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Destination Management

Common Causes of a Stagnant DMO – and How to Fix Them

Common Causes of a Stagnant DMO

If you’re feeling like your DMO or visitors bureau is stuck in a rut, I have good news: by simply being aware of it, there’s hope. In our experience working with stagnant DMOs, they’re often not aware of their predicament and spend years going through the motions, accomplishing nothing. The fact that you see it can be the start of an epic turnaround.

However, knowing that there’s a problem doesn’t necessarily mean you can put your finger on a cause, let alone solve it. If this sounds like you, then you’re why I wrote this article.

Cause #1: Leadership

Let’s get this one out of the way first: the most challenging cause of a stagnant DMO. Many times, the problem can be found at the top of the food chain, even higher than the head of the department. Progress is often stalled when a leader refuses to be challenged, fails to provide the appropriate level of autonomy, or keeps things secret so they can still wield power. In this case, it can be particularly messy but it needs to be addressed.

Our approach to solving this has usually been through the process of acquiring buy-in. In many cases, poor leadership can be brought on board simply by helping them feel like they’re part of the process and, by proxy, the solution. Get their ideas, thoughts, and aspirations early on, and they’ll feel more in control (or even like it was their idea).

Cause #2: Complacency

You know the saying “do what you’ve always done and you’ll get the same result”? It stands to reason that stagnation comes from spending each day just going through the motions. Eventually, you end up with an outdated message, dwindling website traffic, and an uninspired team.

A good fix to pull your team out of hibernation is to institute offsite brainstorming sessions. Perhaps one Friday lunch per month, pull the team away from what’s familiar to them, and treat them to a lunch and strategy meeting. Set an agenda, stick to it, and don’t force the a-ha moments. What you’ll start to see over time is an awakening, when your team begins to dream again — only they’re awake this time.

Cause #3: Fear

When a concept backfires, angers residents or local businesses, or draws bad press, it can be easy to play things too safe. The problem is that an overabundance of safety results in silence, the exact opposite of what destination marketing should be.

There are a few ways around this. First, do the research. See if you can find case studies of similar situations and their outcomes. Second, get leadership on board with the idea. If there are hazards in your plan, that’s where they’re often brought up. If you’re still in doubt, speak with a tourism marketing consultant (I happen to know a guy).

The important thing is to not let fear paralyze your plans. Make well-informed decisions and understand that not everyone is going to like what your department does. But as long as it’s clear that the effort is to promote tourism and reinforce your destination’s brand, and that leadership is on board, you should continue to move forward.

Cause #4: Lack of Original Ideas

Maybe the well has run dry so your team is now only following others’ ideas. You’ve all exhausted what you know and you’d be better served by getting some outside perspectives.

Start a programs or communications committee, comprised of local business leaders and tourism professionals in your community. This is different than a CVB’s board of directors since the dynamic of the board/staff relationship is more on the same level. It’s far more informal and there’s no fear of throwing out bad ideas. Take the best of the committee’s ideas and recommendations to the board for approval and you now have a braintrust for better and more frequent ideas.

Cause #5: Disengagement or Burnout

As I’m writing this, Imagine is on its annual, mandatory vacation between December 23rd and January 3rd. It’s not an uncommon break for organizations to take, but it’s certainly not enough.

Burnout is now a legitimate mental illness and I can say from my own personal experience, you don’t often know you’re burning out until you’re already there. So, the goal is to stay as far away as possible from it. Cycle vacations, offer half-day Fridays during slower times, and encourage your team to keep evenings and weekends free from work.

Cause #6: Budget

Sometimes, it just comes down to money to pull the trigger on ideas. Maybe it’s an ad campaign and you don’t know what the right budget should be. Or you’re looking to rebrand but immediately think that agencies are going to be too expensive. Or you know that you’re outgrowing your Squarespace website but one agency told you it would be $40,000 that you don’t have.

For issues like these, it’s important to ask around. Agencies and consultants vary widely in the pricing department, so just because one agency was out of your budget doesn’t mean that they all are (here’s why). Maybe you’ll find that you really can’t afford to hire one (which I strongly doubt) but do the research first.

In summary, by establishing and strengthening buy-in for new ideas, shaking up the day-to-day, and giving your team time to restore their energy and enthusiasm, you can start dreaming and growing again.

Patrick King

Patrick is the Founder of Imagine and advisor to places on brand strategy and creative. His insights have been published in Inc. Magazine, SmartCEO, Washington Business Journal, The Washington Post, and Chief Marketer, among other publications, and shared at conferences throughout the US. He also has an amazing sock collection.

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