When Destination Marketing Association International (DMAI) convenes its annual convention in Montreal this month, there will be one major difference between it and every convention that has preceded it: The acronym DMAI will no longer be the correct designation for the organization. Starting with the 2017 meeting, the group’s official name will change to Destinations International — DI.
Chairman Gary C. Sherwin, who also serves as president and CEO of Visit Newport Beach, California, and DMAI President and CEO Don Welsh, made the announcement in March during the 2017 CEO Summit, which took place in Nashville with more than 180 in attendance. The announcement was met with a standing ovation, which came as something of a surprise to DMAI leadership. Since then, the team has received consistent feedback that this was a great name and direction for the association.
It was all part of a thoughtful process. From October through December 2016, a DMAI team worked on the new organization name research and strategy. “Destination” or “Destinations” was the foundation for all of the name considerations, and there were quite a few in the beginning, according to Melissa Cherry, DMAI’s chief marketing officer. The process included brainstorming sessions with the team, legal searches, name testing with key stakeholders and a competitive review of other associations. Once there was a final recommendation, it was shared with the DMAI Board of Directors for approval in November 2016.
In case you’re wondering, a number of rather famous entities have also gone down the name-change route with great success: Datsun became Nissan, BackRub became Google and Apple Computers shortened its name to just Apple without confusing consumers for a nanosecond.
But changing a name is just one aspect of a rebranding process, whether for a corporation or an association. For DMAI, it’s really about better serving its stakeholders by strengthening, clarifying and refocusing its mission and goals, the work it does, and, ultimately, its future.
“We realize we are a trade organization, not a marketing organization. Our members are the marketers. This is exactly why we felt the need to rebrand the organization,” Welsh says. “Our efforts go far beyond a sharp new logo and a new name. Together with our members and partners, Destinations International represents a powerful, forward-thinking, collaborative association (committed to) exchanging bold ideas, connecting innovative people and excelling tourism to its highest potential.”
As part of this collaborative process, DMAI conducted an extensive brand review over many months, which included stakeholder interviews and a deep analysis of key operational facets of the association. It began in July 2016 with the launch of the first of several planning sessions to review past and current initiatives with the goal of building a new framework for the organization in 2017 and beyond. During the review process, the team collectively established a new vision, mission and value proposition, which in turn led to a new business plan for 2017.
Sherwin says that the collaborative process itself, as well as the resulting new brand focus developed during that process, “reflect the broader dimension of our organization.”
In keeping with that broader dimension, the new name is just one of a full roster of changes that will take place in the coming months, changes that reflect the new DMAI brand — what it represents and how the organization intends to operate going forward.
The association’s long look inward revealed many things, but none more compelling than the understanding that change would necessarily include a greater focus on member needs. “We are fundamentally changing the way in which we operate,” Sherwin has said, “and that begins with consistent engagement with our members.”
Welsh provides a deeper context for that intentional shift. “The mission for the organization is to empower our members so that their destinations excel,” he says. “Together with the support of the Destination & Travel Foundation (which also is undergoing a name change and will become the Destinations International Foundation in July), we support more than 600 official member destination organizations and Convention and Visitor Bureaus (CVBs) in more than 15 countries. We do that with resources, research, networking opportunities, professional development and certification programs. Since we announced a strategic organizational realignment nearly one year ago to date, we have been and remain keenly focused on listening to what our members want, need and are willing to support.”
Welsh says that during the initial stages of an ongoing listening tour by the association’s leadership team, which visited with more than 300 members and partners throughout the year, “a few things were heard over and over again.”
Among them were four core needs expressed by stakeholders that ultimately emerged as a foundation on which to build positive change. First, the need for stronger advocacy on behalf of destination organizations and CVBs; second, the need for research to assist with strategic planning, return on investment (ROI), relevancy to stakeholders and advocacy for funding; third, the need for education, standards and best practices; and finally, the need for more peer-to-peer networking.
“A vibrant and engaged member community is the cornerstone of both the association and the foundation,” Welsh says. “The member-centric culture that DMAI/Destinations International has now instituted across all departments is core to the success of the new brand positioning and to the overall messaging for the association. By delivering on the stated value proposition, stakeholders in turn will feel engaged, valued and empowered.”
To ensure that continued engagement, Welsh says several goals are in place and will be a focus throughout 2017. Destinations International will:
These initiatives tie into Destination International’s four key “pillars,” which now help define the organization and pinpoint its focus for the weeks and months ahead. The pillars are Community, Advocacy, Research and Education. Welsh says there are a variety of programs and goals within each pillar that clarify how members will benefit going forward.
Community: In terms of Community, he states, “We intend to become connection central; our members will be connected through knowledge sharing.” That is where community and education meet. “Destinations International is fully committed to supporting entry-level through CEOs,” Welsh says.
Advocacy: Becoming a voice for the organizations represented by Destinations International members is at the heart of advocacy efforts. “We will be the collective voice for destination organizations and CVBs,” Welsh says. “We will empower destinations on issues big and small. Our online Advocacy toolbox will feature advocacy crisis-communications plan templates, a case-studies library, a policy briefs library and more.”
