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Relevance Or Revamp – The Challenge To CVB`s

Literally every Destination Marketing Organization is under duress. Budgets have been slashed, resources and staff diminished, mandates of more with less to the echo of irritable stakeholders, What have you done for me lately? The public trough and trust is no longer bubbling and rushing along – it is barely moist. Unexpected and warranted Executive departures, fiscal malfeasance, Convention Center Bonds defeated, dissension in the Hospitality community – these types of articles lead the news.

As reported by Kathy Bergen of the Chicago Tribune, “Competition for conventions and trade shows has become cutthroat as construction of exhibition halls proliferates, with relative newcomers Las Vegas and Orlando grabbing bigger shares of the pie. Meanwhile, some trade shows are shrinking due to industry consolidation and greater use of technological tools to sell products. On top of this, the travel slump post-9/11 depleted hotel-tax revenues, leading to reduced government funding of bureaus.”

Good Lord, what is happening and what will organizations like CVB’s and CVA’s and other related Associations do? The answers are like slicing an onion – many layers, rings intertwined, and it still can make your eyes sting! There are at least three predominant reasons for this state of affairs: crisis of leadership, poor representation of stakeholders and losing sight of the Visitor Experience.

  • Leadership. Define as you will, salient traits include decisiveness, motivation, interpersonal and communication skills, and good intelligence. In any representative organization, leadership would also include the ability to forge collaborative results and direction. The exercise begins with the strength and wisdom to make a decision, recognizing that the course which makes a decision an actual result then requires all of the above traits. In today’s DMO environment the emphasis appears to be on safety, delay, hiding in vacillating consensus. For many, leadership is like the absentee landlord. Turnover can be good, though.

  • Stakeholders. Successful DMO’s are not static; they continually assess their resources, realign the process, people, products and services to maximize their value. Most importantly, they continually survey and engage their constituency. Communication is constant. These organizations are connected and innovative, recognizing that flexibility and adaptability make for progress. But, it all starts with their stakeholders – understanding their needs and expectations. They are “member-centric”, and with solid leadership, continually “raise the Bar” for their Hospitality Businesses.

  • The Visitor Experience. Some would say that the only requirement for the DMO is to create Visitor traffic. They do present the face of our Hospitality to the Visitor, promoting our Destination, our industry segment, and our business on a scale, which we, as individual operators, simply cannot. The relationship is indispensable. But, the responsibility goes further, for, just as the DMO has framed an expectation for the Visitor and then marketed that expectation like crazy, the DMO has a co-responsibility to ensure that the poor Visitor is not thrown into the foul pit of expectations not met. If the Hospitality Businesses do not perform, who is accountable? If there are no standards or merely quality pledges (ask charitable organizations the percentage of fulfillment on pledges), you have done a disservice to the Visitor. I recently asked a President/CEO of a DMO about this, and the answers were unbelievable. When queried about standards – “that’s not our job”. “What about complaints?” The Chamber or the Board of Health receives them. “How do you know about Visitor Satisfaction”? Data is sometimes collected at our Information Booths.

There is a real crisis afoot, which becomes ever more evident when monies run short. But, look at how Corporate America responded, some more successfully that others – they “rightsized”. Admittedly, the casualties were horrible, but businesses needed to survive. Strong leadership took the helm, the mission was inspiring, and all the players were at the table, participating. The business and the CUSTOMER were redefined with all energy focused on satisfying that CUSTOMER, King again. The course was clear!

It is not only about attracting the Visitor to a Destination. It is about whether our Hospitality products and services create a Remarkable (acceptable is simply not acceptable) Visitor Experience, or not. Our Visitors are very smart. They have numerous tools at hand to make a reasonable decision on where to spend their disposable income. Now is the time for all the parties to understand their mutual and co-dependent responsibilities, or your Destination will wither and fall off the radar screen.

It might be prudent for a few caveats, for it is not all gloom. The IACVB is actively engaged, I understand, in a variety of programs to encourage fiscal and organizational excellence for their membership. I have been impressed with a number of DMO’s who really understand the challenge and perform with excellent leadership and engaged, progressive boards. There are even some States which have undertaken really inventive programs to improve the Visitor Experience. The New Age folks have a good term – Holistic – “considered in sum”, and DMO’s can lead the way.