Department for Culture, Media and Sport consultation and Independent Review of Destination Management Organisations (DMOs) in England
27th April 2021
The Tourism Management Institute team would like to thank all our members for taking time to complete the recent survey on the national consultation of the structure and funding of DMOs led by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport. We would also like to thank everyone who participated in our zoom sessions on the subject and our task group in particular thanks to Board Directors Andrew Bateman, Tom Pridmore and Robin Barker and TMI Members Adam Bates and Lorna Easton from Blue Sail and Tom Buncle from yellow Railroad who have all helped us to construct our response.
England’s network of destination organisations is the vibrant front line of sustainable tourism development across the country, contributing not just to the country’s economy and employment, but also significantly to its wellbeing, health and local culture. As the voice of destination management across the UK TMI knows that DMOs have a key role to play in marketing and managing sustainable destinations and communities and as the key interface between government, the national tourist boards, and tourism businesses. DMOs come in all shapes and sizes and what they do is more important than what they are or are not.
Tourism has been described as many things by many people, but we know it fundamentally to be ‘the happiness industry’, with people’s lives increasingly centred around the prospect and reality of their leisure breaks, including a mix of activities, food and drink, cultural experiences, companionship, learning and wellbeing. The COVID19 crisis has exemplified this, with the whole country now focused on when people can get out again to enjoy all that this country does so well. However, the tourism sector is also a significant contributor to the UK economy, the country’s third largest employer supporting 3.3 million people and contributing £145 billion to the UK economy nationally including £28 billion in export earnings.
The tourism network is right at the heart of this, represented by TMI. It is a network that includes those with first-hand knowledge of the experiences available and the innovation opportunities these offer. It includes hundreds of professionals who understand the dynamics of tourism products and product development. It also includes those with the knowledge and expertise to work first hand with operators in helping them develop their own skills and potential. Our country’s tourism network is, more than any other, the entity that can create and support sustainable tourism development. But it is a network that needs help following decades of underinvestment and under appreciation. It has suffered from years of under-funding with the occasional injection of short-term help as well as the occasional diversion and redirection, sometimes welcome but all too often ill-informed.
For tourism to prosper, now is the time to build a new structure with destination organisations at the heart. A structure that recognises where the industry’s greatest skills, knowledge and innovation all lie, and which will genuinely enable this country to fulfil its tourism potential to the benefit of all.
With this in mind the Board of TMI has welcomed your thoughts and insights on the DMO review and based on the responses you have all shared to date we would like to feedback some of the main areas that are consistently emerging from our conversations and we have set these out below.
- Definition of DMO
There is an unclear definition of what a DMO is and does. There is unanimous support for this to be clarified at national level and a formal approach to recognition or accreditation. A DMO should provide a partnership approach to sustainable destination management and economic development not just marketing services. This is about filling a gap that cannot be delivered by the private sector alone: providing a strategic role in the stewardship of the local visitor economy, with a view to developing sustainable communities for all.
- Funding support
Even though some DMOs have been very good at leveraging in funding it is clear that many DMOs are struggling to survive the squeeze on their commercial and public sector funding. DMOs should be applauded for their entrepreneurial approach to generating alternative commercial revenues, but the COVID19 pandemic has cruelly highlighted some fragile business models and driven DMOs out of business.
There is a growing recognition that wherever funding comes from it should be a consistent and longer term approach minimum 3 to 5 years to allow for growth and return on investment to be achieved. Reduced public sector funding cannot be sustainably replaced with commercial funding. Tourism businesses primarily support DMOs because they provide them with a direct marketing benefit. If DMOs need to deliver more destination management and business support activity then this will require public sector funding.
There is much debate around what the funding mechanism should be. There is discussion about whether the current review of business rates should include consideration of OTAs and online businesses and the taxation be used to push back into local government, also whether the shared prosperity fund could be a mechanism. Currently there are a number of very effective tourism BIDS across the country and this could also be considered in a broader sense. In line with the ‘Levelling up’ agenda, there is a growing view that Local Authorities should be assisted to support tourism bodies and the wider visitor economy in a statutory manner going forwards, with a government funding allocation for them to enable this and support this. Specific funding programmes for DMOs could flow from the community focused UK Shared Prosperity Fund from 2022/23 onwards following an Autumn Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR). We believe that Government should commit to supporting DMOs over the term of a CSR (3-4 years).
There is currently no consensus on what the best funding mechanism would be, however, it is generally recognised that some form of government funding is essential to contribute towards core costs of DMOs to enable them to be sustainable and robust. Funding for ensuring sustainable communities requires a holistic perspective, which experience has shown will not come from the private sector alone. This is because the private sector is, understandably, driven by business needs and unlikely to contribute to a wider public good or accept the ‘free-rider’ effect, where those who do not contribute from those who do.
There is also not yet a consensus view emerging from you, our members in relation to potential structures. There are number of organisations proposing a strategic ‘National Portfolio’ of DMOs which would delivery high level services and may be linked into similar groupings to former tourist board regions, LEP areas or Mayoral Authorities. Likewise there are many smaller destinations who feel they operate very well within their own locality e.g. National Park authorities who are happy with their structures but require consistent long term funding.
Whilst we recognise the benefits provided by the old Regional Tourist Board style structure, we feel that it is unrealistic to lobby for some form of re-creation when DMOs have already evolved to plug this gap and when Government thinking is heavily focused on devolving powers and decision making to local areas. TMI supports good sustainable destination management and recognises that DMOs need to work with a range of public and private sector organisations to make this happen. So, we believe that Government needs to enable and support a coherent network of sub-national DMOs that are led by a combination of private and public interests. These need to address the particular economic and environmental challenges in their areas. Whilst we fully support the need for a tourism strategy for England, this should provide the context but not a ‘straight-jacket’ for DMOs.
The most prevalent view within our membership is that if the definition and role is specified and a sustainable funding model reached then DMOs will structure themselves in the most efficient manner at local or county/city level. That would then provide an opportunity for larger geographic or thematic groupings nationally where common objectives are aligned in a similar way to the ‘tourism zone’ concept, cited in the Tourism Sector deal. Ireland is a good example of a ‘thematic’ approach to destinations based on a consumer led approach for larger strategic DMO groupings.
Based on our consultation and your feedback we have prepared a response to include the information above and which we will be sent to DCMS prior to the deadline tomorrow.
In the mean time we would like to share what we believe are fundamental values for great DMOs:
- Shared vision – an inclusive sustainable approach to growing and managing our destinations
- Innovative – not afraid to look at old problems in new ways embracing technology for creative solutions
- Engaging– great partners working together to deliver great places and economic benefits
- Enabling – supporting our businesses to reach the right target markets in effective ways
- Insightful – supporting a customer and evidence based approach to everything we do
- Sustainable – here for the long term benefit of our communities not short term gains
- Supportive – helping our businesses with the skills and expertise to grow sustainably