The 2023 Advocacy Summit brought together industry leaders and experts to discuss the vital role of destination organizations in community development and vitality. The event featured insightful sessions on advocacy, data analytics, relationship-building with elected officials, resident sentiment, sustainability, and the power of words in the tourism industry.
As moderator of this year’s summit in Little Rock, Arkansas, I will walk us through the insights I came away with, alongside powerful takeaways from some of our dynamic presenters.
From the moment we kicked off the 2023 Advocacy Summit, our group began to collectively focus on the role destination organizations play in our communities. Jack Johnson's insights in the opening session set the stage for Adam Sacks to highlight the critical role we must play in community development and vitality.
Advocacy can be thought of as an epic concert with data as the music. Analytics (like music) can move people if you…
- Keep tempo with well-timed releases.
- Create harmony through data integration.
- Get everyone singing off the same analytics hymnal.
- Crescendo your achievements.
- Amplify to specific audiences.
With the right playlists, your audience will become your diehard fans.
Once again, Jack revved us up in the morning session with his five actionable ideas to create a greater impact which was relatable regardless of staff size or budget. Gretchen Hall's dynamic conversation with Mayor Scott showcased the significant value of building strong relationships with elected officials. Mayor Scott represents how a well-informed, charismatic leader serves as a true destination champion!
Amir Eylon shared Longwoods International's recent resident sentiment survey for the US & Canada. These findings underscored the importance of not only understanding local perceptions but also incorporating their feedback into your destination's strategic initiatives.
Andreas Weisenborn shared the power in words and the noteworthy NEW words that have become part of our industry lexicon. The newly released iterations of the tourism lexicon build upon the work of the Lexicon Policy Brief which rewrote the industry’s narrative to create a values-based approach that advocates for the role of a destination organization beyond typical return on investment statistics. New words on the United States Lexicon that appeared for the first time included Family, Development, and Opportunity, while words such as Government, Climate, and Energy appeared on the United Kingdom Tourism lexicon.
DI released a tourism lexicon in four countries: United States, Canada, United Kingdom, and Australia. Unique this year is a native French-Canadian version. Check out the Canadian Tourism Lexicon teaser videos in both French and English! Each release includes a PowerPoint, social media graphic, and PDF.
As destination organizations adapt to expanding roles within our communities, the "Destination Effect" reinforced the critical need for destination promotion to drive economic growth. Alex Heimann & Gregg Shapiro invited the audience to embrace and join this movement.
Bill Geist masterfully moderated the panel discussion with Kurt Krause, Gary Sanchez and Michael Crockett where real-life examples were shared, and practical applications can be applied in your community. Once again, Adam Sacks walked us through data analytics and methods for communicating the value of tourism to elected leaders and stakeholders with a conclusion that was "music to our ears!" Andreas and Jay Kinghorn's session reinforced the critical need for a community indicator and how our industry can further develop this roadmap.
- How powerful it is when a mayor understands the complete, holistic impact of Destination Marketing on a community. Successful cities (like Little Rock) have leadership that transcends politics.
- Our messaging to residents is working…but not fast enough.
- The value of hospitality jobs cannot be overemphasized in the face of the Longwood’s research that shows 40% of Gen Zs believe them to be low pay and no benefit.
First and foremost, congratulations on a very robust summit curriculum. Jack Johnson is always great and very informative. This time, I thought the Community Indicator was a strong path for DMOs to follow. Also recognizing the opportunity to quantify the negative impact of the negative experience; crowding, costs, degradation of place.
Finding the appropriate metrics is also a huge challenge, The DMO Achievement Playlist is a great beginning to defining key indicators for the visitor’s economy.
I also found the presentations and conversations around sustainability inspiring. Before attending the summit, Tourism Sentiment Index for Norfolk identified Natural Disasters as a highly discussed topic. I am assuming the conversation was positive as 25% of the conversation for the month was the positive appeal being discussed relative to Natural Disasters. While the category title may be less than positive, the conversation was. Which led me to explore how do we promote sustainable activities ($1.3B sea wall) as a must-see during construction and hopefully providing safety to a rapidly rising Elizabeth River.