Research: Also central to Destination International’s stated mission, there is a lot going on in terms of how research will be front and center in the coming months.
“We will continue to deliver forward-focus and relevant data,” Welsh says. “We are thrilled to have Andreas Weissenborn on board as director of research and analytics, working alongside Jack Johnson, our chief advocacy officer. During our listening tour with members and partners, we consistently heard the need for research to assist with the creation of strategic plans, the ability to communicate return on investment, advocacy for funding and other means of support, and to truly be recognized as the brand manager of the destination. Filling this need has become a major initiative for the Destination & Travel Foundation. Andreas’ familiarity with the nature and needs of a DMO, a strong working knowledge of current and past research work at DMAI, his thoughts on how to improve those as well as new projects to undertake made him a clear choice.”
Weissenborn and Johnson will work together to expand the research library, which will include association and foundation research reports, destination-related research, an external resource research library, destination industry resources and more.
Education: And finally, Welsh states, in terms of education, Destinations International “will be the definitive resource for professional development and destination management,” and there will be a strong component of increasing “next-generation professional development” for the growing number of younger members. “All of our educational efforts are being led by Colleen Phalen, a proven industry leader,” he says, “along with the recent addition of Haydee Barno, in the new role of director of education. We are in the process of developing an enhanced suite of education-based programs with entry level (PDM) up to the CEO level. CDME continues to be the hallmark of our industry’s commitment to education and we will build upon it.”
Two of the critical programs for 2017 that Destinations International will continue are geared for those younger industry professionals Welsh spoke of. They are the 30 Under 30 program and the Apprenticeship Program, both supported by the Destination & Travel Foundation. The 2017 Apprenticeship Program is a 600-hour program with the goal to help create a culturally and socially reflective tourism industry. The 30 Under 30 program offers 30 young industry professionals under the age of 30 the opportunity to attend the organization’s 2017 convention in Montreal, and take part in expanded networking and professional development throughout the year.
Additional educational programs are being developed this year and are expected to launch in 2018 and beyond.
All of the association’s ongoing strategic goals remain relevant to what members want, need and are willing to support. These include building on strategic partnerships while at the same time transforming the association’s partnership business model in order to create beneficial solutions for destination organizations, partners and DMAI itself, and expanding the organization’s international footprint to grow membership, non-dues revenue and global impact.
Welsh says the focus on international growth will be seen in part in the form of “new and enhanced destination tools through which we will collectively align, brand and market a suite of ‘best practice’ destination products.”
As an example, Welsh points to DNEXT and the Event Impact Calculator (EIC), which continue to be relevant for destinations in all parts of the globe. “All destination organizations require metrics and ROI,” he says. “We intend to grow the EIC to ensure that it is the industry standard. We’ll do that by working with and collaborating with other industry organizations.”
Additionally, he says, “We are working internationally with ECM, Europe, Canada, Australia, Mexico and Colombia to provide the products, services and education that they need. We will develop and launch DestinationFIRST, a new product that will provide destinations with the guidance and resources they need to establish a new destination organization.”
Growth is, in fact, part of an overall strategy that is already working. While many associations face declining membership these days, Welsh says that DMAI membership is on the rise. “DMAI’s membership base continues to grow. We have added approximately 50 new members and we continue to work with all of our members, from the smallest budgeted destination organization to the largest, to provide value to all. Our model starts with the forward goal of domestic and international growth for our destination members,” Welsh continues.
“With that organizational membership comes the benefits and delivery of a value proposition that reaches all levels of membership, from entry level to CEO,” he says. To that end, the association plans to deliver more opportunities through new and refreshed education programs, the annual convention and its industry summits. And in keeping with the goals of continued growth, providing added value and increasing engagement with members, Welsh says Destinations International will also “elevate the Destination Marketing Accreditation Program (DMAP).”
Like other associations, DMAI has made an effort to keep dues increases to a minimum, yet membership dues are, according to Welsh, “a strong revenue component” for the organization. That has made increasing existing revenue streams and finding new revenue streams all the more important.
“We are looking for more corporate partners globally and we are increasing revenues from our current events, summits, our annual convention and new events and summits that our members have deemed important,” Welsh says.
Yet with all of the focus on change and innovation, it’s important to note that DMAI also continues to do what it has always done, including being ready when necessary to step in and help its members facing crisis.
Cherry notes that the team works under the mantra that there are no “little” plans. “One of the first things that was critical to implementation of the new strategic plan was to make sure that the organization could also continue to be nimble to what members need now,” she says. “From the travel bans to travel boycotts or public and private funding challenges, the team works hard to balance moving forward with the strategic plan while also being there to put boots on the ground when crisis strikes for any of our members.”
Of all the components of the rebranding effort, strategic plan and name change, Cherry says one of the most important pieces has been that process itself. “It was critical that there was a thoughtful and engaged process from beginning to launch to implementation,” she says.
If a thoughtful, thorough, engaged collaborative process and forward thinking ensures success, then Destinations International is looking at a rosy and productive future, indeed.C&IT