Five Benefits Of Engaging Locals Through Tourism Focus Groups

February 03, 2022

The pandemic caused destination marketing organizations to focus inward on local communities while tourism paused. Now as we emerge, DMOs and locals have never been so connected, but that bond requires continued nurturing. While destination organizations continue to rebuild, it’s imperative to remember that a happy and well-served local community is the ultimate goal. Without an engaged local community, sustainable tourism will never prosper.

Don’t believe us? Just ask anyone living in Venice!

Outside research and trends are important, but conducting your own primary research always gives you an advantage. There are a thousand and one ways to serve your local community, but conducting tourism focus groups locally is a big step in showing local residents that you value their opinions while offering you the chance to learn. Sit down with a group of diverse locals, get them talking about their impressions of tourism in their community, find out what they are thinking, and use their feedback to guide the next big tourism development decision. This act in and of itself will ensure everyone is winning.

The concrete benefits of using tourism focus groups as a means to engage locals and build consensus around tourism in your community are easy to spell out, and there are many examples of destinations finding them fruitfu in recent months. Here’s a little primer if you need to convince your CEO that it’s the right research approach to take.

1. Engage Locals Meaningfully

First and foremost, as stated, a focus group brings locals into the picture in a concrete way. Rather than some anonymous town hall or web conference, a focus group invites people in, by name, to sit and discuss their impression of the value of tourism to the local community.

It engages locals. Tourism focus groups says, “Hey, you, we want your opinion.” Humans respond well to these sorts of calls that are a more effective way to elicit meaningful feedback. Whether virtually or in-person, a focus group allows your destination organization to engage anyone from local leaders and businesses to everyday citizens – all of whom are affected by your destination marketing decisions.

2. Obtain Honest Insight

The trade-off for a destination organization in spending time on focus groups is the potential to gain real insight, not just light feedback or rants from disgruntled community members. Instead, a focus group lets you guide the conversation in real time, to poke and prod at responses and push respondents to give you more when you uncover some new idea or insight. Online surveys and questionnaires just don’t offer that sort of potential.

Statistics are useful, of course, when making decisions, but having the qualitative feedback – like honest insights from your locals – help humanize the decision-making process. It’s the best way to avoid stepping on any local toes that you may need to support you in future decisions.

3. Open Up Dialogue

More than just insight, focus groups open up a dialogue that other forms of community engagement may not provide. Not only does it give the community members a chance to converse with representatives of a destination, it also gets participants talking amongst themselves during the session. It’s in these improvised moments that some of the best insight evolves.

It’s all too rare that community members can engage directly with a destination’s leadership to understand, to ask questions, to suggest, or even to praise. A tourism focus group is the perfect opportunity for all of this.

4. Get the Community Talking

The dialogue, however, extends beyond the focus group. You might think that this research tactic ends when the group ends, but those participants will take those discussions and ideas back to the community. They’ll discuss or debate them with others. They’ll share them over dinner. They’ll think about them when they are making decisions about whether to shop locally or go to a national chain.

A focus group can’t rally the entire community to your ideas and projects, but it can be a way to help spread the word, albeit slowly, that the destination is eager to take its locals into consideration for the next big project or campaign.

5. Generate Interest in DMO Activity

And when the community does start talking more, its members will show more active interest in your projects. Few locals think about how their city or region is presented to visitors, but with dialogues and ideas that emanate from a well-run focus group, that can all change.

When your community becomes aware and vocal about how your destination moves forward with each big decision, you won’t have to reach out to them as much anymore. They’ll come to you directly to question and critique, to deliver their thoughts and opinions so that you can cooperate with them as each new hotel goes up or each new park is built.

It may seem like you’re inviting complications, but for long-term success, having your local community invested in the tourism sector and eager to work with you is a solution for sustainable success.

Looking to think more about engaging your local community? At DCI we have more than 60 years of experience working with destinations on doing just that. Get in touch with Robyn Domber at [email protected] to learn about organizing focus groups and other ways to engage your local community members.