22 Destinations in new joint initiative: Time for DMOcracy – a new collaborative project and a curious journey into citizen activation and empowerment, the challenges, and imperatives of dialogue, power-sharing and new modes of governance in tourism development. The project is relevant to any destination – urban or rural, national or regional – that wants to empower their local communities in the future of tourism and who puts value to the shift from tourism as a goal in itself to tourism as a means to build better societies and communities and increasing the liveability of the people, who live there.

The initiative is developed by Group NAO and launched in association with Global Destinations Sustainability Movement, The Travel Foundation, TCI Research and City Destinations Alliance, as well as University of Surrey. Over the next 12 months, the partners and the so far 22 participating destinations will deploy a wide range of research, case studies, master classes, learnings labs, boot camping and conferencing before delivering a white paper on public engagement in tourism in the early fall of 2022.


The destination and project partners have signed up with four shared objectives:

  • To unfold the meaning and practice of people-based tourism in the city: Many city agencies and DMOs talk about community involvement – this project will explore best practice and methodologies to put action behind words and engaging citizens for not just better tourism, but better local quality of life.
  • To map citizen participation and involvement in tourism: The project will map existing citizen-involvement and participatory models in relation to tourism, develop a typology of current approaches, and discuss the role of the DMO and the challenges involved.
  • To understand democratic mandate and participation: The project will identify new ways of empowering people-based, democratic tourism development and destination governance, including methods that diversify participation and empower actual influence and decision-making.
  • To prepare and upskill the DMO for new modes of governance, and what this means in terms of functions, skills, and accountability.



There are four reasons why now is the time to explore DMOcracy:

First, the need for a destination contract: Unless you are Disneyland, destination marketing is about selling experiences in places where people live. Neither the tourism industry nor the DMO can claim ownership of the destination.

Tourism is a phenomenon in public domain and shared space, the destination is founded on the identity of a place – carried by the people, who call it home. This means that a destination can welcome tourism, but tourism can’t claim the destination, its resources, culture, people or space. In many ways, the business of tourism requires a license to operate – a destination contract – from the people, who live there. With Time for DMOcracy, we want to identify governance models that build trust and accountability – models that reflect and respect the real ownership of the destination.

Second, it’s who we are: In promoting a place where people live, DMOs hold a special responsibility to that place. Destination marketers are not just responsible for attracting more people to the place, but for adding value to it. Coming out of the pandemic crisis, many places and destinations are reclaiming their narratives – taking them back from visitors and destination fantasies. And so, it is now the time to talk about the democratic imperative of representing identity and values of people and place, adding value to local community.

Third, hospitality vs hostility: Destinations are getting ready to welcome back visitors, but the return of tourism is not necessarily met with enthusiasm from locals. From an era, where tourism was increasingly perceived as invasive by residents, to a period of no tourism, we are most likely now looking ahead to a time of increased local sensitivity to the return of tourism. There are indicators already that resident sentiment will not exclusively pivot to wide-open and hospitable cities in the hope of fast recovery. Instead, it is likely that we will see elements of visitor-phobia with demands for restrictions and regulation.

This raises the urgency of a continuous involvement in shaping the long-term accountability and sustainability of tourism development over the coming years. Well-designed resident sentiment surveys are a good place to start, but there is a need to activate the data with open conversation and real involvement and actual influence on the issues raised.

Fourth, M for mandate to bridge the great disconnect: For years, DMOs have discussed what the M stands for – balancing between the role of marketing and management. In finding this new balance, new disconnections sometimes emerge between the main stakeholders of the visitor economy:

  1. Political decision-makers (municipal, regional, national)
  2. The commercial tourism industry stakeholders
  3. The local community and citizens
  4. The DMO – often in the no-man’s-land in-between.



The disconnects are potentially worsened by the pandemic crisis. Pressure from industry associations to rapidly regain tourism growth might face opposition from hesitant local populations that seek liveability over visitability. The success of the DMO is thereby both measured by its ability to ensure continued growth, while balancing this with its ability to mediate the gap between the different sides, without the actual mandate to do so. Hence, the DMO risks losing support and license to operate from all sides. That’s why now is the time for DMOcracy – to build trust, accountability, and legitimacy through popular mandate.

In conclusion, it is time to start a new discussion on how we can empower more inclusive and democratic destination governance, developing the accountability and legitimacy of the DMO in reflection of the many complex interests at play.


The project is just taking off. Whether you are a DMO, RTO, NTO or City Tourism Department, reach out to learn more!