Beyond marketing: How DMOs and EDOs are evolving their role during COVID-19

“This is going to be a shared recovery, but it’s also going to be shared sacrifice[.] It’s not going to be business as usual for anyone for a very long time, and we need to rethink how we spend our limited resources in the most impactful ways.”

There were a lot of inspiring and positive solutions shared during our recent webinar, but this phrase from Chris Chiames, Chief Communication Officer at Carnival Cruise Line, really struck a chord.

So what can be done?

While reading through the social media feeds of a number of destination marketing and economic development organisations, we noticed a number of place branding and marketing teams who were reinventing themselves to take a much more active role in destination and community management. Here are just some of the ways that place branders have been working to support their key stakeholders during this time of crisis – we hope you find some inspiration for your own strategies.

Highlighting your culture by bringing brands into the home

Credit where credit is due. Having pulled all major tourism promotion campaigns, DMOs around the world have been quick to switch to a new form of marketing. UNWTO’s message of “stay home now – travel tomorrow” is one that is resonating around the world.

Some destinations have taken the next step to promote their cultural sector. Despite the global travel ban, there’s a captive audience of bored consumers reaching to the internet to bridge the gap caused by social isolation. New technologies make it possible for people to tour some of the world’s cultural landmarks from their living room and place brand organisations are capitalising on the opportunity to promote their private sector.

Paris’s Convention and Visitor’s Bureau is promoting virtual tours of the city’s finest attractions for example, while Helsinki – already at the forefront of many digital enterprises – are sharing live broadcasts and online experiences from the city. Discover Puerto Rico are hosting live cocktail mixing and salsa dancing classes on Instagram.

With so many people working from home, the opportunity for virtual tours and live streaming has never been greater for cultural establishments. Social media is an ideal channel for nurturing wanderlust at this time, and it can also give a boost of visibility to your private sector who are struggling with the lack of tourism.

Supporting local businesses and private sector stakeholders

Speaking of promoting your private sector, many place brands are looking internally as well as externally to boost local businesses during an unprecedented economic slump. In the UK, Marketing Peak District and Derbyshire have been celebrating Derbyshire businesses by shining a light on pubs and restaurants launching takeaways and home delivery. Across the pond, Visit Phoenix is entreating everyone to support the restaurant industry by eating at least one delivery during this period of social isolation.

Be it #SupportLocal or #TheGreatAmericanTakeout, social media is an excellent channel for promoting businesses – particularly during this time when they may be struggling. It’s also an interesting indicator of the shift many DMO and EDOs are rapidly undergoing – one from tourism and investment promotion to community management.

Be a reliable source of information

Part of this evolution from promotion to management is the leadership role that DMOs and EDOs are taking on. In particular, many place branding organisations are positioning themselves as a key source of information.

This isn’t a new facet to the role of destination marketing organisations or economic development teams, but it’s never been more important. “Our industry is dependent on Discover Puerto Rico to be the people sending them information they can count on,” Leah Chandler, CMO at Discover Puerto Rico suggested. “We have industry social channels that we’ve established – we’re training our stakeholders and our partners to go to those sources to get information, often in real time.”

Place branding organisations across the world are upping their support during coronavirus. Visit Herts in the UK has created a forum for their private sector stakeholders to receive updates, share advice and support one another during the pandemic. Greater Topeka Partnership have launched to connect the community to key resources during the crisis. And VisitBritain has reopened its tracker survey to monitor the impact of COVID-19 on the UK tourism and events industry – data which will then be fed back to the Government to guide crucial decision making.

As an industry, we have access to a tremendous amount of data. Keeping a finger on the pulse of perceptions and connecting the community to the accurate sources of information will be invaluable to recovery.

Promoting upskilling in the workforce

Providing accurate and reliable information is only part of the way that destinations are reinventing themselves to provide support for their community and key stakeholders. As digital skills shifted from helpful to urgently required, many local businesses found themselves needing a comprehensive digital offering for the first time.

Visit California is one of several destination marketing organisations who have stepped up to provide support. Alongside a comprehensive information distribution strategy, they have created tool kits to support organisations struggling with social media and content creation in a world that became completely digital almost overnight. Halfway around the world, the Singapore Tourism Board has included upskilling as a key task for their industry-wide Recovery Taskforce.

“What capabilities do we need to build now in the industry so we can emerge stronger and more capable out of this crisis?” explained CEO Keith Tan. “We’re working actively with training service providers, and we’ve created funding to incentivise our tourism companies to send their workers in this down time for a massive effort in upgrading our skills.”

Supporting innovation

Necessity is the mother of invention. And with it, comes the ability to share the entrepreneurship of your community. CINDE [Costa Rica’s investment promotion arm] for example, recently shared that the Engineering department at the University of Costa Rica has used 3D printing to create face masks needed during the COVID-19 crisis.

Digital innovation has long been a staple of the Estonian nation brand. With 99% of government services online, the Estonian digital state is coming into its own. In the light of coronavirus however, Estonia launched an initiative to provide rapid support for solutions to the new challenges created by a socially isolating world.

‘Hack the Crisis’ saw over 1000 participants from more than 20 countries offering their ideas and the five winning pitches all received €5000 to get their start-up off the ground. One of these winners, Share Force One, is a workforce sharing platform, connecting organisations for a temporary exchange of employees. With some industries suddenly desperately short of workers and others unable to continue offering jobs, the initiative is a great step towards solving a challenge that has unexpectedly skyrocketed over the past weeks.

Whilst staying absolutely true to both the Costa Rican and Estonian place brand identity, these initiatives provided the opportunity to shine a spotlight on the creativity and ingenuity of citizens and local organisations. And when the time comes to reopen conversations around talent attraction and investment promotion, keeping these values at the forefront during the crisis will be key to recovering quicker.

Stay true to your values

The connecting thread between everything we’ve referenced so far is values. The COVID-19 crisis has thrown corporate culture into sharp relief and it will be interesting to see if some major global brands survive the reputational hit they’ve taken during the pandemic – we won’t name and shame, but it’s clear that authenticity and values are essential.

All of which brings us to our last point. The global outpouring of support for health workers.

From Spain to Canada, from Turkey to France, people have been taking to their balconies to applaud the hard work of health care professionals. And place brands have continued to spread this message of community spirit. Last week, cities across the UK pushed to ‘turn it blue’, with buildings across the country being lit blue in a show of support for the NHS. Place branding organisations are uniting their communities in a show of support and in doing so, raising morale throughout the crisis.

This is just a snapshot of the fantastic work being done around the world. Much of it is going on behind the scenes, and I’m sure more is being rushed through internal approvals as I write this. If you have a story to share, please let us know at

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The Place Brand Portfolio is City Nation Place's searchable portfolio of Awards case studies from the past five years.