How can DMOs drive social & community wellbeing?

By Chris Armstrong, Senior Project Specialist | Placemaking, TOPOSOPHY

Tourism has the power to change the world, for the better. To broaden perspectives and break down barriers; to promote cultural exchange and challenge stereotypes; to empower, enrich and inspire visitors and residents alike; and ultimately to be a catalyst for positive change in our neighbourhoods, towns, cities, regions, and nations all over the world. The onus is now on DMOs to respond to and act upon this new paradigm - to maximise their true value contribution for the cities they serve by adopting more holistic and interconnected place-based approaches to destination development, management, marketing, and stewardship in the future.

A common challenge

At TOPOSOPHY, we have been advising and supporting DMOs, city marketing organisations, and other destination leaders across the UK, Europe and beyond on how to embrace this evolution and unlock the potential positive impact of the visitor economy for people and places. More often than not, cities are fully aware of the direction they want to take but just need some additional strategic support in order to chart this journey with confidence, while bringing their own partners (and often funders) along with them.

By reframing their role and the collective role of the visitor economy through the lens of a circular economy, creating both better places to live and better places to visit, DMOs can prioritise social and community wellbeing. However, when it comes to evaluating what success looks like, this has often also meant designing bespoke metrics with an emphasis on social impact KPIs to measure their true value contribution to civic society. To support neighbourhoods and cities in this transition, we published a practical framework to guide destination leaders on their own journey towards social sustainability.

The power of social connections

Firstly, why ‘wellbeing’? The Oxford English Dictionary defines ‘wellbeing’ as the state of being healthy, happy, or prosperous’ and as many academics and renowned thought leaders - such as Jane Jacobs, Fred Kent, and more recently Charles Montgomery (Happy City) - have championed for years, one of the most positive contributing factors to living healthy and happy lives is our ability to make, enjoy, and retain social connections.

In fact, based on this concept of bringing people together to share new experiences, the visitor economy is uniquely positioned to positively influence social and community wellbeing in our neighbourhoods, towns, and cities. Having been writing about this emerging opportunity for DMOs since 2017, we have now taken this strategic guidance a step further by outlining practical steps DMOs can take to make this a reality. These actions are grouped under eight Impact Themes:

  1. Instilling Ownership - Involve residents in tourism decision making
  2. People-power - Empower citizens in collaborative tourism delivery
  3. Love Local - Encourage residents to explore and enjoy their own city
  4. Reaching Out - Spread the positive impact of tourism across the city
  5. Shaping Perceptions - Influence media narratives through tourism
  6. Destination Stewards - Enable, amplify, and deliver social impact in our cities
  7. Catalysts for Change - Protect and enhance your city’s assets
  8. Everyone’s Welcome - Create safe, friendly, and happy cities for all

Each of these themes redefines success for DMOs in the future and includes four example KPIs and four practical actions that DMOs can implement to deliver against these impact-driven targets. Furthermore, each theme is also then supported by real-world case study examples, celebrating the cities that are pioneering their own civic contributions across Europe and beyond.

Maximising the opportunity

There is more detail in our latest report, but there are three key areas you should keep in mind to become a purpose-driven, community-centric destination marketing organisation.

  • Embrace moving targets:
    Wellbeing is inherently personal, and is shaped by a complex mix of external and internal factors that are individual to each person. While this presents challenges, recognising the multifaceted nature of wellbeing in communities allows you to adapt and embrace the ever-changing landscape, remaining nimble while still delivering against the needs of their communities.
  • Understand the bigger picture
    It is tempting to prioritise the metrics under our direct control, but this misses a lot of the nuance. Adopting a place-based approach allows you to include a broader range of metrics and trust in new collaboration that can amplify your shared impact. We need to transcend traditional silos and develop new measurement methodologies that reflect the true interconnected realities of social and community wellbeing.
  • Keep it real
    As DMOs strive towards community wellbeing, we need to consider how this impact is communicated. Clear ambitions and values can resonate well with stakeholders and visitors if conveyed with sincerity and transparency, but if it appears inauthentic it can harm your reputation. You need to communicate genuine, purpose-driven efforts – backed with real action – to develop long-term trust with your audiences and create lasting impact for your place.

Partnership is key

The truth is, adopting place-based approaches brings a unique set of challenges and this also extends to setting citywide targets, some of which will likely be beyond the sole influence of DMOs alone. Ultimately, this reflects the complex and interconnected realities of social and community well-being in our cities today. Make no mistake, this is not easy. Fundamentally it requires DMOs to trust in partnerships and city-wide collaborations. However, this is ultimately how DMOs can maximise their true value potential and establish a culture of genuinely impactful and enduring social sustainability. We very much hope that this practical framework guides and supports destinations on this journey.

Want to know more? 

Download your complimentary copy of 'Redefining Success: How DMOs can Drive Social & Community Well-Being’ and don’t forget to tune in to TOPOSOPHY’s Common Ground podcast series for more inspiration on shaping places and empowering communities. If you have a project, challenge or opportunity where you would like to benefit from TOPOSOPHY’s significant industry knowledge, expertise, experience and support, please reach out.

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