelocity founder Terry Jones and risk expert Bruce McIndoe at the Sheraton New York Times Square Aug. 26-28.

When hotel taxes evaporated in 2020, alarm bells sounded in local governments, says Johnson, and CVBs were uniquely positioned to step in and help out. Every trend that had been germinating was fast-tracked. “Destination organizations are finally finding themselves in recurring meetings [with local entities] that should have existed but didn’t exist. You’ve got coordination between government and the private sector, between the universities and schools.”

In a well-attended session at this year’s conference, Johnson shared details from the new Community Shared Value Workbook. Following are some key takeaways, per DI.

Our Old Story Is Irrelevant

The civic and political ground on which DMOs stand has shifted. We talk to the public, to elected officials and to the media about industry performance measurements and return on investment, information that is often not understood or believed outside the travel industry. The logic of our arguments no longer seems to matter.

Every community must compete with every other one for their share of the world’s attention, customers and investment. To be in the mix, DMOs need to create awareness of their communities, make a positive impression, and entice visitors to come experience the community and meet its people. This is achieved through clearly developing, articulating and managing the community’s brand. 

Rewriting the Mission 

A CVB’s purpose is not to put “heads in beds.” Measuring hotel occupancy is a good marker, but it is not the mission. Destination promotion is essential instead for developing opportunities and building quality of life for residents. Consider the jobs created, local spending, tax revenue and economic activity generated by meetings and tourism. Who benefits? The residents of the community; they are our customers.

Destination organizations are a community asset responsible for promoting the city or region as an attractive travel destination and enhancing its public image as a dynamic place to live and work. Through the knowledge of the destination, brand management, promotional programs and the resulting impacts of visits by people, these organizations strengthen the community’s economic position and vitality.

Destination marketers share these core values:

Passion — We have intense enthusiasm for our destinations and a strong desire to strengthen the community’s economic position and to provide opportunities for all its residents. We eagerly seek to tell the story of our destination to the world through its history, culture, community and people.

Awareness — We ask questions, research, engage, observe and listen. We are well informed about our community’s past and present, and we understand the hopes and dreams of the people in our home.

Transparency — We are proactively open to stakeholder and public scrutiny. We gladly share what we do, how we operate and our return on investment. In addition to our successes and victories, we also report when we have fallen short or failed. We seek to be responsible and accountable without any prompting or prodding.

Inclusiveness — We do not exclude any area or neighborhood of our destination, any group or segment of people within our destination, or any history, culture or tradition. We always strive to find ways to bring new people, new perspectives and new ideas into our universe. This allows us to develop a clear, honest and positive image of the destination’s brand that reflects everyone in our community. We welcome all visitors in the same spirit.

Engagement — We inform and listen to groups of people within our destination to address issues affecting the well-being of the community and promotion of the destination. We treat our residents as our first customers. They are our frontline destination ambassadors, advocates and beneficiaries of our efforts. We treat our visitors as the valued guests they are. They provide critical resources as well as sparks of excitement and inspiration.

Collaboration — Effective collaboration contributes to our success. We work together with our customers, members, clients, suppliers and community stakeholders to reach our goals. We seek to empower these people by improving how we share information as well as our capability to solve key problems, which ultimately leads to new approaches.

Innovation — We are willing to change established patterns or processes, especially by introducing new methods, ideas or products. We understand that while the organization’s values are unwavering, the means to achieving them are not. We welcome fresh perspectives. We embrace and use new technologies and platforms to tell our story.

Stewardship — We recognize the need to balance economic development, sustainable tourism and quality of life. We understand that we are building value for our customers, members, stakeholders and future generations. This must be done in a way that maintains our community and preserves our brand while growing opportunity.

Relevance — We are relevant to our communities. Our leadership, expertise and acumen are understood and valued. We are a reliable source of information. Our ideas and counsel are sought. We have an equity position in local developments. Our community understands and supports our programs, and they depend upon us achieving our mission.