The outbreak of the Coronavirus poses an existential threat to our industry. A sector which has people and travel at its heart has been ripped apart by a silent enemy with a global reach. In a few short weeks, our sector has gone from a thriving, vibrant and economically essential part of UK plc to a virtual stand-still. Our high-streets are silent – the cafes, bars and restaurants which provide the heartbeat to our communities are quiet and shuttered.
Visitor numbers and value become meaningless as our collective screens go red with lost sales and forward bookings. Projections of future growth and recovery require crystal balls not economic modelling. How bad will it get? When will it end? How will we recover? are the questions on all our lips.
Watching your industry go into freefall is never easy. However necessary the current restrictions – and the life and death decisions which the Government are currently making are not easy - there is no doubt that the economic impact of this crisis will be felt for decades.
So what can those of us who are in the business of supporting the visitor economy do at a time like this? In recent years, there has been much debate over the role of DMOs - mainly relating to what exactly the “M” stands for. Many view us as helpful and often innovative marketing organisations – getting the brand out there and ensuring that Destination X beats Destination Y in the increasingly competitive fight for consumer time and money. But those of us who have been in this industry for many years know that there is so much more to Destination support than a website, a logo and some inspiring imagery. DMO does not stand for Destination Marketing Organisation - if it did, any eejit could do it.
Instead, the “M” is for Management. The dictionary definition of management, is eerily in these Big Brother times, “the process of controlling things or people”. What this means is that everything which makes up a Destination – its tourism businesses, the people that work in them, the infrastructure which supports them and ultimately the strategy which informs them, is the job of the DMO. A daunting task as the best of times. Where do you start, at a time like this?
You start, and you finish, with the things that matter most. The People. The staff in your organisation, the people who work in our cafes, restaurants, visitor attractions and information centres. Protecting their livelihoods, protecting their welfare and ensuring that they will continue to be the workforce of the future is critical.
DMOs are masters of communications – engaging with our audiences is what we do. Now we need to harness those skills into providing our people and our businesses with what they need most – information, information, information. Signposting our businesses to where they can seek support. Navigating them through the tsunami of Government information. Supporting them to weather the storm so that they can begin to rebuild and renew.
The tourism landscape has undergone many changes over the past decade. When times are good, it can appear that such structures are unnecessary and bureaucratic, or at best a “nice to have”. But at times such as these, they are the organisations that our businesses and our politicians turn to - for information, inspiration and reassurance.
For we have been here before. The crises of Foot and Mouth, SARS, Ash-cloud and 9/11 may not have been of this scale and this duration, but they are an example of the many challenges which our industry has battled and defeated. On each occasion, DMOs across the country have been the source of information and support to businesses and the incubators of recovery. And they will be again.
Now, more than ever, we need our DMOs – a network of strong and capable organisations with local roots and national reach. Our industry will weather this storm. We will recover. But if our DMOs have the support they need, our industry will recover stronger and faster – something which every community needs.
I hope that in the future we no longer have the debate about what a DMO stands for. We will all know the answer - It stands for me.