Key Takeaways from Destinations International’s 4/28 CEO COVID-19 Webinar

By Jim McCaul, Senior Vice President of Destination Stewardship at MMGY NextFactor

On Tuesday, Destinations International presented our bi-weekly COVID-19 CEO Update webinar. The webinar featured executives from MMGY NextFactor, the creators of DestinationNEXT, who shared details on a ground-breaking new initiative, OrganizationNEXT. The purpose of this program is to identify the key priorities for destination organizations to pursue during the next 6-18 month COVID-19 recovery phase. A survey is currently in the field to help organizations prioritize the various strategies that can be deployed to guide their response, recovery and resilience efforts. We hope that you will take part in this important initiative by completing this brief OrganizationNEXT survey.

Below are some key takeaways from the webinar.

Our George Bailey Moment

If you haven’t already taken the time to read Brad Dean’s inspiring article on LinkedIn, entitled “Our George Bailey Moment”, do yourself a favor and do so. And if you’re a new member of the 2020 Class of 30 Under 30, Google George Bailey first and then read the article.

In the article, Brad points out that like George Bailey, we’ve been given a glimpse into a world with no travel and tourism. And it isn’t pretty. “From henceforth,” he writes, “we need not be bashful when pointing out the innumerable benefits of travel.”

Brad is absolutely right. The silver lining in this devastating crisis is that is has shine a light on the tremendous impacts of visitor economies. It has opened an opportunity for destination organizations the play the larger role in our communities so many of us have been striving for.

But we cannot be naïve and assume now that “everyone gets it.” We have to step up to the plate and assert our role in guiding our industry and our communities through this crisis. We have to broader our networks and expand our influence beyond our traditional partners. And we have to listen to our neighbors, empathize with their concerns and do our best to address them transparently.

To paraphrase Clarence the Angel, we’ve been given a wonderful gift: the opportunity to see just how much travel and tourism matters. Let’s not waste it.

Startup Mentality

Working in an ever-changing environment with tremendous uncertainty and limited resources means that destination organizations will need to adopt a start-up mentality to survive and thrive. That means being nimble, creative and incredibly purpose-driven.

Here’s where you can start.

Encourage more questions: Startup teams have a mentality of asking questions. They’re not afraid to reinvent, repurpose, or even scrap the status quo. They look for ways to refine, simplify, and make processes smarter and leaner. Start asking questions like “How can we…?” or “Why don’t we…?” and then follow through on the answers. Get experts and other teams involved. 

Embrace change: The crisis is evolving. So be flexible like a startup and get rid of antiquated policies and procedures. Embrace the change. Our industry has talked about adapting our organizations for years. Now is the time to do so.

Make room for mistakes: Successful startups know that one good project can tinkering and trial and error. Communicate to your people that the process and effort are just as important as the result. As Thomas Edison said on his path to inventing the light bulb, "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work."

Remember why we’re here: Sure, passion for your work can fade over time, especially if you feel like you’re not making a difference. It’s important to remind ourselves and those around us about the differences we do make—and recognize the efforts and achievements often. 

Three Areas of Focus

In our conversations with leaders across the industry, three key areas have emerged for destinations to focus on in their response, recovery and resilience strategies:

  1. Community building: What are the most critical roles we should play in our community to be relevant in the next 12 months? How do we ensure we are at the table for all discussions and decisions for reopening our visitor economies? What needs to be done to rebuild the industry in a resilient and sustainable manner?
  2. Customer engagement: Which markets should we focus on in the short term to rebuild as quickly as possible? How do we maintain brand awareness for long term recovery? How do we continue to engage and deliver value to our customers?
  3. Sustainable organization: What is the mandate and most critical roles we should focus on in the next 12 months? How do we protect and diversify our funding resources? How do we leverage relationships with other organizations to share resources and create efficiencies?

A Unified Response

As Barry White from the Chattanooga Tourism Company pointed out last week, “we are not all in the same boat, but we are in the storm.” Response and recovery strategies will vary from destination to destination, however, if we are going to capitalize on our George Bailey moment as mentioned above, we’ll need a unified response message from across the industry. We hope that you will help us in developing that message by participating in our OrganizationNEXT survey here.

About the Author

Jim McCaul
Senior Vice President of Destination Stewardship
MMGY NextFactor
Jim helps cities worldwide curate more immersive destination experiences, manage sustainable visitor growth, promote equitable economic development and elevate quality of life and quality of place. He leads the development and evolution of MMGY NextFactor's destination master planning team and consulting practices. Jim has successfully delivered destination master plans for iconic cities such as a Los Angeles, burgeoning 'second cities' such as Richmond, VA and emerging destinations such as the Quad Cities.