Advocacy Summit 2020 Day One: Our Strategic Inflection Points

by: Destinations International Advocacy & Research Team

With Advocacy Summit 2020, we kicked off the fourth year of the little Summit that could. Every year we approach it with the intention to top the previous summit. With each Summit, we have addressed topics from the weaponization of travel, flashpoint politics, and advocacy in the face of ideology. This year, we shifted our attention to some new issues, while revisiting some Advocacy themes that we had addressed before, but of course through the lens of the pandemic.

Learning from Our History
Jack Johnson

In the opening presentation by Maura Gast there was a quick snippet of information that I think is one of the biggest takeaways from the history lesson. When we became funded primarily by the Hotel Occupancy Tax, we lost our civic focus.  Instead we aligned ourselves even closer than before to the hotel industry. Putting “heads in beds” became our mission.  Occupancy, average daily rate and revenue per available room became our measurements. Our boards became to be overly dominated by hotel general managers. And as the hotel industry became dominated by chains, corporate pressure to perform placed on general managers created short term thinking and a revenue manager type of thinking. We believe that this is the point where we started becoming vulnerable.  It seems ok when times are good, but during a squeeze we will have issues.

Resident Sentiment
Andreas Weissenborn

From our beginnings in Baltimore, Amir Eylon of Longwoods International has been with us from the start, to visitor satisfaction, the halo effect, and research for destination organizations. As we had begun to pivot proclaiming the resident are your primary customer, so did Longwoods. With this year, it marked the third iteration of their resident sentiment study. Here are a few big takeaways from this year:

  • Residents value and believe tourism are good for their community but differ or even oppose when it comes to how to fund it.
  • We are a common good; residents see our industry in the same way as other common goods (safety, education, public works) and it is upon us to continue to help keep our position amongst the goods.
  • The more informed your residents are to tourism the bigger the supporters will be for our sector; however different messaging applies to keeping our stakeholders informed when it comes to quality of life influences and basic compensation our industry brings.

The Tourism Lexicon
Andreas Weissenborn

It goes without saying that the pandemic has forever altered how our politicians are speaking through their social platforms. We knew that going into the process of pulling the new 30 words across three countries. It is important to remind us that words matter; they are a window into our values and serve as a continuous engagement point to our stakeholders.

The ‘borderless’ 13 show that common values regarding transparency, knowledge sharing, and being informed translate across the globe. While references to the current health crisis linger up and own the lexicon chart, each country showed different placements on its emphasis on government or business in relation to other common goods. Implementation of the tourism lexicon shows the various levels at which a destination organization can execute upon. From staff training, to website collateral and annual reports, work can always be done to talk about ourselves as a community shared value.

Funding Strategies During the Pandemic Recession
Gabriel Seder

I sat down with Ray Hoyt, President of Tulsa Regional Tourism, and John Lambeth of Citivas Advisors to examine how Hoyt has spent his tenure in Tulsa diversifying his funding streams, creating some degree of resiliency through the pandemic. By building strong relationships with Tulsa’s business community, Visit Tulsa has attracted millions of dollars in investment from the non-tourism business sector, and has earned a strong return on this investment by transforming Tulsa into a sports, music, cultural, and events hub—improving the city’s quality of life and enabling employers to attract and retain talent.

We also looked at Tulsa’s strategy to develop a tourism improvement district, allowing it leverage additional funds from the hospitality sector—while Lambeth described a trend among destination organizations to develop improvement districts that tap into revenues from unusual including dining, retail, sports, and others.

Can Advocacy Accelerate Recovery & Resident Sentiment
Jack Johnson

Toward the end of Adam Sacks's presentation was a great chart showing the oversized impact of the economic downturn on our industry sector.  Adam proclaimed, and I have repeated recently in a conversation with the staff of the US Conference of Mayors, that there is no recovery unless our sector recovers.  We represent too much of the damage. But walking the dogs the other morning, I connected that thought with something in Amir Eylon’s presentation that showed that people who considered themselves informed about our industry were more likely to believe it was primarily made up of low paying jobs.

Now is the time to point out whenever possible, to anyone who will listen that yes, there is no recovery without our sector recovering AND that means more than just servers, bartenders, housekeepers, janitors and flight attendants.  It means salespeople, managers, buyers, executives, drivers, florists, farmers and other food and beverage providers, linen and uniform suppliers, plumbers, electricians, bankers, etc. It means not just the front of the house but a huge management staff, owners and investors behind them. It means a whole network that makes up the supply chains.  And it means tens of thousands of small businesses that have closed.

Economic development starts with a visit. So does the recovery.

We need to return to our greater civic role, our broader mission, our larger economic measurements. We need to be viewed as a community asset that fills a real need. We need to represent a shared value in each of our communities. It is time to get back to our roots.

Advocacy Summit Day Two

If you attended Day One of Advocacy 2020, you can always revisit these sessions. We hope you’ll join us for another day of groundbreaking presentations and thoughtful discussions when we meet for Advocacy Summit 2020 Day Two on November 12.