February 20, 2023: The first part of Group NAO’s exploration of citizen activation and empowerment concluded with the publication of the ‘Time for DMOcracy’ white paper. It uncovers the current state of citizen engagement in destination governance, puts forward eight new participatory approaches in citizen participation, and calls for a more fluid role of the DMO.
How to empower citizens in shaping the future of the tourism to their communities? How can the destination organisation (DMO) be a legitimate, trusted part of the conversation with local community on the future of tourism, as global travel and tourism returns? To answer these questions, Group NAO conceptualised, initiated, and launched the ‘Time for DMOcracy’ project to explore new participatory approaches in tourism that celebrate citizen engagement and outline the role of the DMO as part of a more DMOcratic destination governance model. The collaborative and explorative project zooms in on the DMOs’ social license to operate, identify tools and methodologies of engagement, as well as map out new models of destination governance and citizen participation.
The first edition of Time for DMOcracy was concluded in January 2023 with the publication of a white paper. The findings uncover a significant shift for destination governance, from marketing or managing tourism as a sole economic activity, towards a much broader and holistic movement, which includes stronger democratic principles and governance, accountability, and meaningful citizen agency. At the same time, it presents extensive insights related to resident engagement and participation as a key to managing the visitor economy in a sustainable manner, as well as the new model of participatory approaches in destination governance. Below, we’ve highlighted some of the most important findings of the white paper:
SPECTRUM OF CITIZEN PARTICIPATION
In balancing liveability and visitability, it’s important for DMOs to foster citizen participation in tourism that in some aspects also reaches beyond simply securing tourism acceptance. Citizen participation isn’t just one thing or something carried out with one single purpose. Different participatory approaches entail different expectations for influence and ownership.
To understand how residents could become active actors by taking part and influencing decision-making in tourism governance, Time for DMOcracy adopted the ‘Spectrum of Public Participation’, developed by the International Association of Public Participation, and proposed 5 participation spectrums in the context of DMOs’ interaction with residents. The spectrum ranges from informing, to consulting, involving, collaborating and empowering, and each approach entails different promises of influence.
THE STATE OF DMOCRACY TODAY
To understand the status quo of citizen activation among destination organisations today, Group NAO and North American project lead Miles Partnership conducted a transatlantic survey of tourism authorities and destination organisations (DMOs). The results uncover five main trends related to resident engagement and participation:
- Residents’ engagement remains an important key to strategising a sustainable visitor economy
- Simultaneously, wider industry stakeholders are equally vital in today’s tourism governance, proving that stakeholder orientation still prevails
- Resident sentiment surveys are becoming more mainstream for DMOs, especially among European destinations relative to the North American destinations.
- Along with resident surveys, other forms of participation such as volunteering, forming advisory boards and resident panels, as well as communication and marketing to residents are widely adopted by DMOs.
- However, DMOcracy is also hindered by a series of challenges that prevent DMOs from engaging with citizens, such as the complex process of community engagement, little to no control over issues voiced by residents, and participation dominated by few loud voices.
INTRODUCING 8 PARTICIPATORY APPROACHES IN DMOCRACY
Through extensive research that spans over a year, the Time for DMOcracy White Paper identifies 8 approaches in tourism to demonstrate how citizen engagement and participation unfold in practice. While some approaches are widespread, others are only practised by few leading destinations:
THE FLUID ROLES OF DMOS
Rather than being locked into one fix-all role, the fluidity of the DMOs role in DMOcracy reflects the complexities of destination governance. The destination – or what we identify as such – encompasses so many different interests; the visitor economy, the community and society, the environment, the people who live there and those who visit, and more. The relevance and value of the DMO are fluid and highly contextual, depending on a continuous, open and shared assessment of the needs of the whole destination ecosystem.
That is why it’s Time for DMOcracy.
The project was carried out in collaboration with key knowledge and expert partners. In Europe, 22 participating destination partners have supported and contributed to the project, including by participating in surveys, interviews, case studies, learnings labs, DMOcracy Bootcamp, and conferences.
In North America, Group NAO teamed up with Miles Partership as strategic partner to lead the North American edition of Time for DMOcracy with 20 North American destination partners.