The Value of Engagement


by: Jack Johnson, Destinations International

The fourth in our series of posts describing the values that today’s destination organization must represent to become an effective advocate for its community. Learn more about Destinations International’s Community Alignment Roadmap.

To date we have covered four key values in the operation of a destination organization. First, destination passion is an intense enthusiasm for our destination, our community, and its people. Second, destination awareness is a concern about and well-informed interest in the history, situation, people, and/or development in our specific destination. Next comes the values of transparency and inclusion. A destination organization must achieve community trust by being proactively open, responsible, and honest and they achieve that by operating in a transparent and inclusive manner. Living those four values creates the environment for a successful implementation of the fifth value – destination engagement.

Simply put, engagement is active participation in your community and being invested in what happens in your community. According to Thomas Ehrlich of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, "Civic engagement means working to make a difference in the civic life of our communities and developing the combination of knowledge, skills, values, and motivation to make that difference. It means promoting the quality of life in a community, through both political and nonpolitical processes."

Destination Engagement is a subgroup of civic engagement. The value is focused on making a difference in our community through the power of travel. We define this engagement as the process of informing and listening to groups of people within our destination to address issues affecting the wellbeing of the community and promotion of the destination.

We value our residents and treat them as our first customer. They are our front-line destination ambassadors, advocates, and beneficiaries of the destination promotion of our community. They are the foundation of our destination brand and help us build a quality of place.

We treat our visitors as the valued guests they are. They provide critical resources that improve our community as well as providing sparks of excitement and inspiration that improve our quality of life.

Engagement photo

Because we never assume residents understand the value of destination promotion and what we do as a leader in this area, we create regular and on-going interaction with our residents. And because our residents and the community they form are at the heart of the destination brand, we listen as much, if not more, than inform. And we find a way of collecting and measuring sentiment, opinions, interaction and ideas of both visitors and residents so that we can adapt our messaging, marketing, and other promotional efforts to support our destination, our community.

By considering residents from the very first moment, by engaging them along the whole process of destination promotion you reduce the risk of surprises later in the process. But just as important you also make your residents feel that they influence the promotional decisions that are being executed on their behalf, and that you listen to their concerns and that with you, they share ownership of the efforts. Engaging with residents provides an excellent opportunity to not only build trust with your community but develop a better promotional and sales effort and a true reflection of your community in the destination brand.

A few things to take into consideration in developing your engagement.  First, there must be reciprocity, a mutually beneficial exchange of information, resources and understanding. Consider the expertise and experience that exists in the members of the community in the design, facilitation, and evaluation of promotional initiatives and strategic planning efforts. Consider seeking to do promotion with the community rather than to do it for the community.

Second, you most likely will need to educate people as part of this effort. Remember that residents may not fully understand the value of destination promotion, the impact of travel and what destination organizations do as the leader in this area. Engagement should consider the attitudes, skills, and knowledge level of the community members you are engaging with.

Third, remember to be transparent and inclusive. Destination promotion is unique in that it involves the use of other people’s resources, promoting other people’s property or assets and using an impression, a concept, an idea known as a brand that represents the community as a whole and therefore, is really owned by everyone who resides and makes up that community. This involves trust which is earned first by being transparent and inclusive.

As part of this, show respect for diversity, broadly and inclusively defined, in all your engagement. Actively challenge any biases, stereotypes, and assumptions regarding the community. Seek out and respect other experiences, other histories. Acknowledge and explore any differences in culture between segments within the community and identity, experience, and/or culture between engagement participants to increase learning and understanding.

Fourth, take time for reflection and evaluation. Intentionally incorporate opportunities for reflection before, during, and after engagement. Involve community stakeholders in reflection whenever possible. And include opportunities to gather feedback from participants and stakeholder to assess value and impact and inform future projects.

Finally, remember to listen! Engage the community with a listening and learning attitude that is mindful of the community’s needs, assets, and interests. View engagement as a valuable learning opportunity that expands your understanding of the destination.

Operating in a way that is routinely making sure you allow the community the opportunities to share and contribute thoughts and ideas may be more time consuming, but it will make your destination promotion efforts stronger and your organization more stable.