Looking forward to the Destination Effect
This was probably my favorite Advocacy Summit thus far (I’ve been to Houston and Bloomington). Below are a few of my favorites:
- The latest Lexicon reveal.
- Learning about The Destination Effect campaign; sounds exciting!!!
- I’m not much of a data person, but Adam Sacks has a very cool way of packaging the messaging around data, and he’s so entertaining!
The Marketplace of Ideas I thoroughly enjoyed were:
- DestinationNEXT – A Critical Advocacy Tool
- Advocacy is Great, Advocates Even Better! The work we do is wonderful and valuable, but we can’t do it alone; we need a robust number of advocates to support us and advocate on our behalf.
- Safeguarding the DMO's Position in the Community. I love hearing/learning how Discover Puerto Rico tapped into the local community to develop their messaging, marketing strategy to benefit both the residents and the travelers.
- The Door to Sustainable Growth: How Destination Door County is Winning Over Locals and Boosting Tourism. WOW, what an amazing job Julie and her team are doing in Door County. I loved all the ideas they shared, most especially the art project/campaign.
Of course, I truly value Jack’s knowledge and wisdom as it relates to alternatives to travel boycotts/the weaponizing of travel. For us in Texas, it’s something we face daily, so anytime there is an opportunity to learn from my colleagues how we can combat this, I’m there.
Julie Gilbert and Ben Vadasz shined the light on sustainability and emphasized its relevance as an expectation of residents and visitors. This conversation is guaranteed to be at the forefront for destinations and DI's 2024 Sustainability Roadmap will be a valuable tool moving forward.
- Most solutions already exist (in isolation).
- Smaller destinations are moving faster.
- Planning is only step 1; start investing in implementing the plan (HR & $).
- Rapid collaboration on sustainability solutions is needed for the tourism industry to prosper.
- The green economy has huge funding and job opportunities for your destination.
- Must watch video of 2023
- Must listen tourism podcast
Day two brought everyone together for Paul Ouimet and Cassandra McCauley’s discussion with Ellie Westman Chin about the findings of DI’s 2023 DestinationNEXT Futures Study. These findings identify trends to better inform us in leading our destinations into the future.
- Advocacy is critical to the work of DMOs.
- The 2023 Futures Study highlighted several trends and strategies that support the role of DMO leaders in advocacy, including:
- Top Trends:
- #5: Greater industry, community and government alignment is driving destination competitiveness and brand.
- #6: Resident sentiment is becoming a key measurement (having a pulse on the sentiment of residents is key when speaking to elected officials).
- #9: DMOs / CVBs are increasing advocacy to communicate the value of the visitor economy to government.
- Top Strategies:
- #1: Protect revenue sources to maintain current funding levels.
- Advocacy also plays a critical role in advancing the "supply" side of destinations. This includes Destination Development (product and experience development, neighborhood development and placemaking, air access, infrastructure development and accessibility) and Community Alignment (government relations, sustainability, EDIB, economic and workforce development and resident en
From there we celebrated the brilliant career of Shimo as she shared her wisdom and reflections then moved into Jack's presentation on meaningful methods of creating change and reinforcing why travel boycotts are ineffective. He then walked us through action items for stakeholder engagement strategies.
- Acceptance. There is real power behind being accepted, especially by your supervisor and accepting others. Truly understanding what makes a person thrive, it's been fundamental to my development as a manager/leader.
- Volunteerism. It's a way to make yourself accessible, even for us introverts. Serving the industry and collaborating with your peers is the best way to understand how this industry works.
- Checking Our Assumptions. When you think about how our industry works, we realize that we really don't know...so I have found it's always good to be open, curious, and in check of our assumptions.
- Making Deposits. I ascribe to Covey's 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and when building relationships, I have loved the emotional bank account metaphor as a fundamental building block to establishing trust. I like to say that I have made a career out of "being helpful."
Our closing session with Andreas and Brian Applegarth provided an overview of cannabis legislation and the changing landscape of cannabis tourism. Brian presented case studies and informative examples relevant to every destination, regardless of legislative status.
The common themes I came away with were relevance, residents, relationships, and ACTION to drive the industry forward! We can’t wait to see you at Advocacy Summit in October 2024 in Río Grande, Puerto Rico.