Independent Review of DMOs in England – statement from the Tourism Society
The Tourism Society warmly welcomes the independent review of Destination Management Organisations which we identified as a priority requirement in our paper to government in 2020 on Leadership and Coordination for Tourism in England, through and beyond COVID-19.
This statement summarises the position of the Society, as our input to the review. It has been informed by our own consultation with our membership, which combines a wide spectrum of tourism experience, including consultants, destination managers, tourism businesses, academics and other interests.
We believe that a logical assessment is required, starting with a consideration of destination management priorities and the role of DMOs, then identifying current weaknesses and finally addressing future structures, funding and support. We have followed this sequence here.
Only DMOs can fulfil the role of providing strategic oversight and coordinating all players in the visitor economy to contribute effectively to the development and maintenance of sustainable communities. There is a clear market failure at a community level, which requires an over-arching stewardship role. This has to be undertaken by a body with no vested commercial interest and a remit to ensure sustainable performance of the visitor economy on behalf of the community.
Priorities for destination management
The aim of destination management should be to deliver prosperous and sustainable communities. The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the critical importance of the visitor economy to people’s lives and livelihoods. Working with both domestic and international markets, we should now focus on providing rewarding, accessible and stable jobs in the sector and enhancing local community wellbeing. Destination management can and should play a key part in addressing global and national as well as local policy priorities towards sustainable development, including levelling up, zero carbon and other environmental and social issues.
In addressing these priorities, we would draw particular attention to the following activities:
- Supporting enterprises in recovering from the pandemic and reshaping their business and leisure tourism offer where necessary.
- Identifying, developing and promoting opportunities across selected market segments to enhance visitor experience, local prosperity and future resilience.
- Harnessing the visitor economy to attract investment and support place making, including rejuvenation of High Streets and town centres.
- Promoting the greening of tourism businesses and sustainable transport options.
- Improving visitor management and minimizing negative impacts on local communities and environments, optimising visitor flows in space and time.
This activity should be driven by a clear vision and strategy for tourism at a national level, which is reflected in destination management plans based on identified local needs and opportunities. Plans should be evidence-based and include new approaches to defining and measuring success.
The need for and role of DMOs
The tourism sector is complex and multi-faceted. Successful destination management requires a dedicated entity which understands its different components and the nature of visitors and markets.
A key role of a DMO is engaging with tourism businesses, understanding their requirements and aspirations and relating them to the needs and potential of the local area. A critical function is to foster partnerships, notably between tourism businesses, local authorities and other public sector bodies, whose involvement is essential in delivering destination management.
A DMO should coordinate or assist actively with the development and delivery of a destination management plan and undertake, assist or guide a wide range of activities in line with its objectives.
As local entities working closely with businesses and communities, DMOs are well placed to help destinations capitalise on recent market trends towards local awareness and experiences. For example, they can help to form links between the tourism sector and other local enterprises, such as suppliers of local products and services, so enhancing both a sense of place and the level of economic benefit to the host community.
Weakness in the current network
The current network of DMOs is both fragmented and incomplete. Many individual DMOs have inadequate staff resources. Some are struggling to survive and others have folded.
Funding presents a major and time-consuming challenge for most DMOs, making it difficult to plan ahead. Generating private sector funding has become harder and has been affected by COVID. Private sector funding can seldom be raised for community, as opposed to commercial, interests. There is also a risk of a ‘free-rider’ effect, which undermines the potential to raise private sector funding for anything other than project-specific activities designed to benefit funders.
Local authority funding has been declining for some years. Lack of stable public sector funding has meant that DMOs are often unable to deliver on the strategic and management needs outlined above. Some DMOs have also been vulnerable to local political instability and parochialism.
The existing DMOs vary considerably in their capacity, approach and actions. In addition to funding, a clear and consistent remit for DMOs, both individually and collectively, is lacking. Therefore, they do not currently provide a reliable basis for the delivery of national policies and programmes.
Some DMOs have collaborated informally and worked creatively together to meet common interests, provide peer support, share experiences and pursue joint initiatives. However, coordination across the network is limited and it is not operating as a functioning system.
Requirements of a future structure
We do not wish to propose a definitive DMO structure for England, in terms of the number, constitution and distribution of DMOs. Indeed, a flexible and not overly prescriptive approach may be advantageous and more practical. The best possible future arrangement needs to be informed by the in-depth analysis and consultation being carried out for the review and the optimum model is hard to identify. Rather, we are setting out here a number of principles which we believe need to be met in any proposed solution.
- DMO coverage of England should be comprehensive, without gaps. Every tourism stakeholder should be able to relate to a DMO which is relevant to them.
- DMOs should be organic, with structures that best suit local needs and which can vary between DMOs, provided that they meet certain defined criteria and requirements enabling them to be nationally supported and networked.
- DMOs and the destinations that they serve need to be conceived from the bottom up, not the top down. A DMO should reflect a destination that is meaningful to businesses, visitors and the local community.
- While it may be more efficient to identify a limited number of lead DMOs, the needs and aspirations of small destinations with active business groupings and communities should be met, with an opportunity for them to be supported and linked to the national system of DMOs. This may be achieved by a network within which lead/larger DMOs formally undertake to inter-relate with and meet the needs of smaller DMOs, destinations and groups within their areas. [An example here might be a seaside resort, national park or historic city located within a county which has an established and sizeable DMO]. Alternatively, some form of direct national representation for these more local structures and interests might be established.
- DMOs should have a close relationship and structural engagement with the local authority(ies) in the destination. Some DMOs may be primarily sponsored or operated by local authorities.
- DMOs should have a clear mechanism for engaging and maintaining an ongoing relationship with local tourism businesses, including their participation in the DMO’s leadership and governance structures.
- There should be a formalised functioning network between DMOs, led and supported by Visit England. This would enable effective sharing of knowledge and information and coordination of action. It would also mandate and encourage cooperation between DMOs.
Funding and support for DMOs
National government funding should be provided to DMOs which meet identified principles and criteria. It should be used to provide a level of stability, to cover core services, and for the performance of agreed functions in the delivery of the national tourism strategy. National core funding can help in the leverage of funding from other sources. DMOs should receive significant funding and support on an ongoing basis, not just for short lived initiatives and periodic marketing programmes. Allocation should reflect the importance of destination management and DMOs’ role in this, as outlined earlier.
Funding should be based on a tripartite model, with resources coming from:
- National government, via Visit England, as identified above
- Local authorities and/or other local or regional bodies
- Private sector, via membership schemes, sponsorship, purchased services or other mechanisms.
A portion of the funding from public sources might be linked to measures of performance and success against agreed targets. Additional funding may be related to specific initiatives. New models for the equitable delivery of funding from visitors and businesses, including via taxes and charges, could be explored over time.
Support for DMOs should not only be seen in terms of funding. It can also be provided in other ways, such as recognition, information sharing, co-delivery of services and support in-kind.
National leadership of a coordinated network
The relationship between Visit England and DMOs is fundamental to the future success of tourism in England.
It should be a two-way relationship. Visit England should provide leadership, through the national strategy and coordinated network. It should be a source of knowledge, information and guidance for DMOs. Proposals for national tourism policy and the evolution of principal national programmes that can enhance competence, growth and sustainability, should be developed collaboratively. DMOs should implement the national strategy to best meet local needs and provide much needed insight and feedback to Visit England from their work on the ground.
If it is to perform this function adequately, the status, mandate, capacity and resources of Visit England should be reinforced, as we identified in our call to government in 2020.