Thursday, September 3, 2015

Convergence of CVB and EDO Objectives in Destination Marketing

By Matt Tarleton, Principal, Vice President

I was in Portland last week for a couple of days, briefly attending the U.S. Travel Association’s Educational Seminar for Tourism Organizations (ESTO). I was there in part to discuss the role of destination marketing organizations (DMOs, also known as Convention and Visitors Bureaus) in tourism product development, along with fellow panelists from the Asheville CVB and Travel Oregon, as well as moderator Berkeley Young. Tourism product development simply refers to the development of amenities, attractions, or experiences that appeal to potential travelers and tourists. Our conversation was one that could have continued for hours. 

Speaking to a room full of CVB executives and staff members, at times I felt as if I was speaking on behalf of thousands of chamber and economic development professionals as I tried to convey how chambers and economic development organizations are increasingly engaged in similar strategic initiatives and pursuits – including “product development” – but for entirely different reasons and motivations than DMOs/CVBs. 

Let me explain. 

When I entered this line of work almost ten years ago, the conversation in economic development had already started to shift. The days of competing on cost, particularly in the Sun Belt, were gone. The mass exodus of companies seeking lower cost destinations, particularly manufacturers, had dried up. Part of this was due to the “new economy” that so enthralled communities in the mid-late 1990s; it was all about tech – biotech, nanotech, infotech, TECH! What followed this explosive growth in technology development – and subsequent “dot com bubble” bursting – was the recognition that baby boomers were retiring. 

By the mid-2000s it was as if communities were just starting to come to a collective “aha” moment. The quality and availability of talent began to dominate conversations about community competitiveness. What followed, or naturally accompanied this conversation, was a realization that quality of place and talent availability were inextricably linked. Here we are today in 2015 with communities competing as aggressively for workers as they are for companies. 

The communities that are rich with talent are just as focused on workforce sustainability as those with a dearth of talent. 

When we talk about workforce sustainability, we are really speaking about two things: first, talent development (or “growing your own” through education and training) and second, talent attraction and retention. Countless chambers of commerce, economic development organizations, and other entities are investing in talent marketing campaigns. These campaigns are substantively different from the traditional marketing activities of many EDOs; marketing to a company or site selector considering your community as a place to do business is quite different from marketing to an individual considering your community as a place to live. But DMOs have been in the business of marketing to people for much longer. It is their principal mission: marketing a destination and its quality of place. 

And when we talk about quality of place and its development, we are really speaking about something quite simple: building a more attractive set of amenities, experiences, and so forth that appeal to people: existing and potential future residents, travelers and tourists, and others. Destination marketing organizations (DMOs) are increasingly becoming known as destination management organizations. They are actively involved in place-making or place-creating and the aforementioned “product development:” helping develop this more complete set of amenities, attractions, and experiences. Product can be an arena or stadium, an events center or a convention center, a performing arts center, a baseball diamond or soccer field, a trail system, or a new event, festival, or concert. More frequently than not, tourism product equally appeals to existing and potential future residents just as much as it appeals to travelers and tourists. 

Regardless of the community that we work with, DMOs have to “be at the table” as we start community conversations about strategic economic development priorities. This should be obvious given the immense economic impact of the travel and tourism sector in many communities. But today, it is especially important for them to be involved in the conversation given the emphasis that is being placed on workforce sustainability and quality of place. 

We often throw around terms like “collaboration” and “alignment.” While many CVBs or “destination management” functions separated from chambers of commerce in previous decades their strategic initiatives and investments are – at least in my view – becoming more and more similar as the days go by. The only difference is the objective: both are supporting and investing in quality of place (or product development) and place marketing. One does it for tourist attraction; the other does it for talent attraction (and retention). Both do it for economic development.