November 30, 2020

The promotion of destinations at the regional level has a long historywith one of the first tourist boards established in Switzerland in 1864 (Laesser, 2000; Pike, 2007). Until the 1960s, these tourist boards, tourism authorities or Convention and Visitors Bureaux (CVBs) at regional and local levels were predominantly promotion oriented, focusing on booster policies, and often funded to a large extent by the municipality or region. As tourism started to grow exponentially in the second half of that century, these organizations proliferated in every part of the world. However, the demands placed on them also increased, although government funding was reduced or even cut completely as neoliberalist policies took hold.  

Now more generally referred to as Destination Marketing Organizations (DMOs)these bodies were confronted with the need to reinvent themselves numerous times in order to remain competitive in an increasingly mature market where experiential differentiation has become key and markets themselves are dynamic and heterogenous. Although these DMOs usually have no direct control over the products they represent, nor the packaged offerings of intermediaries such as airlines, tour wholesalers, and travel agencies, they are held accountable for the performance of the destination, usually measured in terms of arrivals, revenues and length of stay. The number of stakeholders has also increased ranging from politicians to host community residents, to visitors, diverse local businesses, and travel intermediaries – all of which have different expectations of their DMOAdd to this the rapid evolution in information and communications technology (ICT) and the challenges, especially for smaller, less sophisticated and well funded DMOs, becomes almost overwhelming.  

It is in this context that Gretzel, Fesenmaier, Formica and O’Leary hosted a mixture of focus groups and expert panels with industry experts in 2002, aiming for deep-level collective learning. Searching for the Future: Challenges Faced by Destination Marketing Organizations, published in 2006, identified six major challenges:  

  1. Adapting to technological change; 
  2. Managing expectations; 
  3. From destination marketing to destination management; 
  4. Confronting new levels of competition; 
  5. Recognizing creative partnering as the new way of life; and  
  6. Finding new measures of success 

Although focused on DMOs in the USA, these findings confirmed earlier work conducted in Europe by members of the Institute for Systemic Management and Public Governance in St. Gallen, Switzerland. The strategies proposed, namely the careful assessment of which technologies to adopt and why, managing knowledge networks and embracing coopetition, and adopting master developer thinking (i.e. the DMO not only helping to shape the destination plan but also being involved in its implementation), are still valid although the specifics have seen fundamental changes over the intervening years 

As DMOs face very different post-COVID realities, it is time for yet another reset in how they are structured and funded as well as the types of activities they engage in and with whom. 

Submitted by:  Marion Joppe  University of Guelph


Beritelli, P., Reuter, E. & Bazzi, D. (2012). Innotour Projekt Nr.401 Schlussbericht “Destinationsstrukturen der 3. Generation – Der Anschluss zum Markt”, Institute for Systemic Management and Public Governance, St. Gallen, CH. 

Laesser, C. (2000). Implementing destination structures: Experiences with Swiss cases. In M. Manete & M. Cerato (eds), From Destination to Destination Marketing and Management (pp. 111–126). Venice: CISET. 

Pike, S. (2007). Destination Marketing Organisations. Routledge.