5 Ways for DMOs to Benefit Local Communities Concretely

September 22, 2022
Group of men play jazz instruments in an empty parking lot on a sunny day.

Destination organizations reaffirm the many ways their DMOs benefit local communities time and again – but let’s not forget that you are working with your communities, not just for them.

Yes, you are bringing in visitors who are spending money – but it’s important to identify how an individual in your community can see and experience the benefits you are bringing their way.

We’ve already discussed how you can promote your DMO efforts to locals through various programs and outreach. And a little bit of research via local focus groups can go a long way in ensuring your DMO is working in tandem with the needs of your community. 

Now let’s look at five concrete action steps to meet and engage your local community members in meaningful ways.

1. Smart training programs

Training programs, like those in Caribbean destinations that educate young locals how to sail and boat, fall squarely into the needs of both DMOs and local communities. Not only does this sort of education create more experiences for visitors, it elevates and employs locals in the best way possible, without requiring them to leave and seek work elsewhere.

Look at the gaps in your workforce and consider if it might be easier to generate homegrown talent rather than try and attract talent from further afield. If there are already locals who know the waters, understand the traditions, and cook your dishes, provide them the tools they need to turn their local knowledge into gainful employment.

2. A two-way forum

We’ve already talked about engaging local media to promote your efforts, but it’s equally important to provide locals – citizens and media alike – a forum to communicate openly with you and other community members. A simple email or feedback form isn’t enough anymore.

It could be something as simple as a community-driven Facebook group that you can monitor and interact with to give your community a sense of empowerment as well as a more transparent form of feedback to your DMO. These groups can meet annually or even monthly to raise concerns and debate what the DMO is or should be doing to keep the community at the forefront of its endeavors. This allows DMOs to hear what’s important to its community but also shows citizens that they are part of the bigger picture.

3. Exclusive look from the inside

People love getting inside something they think they know and seeing how it really works. Even Disney theme parks offer tours that delve into the inner workings and untold history of their parks. Your DMO might not hold the same appeal as a theme park, but there are still ways to provide “backstage” experiences for locals.

If your DMO is involved in a new hotel, a redesigned park, a new port, a new restaurant, or even an airport renovation, open it up to locals. Consider a site inspection with them, if appropriate, or a presentation of what the new site will look like. Have a chef bring samples of the new restaurant’s fare if you can organize it. Think of it as a “bring your local community to work day” and show them what goes on behind the scenes.

If people are willing to forgo the roller coasters for a tour of Disney World, you can bet there will be locals interested in your new convention center revamp!

4. Local guide certification

Locals who aren’t seeking a job but who may be interested in either volunteering or earning small amounts of extra income will readily take advantage of any DMO-sponsored certification for local guides or welcomers. Even big cities like Paris have greeter programs that empower local communities and facilitate a more community-driven tourism effort.

Building and offering a framework for these sorts of interactions is a powerful way to bring citizens into the fold and make it clear how DMOs benefit local communities.

5. Define a project for locals

Your local community probably isn’t keeping track of every single financial contribution your tourism dollars are making. While hotel taxes and other revenue from visitation may simply go into a bigger pot, it’s worth working with local authorities to create an annual project that destinations can identify as another way DMOs benefit local communities.

Refurbish a local garden. Repave a walkway. Replace a stretch of streetlights with more eco-friendly options. Get as creative as you want, but find a concrete cause that you and the media can point to in order to tell your local community, “Hey, we did that for you.” It will give your citizens a touchstone, something they can feel and experience personally, to remind them of all you do.

DMOs benefit local communities in concrete, meaningful ways – but maybe your destination is still scratching its head on how to do just that. At DCI, we have more than 60 years of experience working alongside destinations to better their communities. Get in touch with Karyl Leigh Barnes at [email protected] to learn more about what our destination marketing agency can do for your outreach efforts.