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Time for DMOcracy: European cities to empower their local community in the future of tourism

Many city agencies and DMOs talk about community involvement – this project will explore best practice and methodologies to put action behind words and engaging citizens for better tourism.


17 lead urban destinations convened for the launch of Time for DMOcracy – a new collaborative project to roll out across Europe and North America. Time for DMOcracy is a curious journey into citizen activation, the challenges, and imperatives of dialogue, power-sharing and new modes of governance in tourism development. The project enables destinations to empower their local community in the future of tourism and who puts value to the shift from tourism as a goal in itself to tourism as a means to build better cities, communities and increasing the liveability of locals.

European Cities Marketing (ECM) is part of the initiative developed by Group NAO and launched in proud association with Global Destination Sustainability Movement, The Travel Foundation and TCI Research. Over the next 12 months, the partners and the, so far, 17 participating destinations will deploy a wide range of research, case studies, master classes, learnings labs, boot camping and conferencing before delivering a white paper on public engagement in tourism in the summer of 2022. Simultaneously, Group NAO has partnered with Miles Partnership to operate the project in North America and Asia Pacific which is expected to launch in December 2021.
What we want to achieve
The project partners have signed up with four shared objectives:

  • To unfold the meaning and practice of people-based tourism in the city: Many city agencies and DMOs talk about community involvement – this project will explore best practice and methodologies to put action behind words and engaging citizens for better tourism.
  • To map citizen participation and involvement in tourism: The project will map existing citizen-involvement and participatory models in relation to tourism, develop a typology of current approaches, and discuss the role of the DMO and the challenges involved.
  • To understand democratic mandate and participation: The project will identify new ways of empowering people-based, democratic tourism development and destination governance, including methods that diversify participation and empower actual influence and decision-making.
  • To prepare and upskill the DMO for new modes of governance, and what this means in terms of functions, skills, and accountability. 

 Why DMOcracy, Why Now?
For a few years now, we have seen through ECM members’ best practices and ECM conferences that DMOs have become increasingly attentive to locals and communities and the pandemic has undoubtedly accelerated the need for destinations to work on local perception & sentiment towards tourism. Here are four reasons why now is the time to explore DMOcracy:

First, the need for a destination contract: Destination marketing is about selling experiences in places where people live. Neither the tourism industry nor the DMO can claim ownership of the destination.

Tourism is a phenomenon in public domain and shared space, the destination is founded on the identity of a place – carried by the people, who call it home. This means that a city can welcome tourism, but tourism can’t claim the city, its resources, culture, people or space. In many ways, the business of tourism requires a license to operate – a destination contract – from the people’s city. With Time for DMOcracy, we want to identify governance models that build trust and legitimate practice – models that reflect and respect the real ownership of the destination.

Second, it’s who we are: In promoting a place where people live, DMOs hold a special responsibility to that place. Destination marketers are not just responsible for attracting more people to the place, but for adding value to it. Coming out of the pandemic crisis, cities are reclaiming their narratives – taking them back from visitors and destination fantasies. And so, it is now the time to talk about the democratic imperative of representing identity and values of people and place, adding value to local community. 

Third, hospitality vs hostility: Destinations are getting ready to welcome back visitors, but the return of tourism to cities is not necessarily met with enthusiasm from locals. From an era, where tourism was increasingly perceived as invasive by residents, to a period of no tourism, we are most likely now looking ahead to a time of increased local sensitivity to the return of tourism. There are indicators already that resident sentiment will not exclusively pivot to wide-open and hospitable cities in the hope of fast recovery. Instead, it is likely that we will see visitor-phobia with demands for restrictions and regulation. 

This raises the urgency of a continuous involvement in shaping the long-term legitimacy and sustainability of tourism development in European cities over the coming years. Well-designed resident sentiment surveys are a good place to start, but there is a need to activate the data with open conversation and real involvement and influence on the issues raised. 

Fourth, M for mandate to bridge the great disconnect: For years, DMOs have discussed what the M stands for – balancing between the role of marketing and management. In finding this new balance, new disconnections sometimes emerge between the main stakeholders of the city’s visitor economy (political decision-makers, commercial tourism industry stakeholders, local community/citizens and DMOs).
Liveability over visitability
The disconnects are potentially worsened by the pandemic crisis. Pressure from industry associations to rapidly regain tourism growth might face opposition from hesitant local population that seek liveability over visitability. The success of the DMO is thereby both measured by its ability to ensure continued growth, while balancing this with its ability to mediate the gap between the different camps, without the actual mandate to do so. Hence, the DMO risks losing support and license to operate from all sides. That’s why now is the time for DMOcracy – to build trust, accountability, and legitimacy through popular mandate.

In conclusion, it is time to start a new discussion on how we can empower more inclusive and democratic destination governance, developing the accountability and legitimacy of the DMO in reflection of the many complex interests at play. 

About the initiative, Petra Stušek, European Cities Marketing’s President said “We are proud to have partnered with Group NAO, with whom we work since 2016 for our conferences content and communication series. This initiative gives a realistic possibility to join forces with other destinations and tourism changemakers in shaping and inspiring the future role and relevance of the DMOs and to develop tourism beyond tourism.”

Tatiana Rokou

Tatiana is the news coordinator for TravelDailyNews Media Network (, and Her role includes monitoring the hundreds of news sources of TravelDailyNews Media Network and skimming the most important according to our strategy.

She holds a Bachelor's degree in Communication & Mass Media from Panteion University of Political & Social Studies of Athens and she has been editor and editor-in-chief in various economic magazines and newspapers.