Monday, January 04, 2010

Balancing Special Interests

A key element of community destination marketing is balancing or some say “resisting" special interests. Special interests range from the very subtle to bullying.

Far too many DMO’s though get cornered into pandering to special interests. It starts with giving preferential treatment based on “who’s asking.” The “who” in “who’s asking” might be based on power and money or politics or even friendship.

In many communities, pandering to special interests is too embedded in the culture for the DMO exec to resist or change or the communities only select DMO’s they know will play along and give special treatment to a particular part of town or a theater, festival, hotel, sports event or restaurant, golf course or meeting facility.

And if the DMO exec in these cultures tries to resist the pressure, they are likely to hear a comment like “I think the organization needs a change in direction” and the person or group uttering the statement typically means that the change needs to be in “their” direction.

In reality, few people think of themselves as a special interest. They just see the world through a lens that puts their interests at the center or they get hammered by owners or headquarter offices operating with the premise that the only way to leverage the benefits of a DMO is to have it in your pocket.

In Durham, I’ve benefited from the strong egalitarian value inherent in Durham’s overall character or personality.

In almost every case, the people who demand special treatment don’t grasp that any one element of a community’s visitor product, at best, will involve 4% to 10% of visitors or that blending elements into an overall community story is far more effective than stereotyping it around one element or another...

Fortunately, the governing boards under which I’ve served have each had strong policies and in fact evaluated my performance in part on the ability to resist special interests. They’ve also displayed the collective and individual courage to stand firm. when “the boat is being rocked” by a special interest.

At DCVB, the key I’ve found to balancing special interests here is that the governing board right at the start, embedded several elements central to the organization’s culture including these six:

  1. Ensure decisions are always data or information driven vs. by anecdotes, opinions, emulation, so-called conventional wisdom or “who’s asking.”

  2. Shepard “place based” assets. These are assets that are unique to Durham or home grown and distinguish it from other communities.

  3. Make decisions on what “segments” to pursue based on optimizing fair market share, exploiting the community’s overall potential and diversification.

  4. Calibrate decisions based on the percentage of visitors interested in an activity and the percentage who use that activity as the main purpose for a trip.

  5. Develop platforms from which any and all local businesses and organizations can harvest a fair share of visitors drawn to the community.

  6. Find ways to celebrate those entities that earn a national or regional reputation but make sure every entity is listed.

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