IMAGE: Rodrigo Pignatta

Time for DMOcracy – exploring the ground-breaking research project activating sector change

By Melissa Baird

July 4, 2022

We are still exiting the pandemic and, with the war in Ukraine, have yet to see the full impacts on Europe and its tourist economy and destination of choice. That said, there is a pioneering research project that has been underway since last year that seeks to answer some very pertinent questions relating to the sector and the role of the DMO within it.


Time for DMOcracy will be a vital resource and change management guide for redefining how business events and tourism contributes to the economic and social wellbeing of the resident population.


With the increased local sensitivity to the return of tourism and the incumbent restrictions and regulations still in place, how will tourism look and what will its renewed perspective include?


These and other questions raise 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 participation and influence on the issues raised.


For years, DMOs have discussed 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 that include:


  1. Political decision-makers (municipal, regional, national level)
  2. The commercial tourism industry stakeholders
  3. The local community and citizens


The DMO is often in the no-man’s-land outside of these realms.


To solve these conundrums, Group NAO in association with the Global Destination Sustainability Movement, The Travel Foundation, TCI Research and European Cities Marketing will lead research, explore case studies, and engage in broad reach stakeholder engagement. The goal is a white paper entitled DMOcracy, which will present the results of what public engagement in tourism should consider set for release in autumn of 2022.


Currently, there are twenty-two urban destinations working together across Europe, and a parallel programme is being launched this month across Asia Pacific and North America in collaboration with Miles Partnership.


DMOcracy is relevant for any destination that wants to empower their local community in the future of tourism and foresees tourism as a way to build better cities and communities. The project explores citizen activation, the challenges and imperatives of dialogue, power-sharing and new modes of governance in tourism development.


Despite the lengthy conversations that city agencies and DMOs have had, this white paper will explore best practices and the methodologies that have been effectively implemented to enable actions to follow the words, and engagement with local citizens for better tourism.


Existing citizen involvement and participatory models will be mapped in relation to tourism to garner insight into current approaches. This is intended to deepen the discussions about the role of the DMO and the challenges involved.


Time for DMOcracy is also set to understand the role of democratic mandates and participation. What are the new ways of empowering people-based, democratic tourism development and destination governance? What are the methods that have been used successfully to diversify participation and empower actual influence and decision-making?


As our world has changed so significantly, there is a role for new knowledge and approaches to old problems with refreshed perspectives that can only come through sector collaboration and a willing desire to transfer skills and ideas as openly and as quickly as possible so all can benefit. How will DMOs upskill and deliver reformed modes of governance and how does this impact human capital development, job descriptions and accountability?





Why DMOcracy, Why Now?


Unless you are Disneyland, 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 the public domain and shared space, and the destination is founded on the identity of a place – embodied in the people who call it home. This means that a city can welcome tourism, but tourism cannot claim the city, its resources, culture, people, or space. In many ways, the business of tourism requires a license to operate – a social contract – with the people in the city. The goal of the project is to identify governance models that build trust and legitimate practice; models that reflect and respect the real ownership of the destination.


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. This is the time to talk about the democratic imperative of representing the identity and values of people and place, adding value to the local community.


Live-ability over visit-ability


Pressure from industry associations to rapidly regain tourism growth might face opposition from a hesitant local population that seeks live-ability over visit-ability.


The success of the DMO is thereby both measured by its ability to ensure continued growth while balancing the ability to mediate the gaps amongst the stakeholders without the actual mandate to do so.


This threatens the DMO losing support and license to operate from all sides. We believe DMOcracy will build trust, accountability, and legitimacy through popular consensus.










Five Priorities for Tourism's Restart



A roadmap to transform tourism needs to address five priority areas:


  • Mitigate socio-economic impacts on livelihoods, particularly women’s employment and economic security.

  • Boost competitiveness and build resilience, including through economic diversification, with promotion of domestic and regional tourism where possible, and facilitation of a conducive business environment for micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs).

  • Advance innovation and digital transformation of tourism, including promotion of innovation and investment in digital skills, particularly for workers temporarily without jobs and for job seekers.

  • Foster sustainability and green growth to shift towards a resilient, competitive, resource-efficient and carbon-neutral tourism sector. Green investments for recovery could target protected areas, renewable energy, smart buildings, and the circular economy, among other opportunities.

  • Coordination and partnerships to restart and transform the sector towards achieving SDGs, ensuring tourism’s restart and recovery puts people first and work together to ease and lift travel restrictions in a responsible and coordinated manner.


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