How can you make destination stewardship a reality?

For Coca Cola, the management of their product is simple. There’s a recipe to follow, and if they keep to the instructions, they’ll continue to create the product that people expect of them. However, a city lives and breathes; every visitor or resident within your place will have a slightly different experience.

Over the years, destination management has gained a lot of interest as a concept, with many destination marketing organisations [DMOs] shifting to become destination marketing and management organisations [DMMOs]. But with so many stakeholders involved – and with most DMOs not owning any of their assets – is true destination management just a pipe dream? And how do you evolve a destination management mindset to one of destination stewardship?

Destination marketing to management… to stewardship?

If destination marketing is the communication of your assets, destination management is about the proactive and strategic governance and shaping of your place towards an overarching vision. It ensures that your place is linked-up internally to drive an efficient and effective strategy, such as sharing data sets to build a better picture of your place.

So where does destination stewardship sit in this?

In truth, there’s a lot of overlap between the two concepts. But where destination management is about becoming a strategic leader in the development of your place, destination stewardship puts the focus on a more values-driven, sustainable, long-term approach. By definition, stewardship is about the supervision or management of something – but, specifically, it’s about the responsibility for something that has been entrusted into your care.

As Scott Beck, President & CEO of Tourism Toronto shared with us, DMOs tend not to own anything, and the vast majority don’t manage anything either, complicating the idea of effective destination management. “I do not subscribe to or use the term ‘destination management,’” Scott explained. “I do believe that we have an immense responsibility to destination stewardship, and destination stewardship on any level cannot be done alone.”

Place marketers have been entrusted with the brand of their place, and as temporary stewards of the destination’s reputation, it’s incumbent on us to ensure that we pass it on to the next generation in a better state that we received it ourselves.

“Particularly in today’s environment, it’s impossible to ‘sit on the sidelines,’” shared Adam Burke, President & CEO of LA Tourism. “Our organizations are increasingly viewed as either part of the solution, or part of the problem, on a host of issues.


Collaborating towards a better future for your place

A task as complicated as destination stewardship requires support of a whole range of stakeholders. “Building collaboration into the iteration and execution process is important,” outlined Mark Thomas, President & CEO of Pittsburgh Regional Alliance. “Ultimately, you’d like an approach that is effective and has continuous by-in from stakeholders.”

So, what does it take to develop a collaborative approach that delivers long-term sustainability and resilience to your place brand strategy?

Jerad Bachar, President & CEO of VisitPITTSBURGH, called for places “develop a plan that 1) takes in to consideration and engages the various stakeholders in the defined community, 2) incorporates that engagement, and 3) implements the plan with a transparent and focused approach.”

By embedding collaboration into the initial development of your stewardship strategy, you’re starting on the right foot to continue to keep your stakeholders engaged. It also helps to ensure that you have the right feedback loops in place to guarantee that you continue to listen to the concerns of these different groups as the strategy develops.

It also creates a foundation for greater, long-term success. “By building off the strengths and leveraging the capabilities of key community stakeholders, destination partners can advantageously work together to divide and conquer, allowing each entity to be able to focus on the elements that they do best, while collectively working together to bring benefit to the destination as a whole,” highlighted Kelly Haussler, Director of Destination Development for Ottawa Tourism.


Finding the right balance between the priorities of stakeholders

With so many different voices in the mix, inevitably there will be some differences of opinion along the way. We asked our place experts what their suggestion was to find the right balance of give and take to ensure a fair compromise when needed – and on the whole, the responses were the same. If you can clearly articulate the guiding principles of your strategy, you can demonstrate how your preferred action will contribute to that ultimate goal.

“Compromise is a necessary part of any collaborative development project,” Ottawa Tourism’s Kelly Haussler told us. “However, the final result needs to ensure that the agreed-upon vision and objectives have been met.”

Jerad Bachar of VisitPITTSBURGH agreed, stating that “it is sometimes difficult to separate the ambitions of a few from the overall benefit of the destination, but the overall destination benefit needs to remain the focus and is the guiding principle for all decision making and needed compromise.”

Tourism Toronto’s Scott Beck took a slightly different approach, though broadly he too stressed the importance of articulating your north star: “I am one who approaches our stakeholders with the idea of prioritization. Compromise implies a sort of winner/loser scenario, or a scenario where all involved demand a little in order to get at least something… Setting priorities is always necessary and being able to articulate them in ways that our stakeholders understand, and can see their own priorities or plans in, is vital.”

Finally, both Adam Burke of LA Tourism and Mark Thomas of Pittsburgh Regional Alliance, called for the importance of a place brand organisation to take the role of facilitator when conflict does arise. “It’s critical to proactively seek feedback, actively listen to all points of view and facilitate constructive dialogue to find common ground” Adam explained.

Ultimately, as Mark Thomas told us, the key is “making sure people understand the rationale behind your decision making and feel the process is inclusive.” It really does take a village, and making sure that everyone has a voice at the table will allow you to develop a strategy that helps to improve your destination for this generation and those to come.

We look forward to being hosted by VIsitPITTSBURGH and Pittsburgh Regional Alliance for City Nation Place Americas 2022 on May 11-12, where we'll hear from Adam Burke, Kelly Haussler, and Scott Beck, along with other leading place experts. 

Missed the event in person? Don't worry...

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