Is the tourist board irrelevant in the digital world?

Is the tourist board irrelevant in the digital world?

I often wonder whether we are seeing the end-game for the traditional tourist board or destination marketing organisation (DMO).

Tourism boards and destination marketing organisations have been around for more than 150 years but I wonder whether they will be around in a century and a half’s time.

In 1864, the Swiss town of St Moritz established a regional tourism board to promote it as a destination for the then new idea of winter holidays in the mountains.

Journalist Milton J Carmichael helped launched America’s first Convention and Visitors Bureau in 1896 with the establishment of the Detroit Convention and Businessman’s League. Carmichael stated at the time, “Can Detroit by making an effort, this year secure the holding of 200 or 300 of these national conventions during the year of 1897. It will mean the bringing here of thousands and thousands of men from every city in the union… and they will expend millions of dollars with the merchants and the people of the City of the Straits.”

The world’s first national tourism organisation – The Department of Tourist and Health Resorts – was established in New Zealand in 1901. It was designed to promote destinations like Rotorua and Queenstown as well as Maori culture to potential overseas visitors.

The Majorca Tourist Board,  El Fomento del Turismo de Mallorca, was founded in 1905 by Enrique Alzamora Goma, a businessman, journalist and then president of Mallorca’s Chamber of Commerce. It was officially recognised in 1907 by the government and given a budget of 3,000 pesetas (more than €250,000 in today’s money).

Many of the world’s DMOs came into existence in the 1960s and 1970s, stimulated by the rise of jet tourism.

In the UK, national tourist boards came into existence in the late 1960s through the Development of Tourism Act 1969 but these were not first places in the UK to market themselves.

In 1879, the first development was the introduction of the Blackpool Improvement Act, which levied a property tax of 2% which was spent on advertising the resort’s attractions and paying for a town band to entertain visitors.

Things have been changing. These days, destination marketing organisations – particularly those at city or region level – are increasingly likely to be public-private partnerships rather than funded directly by local governments.

But how far will this shift go?

The key function of many DMOs is to promote the destination as a whole, strenuously avoiding favouring one member – such as a hotel or attraction – over another. They often provide centralised services, such as spending on advertising, public relations and other marketing activities.

But the question is how long will this continue?

Think about the fragmentation of content consumption for a start. Fewer and fewer people are watching television linearly, preferring to watch it on demand and avoiding the ads.

Travel sections in newspapers are becoming thinner, less glossy and even disappearing as readers and advertising income evaporate. Those readers are increasingly turning to the internet for their information, often using ad blockers to avoid seeing paid-for content.

This, coupled with the democratisation of content production and the rise of the blogger, means that individual tourism businesses can now aspire to attract the tourist directly.

So if you are a hotel, attraction, Airbnb host or local artisan offering courses to visitors, will you continue to pay your dues to a DMO or just invest instead in your own content marketing?

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Mark Frary is co-founder of Travel Perspective, a social and digital consultancy working with travel companies and tourism organisations to create successful marketing campaigns He is an author and writer specialising in travel, social media and technology. He writes regularly for The Times and has written for many other publications including the Evening Standard, the Independent on Sunday, the Daily Express, Food & Travel, ABTA magazine, the easyJet magazine and Teletext.  Mark also gives expert advice to leisure and business travel companies on their social media and communications strategies and is the co-founder of Social Travel Market, an annual conference on the use of social media in travel at World Travel Market. He is the author of seven books including The Origins of the Universe for Dummies and is currently working on a biography of the ski pioneer Erna Low. Mark lives in Ampthill in Bedfordshire, UK with his wife and three children.

One comment

  1. Avatar Seriously PR says:

    Interesting topic – I think the tourist board as it’s known now will fall by the wayside if they don’t take a content driven approach. Tourist boards have a fantastic opportunity to fill a gap in terms of answering the search questions that customers are entering in Google – they can be a really valuable resource and signpost onwards to hotels and attractions, and they really do serve a purpose – but only if they understand search and content marketing, and answer the questions that customers are using as their starting point for booking a trip.

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