Three Key Takeaways from the 2017 Futures Study

By: Jim McCaul

In early 2008, Destinations International (then DMAI) embarked on an effort to create a strategic roadmap for destination marketing. The outcome was a report published that same year entitled “The DMO Futures Study," which was designed to establish a framework that destination organizations could use to plan the future. Six months after the report was published, two entrepreneurs in San Francisco, California started a company based on a concept they conceived while renting air mattresses in their apartment. That company of course was Airbnb.

Six months after publishing the original Futures Study, it was already missing one of the major trends that would shape the next several years of our industry. What this demonstrated was the rapid pace of change taking place, and the need to look outside of the industry to forecast upcoming disruptions on the horizon.

It was for this very reason that the Destinations International Foundation committed to updating the 2014 Futures Study that laid the groundwork for DestinationNEXT on a continual basis. In 2017 we did just that, and the new study is meant to continue the important dialogue about the future of our industry and how we can further the impact we make in our local communities.

Here are three key takeaways from the 2017 Futures Study:

The Only Certainty Is Uncertainty: In the 2017 update, we wanted to identify new trends and strategies impacting our industry and compare those against trends and strategies identified in the 2014 baseline survey. What we found is that the industry is undergoing unprecedented change. 12 of the top 25 trends identified in the 2017 study, and 10 of the top 25 strategies, were new. These were trends or strategies that weren’t even being talked about just three years ago when we launched the baseline study.

What this tells us is that now, more than ever, strategic plans need to be flexible. If you think that you are going to open your five-year strategic plan for review in year four and say, “Yep, we’re exactly where we thought we would be”, you’re kidding yourself. Organizations must continually assess trends, adapt to changing customer expectations, and discover and drive new opportunities. Yes, you need a long-term vision for your organization and destination, but that vision has to be adaptable to the new realities of today.

Same Same, But Different: One of the key findings in the 2014 Futures Study, and in DestinationNEXT workshops conducted around the globe, was that destination organizations around the world were all struggling with a common issue: how to convince governments and stakeholders that tourism promotion should be viewed as an investment in a destination's economic growth and community well-being, versus an expense line item for "tourism promotion." In other words, how do we demonstrate that our industry is more than “heads in beds.”

The 2017 study, on the other hand, highlighted some differences in the challenges and opportunities facing destinations around the world. For example, “Disruption, in the form of changing business models, terrorism, pandemics, or natural disasters” was seen as a much greater issue for destinations in Europe, Asia Pacific, and the Middle East/Africa. The same is true for “Safety & security at destinations becoming a brand differentiator.” However, “Hotel taxes being increasingly vulnerable to alternative politically based projects” was seen as a much bigger issue for destinations in the U.S. when compared to the rest of the world.

There were numerous major differences in views among tourism organizations across world regions on the level of importance and impact of various destination strategies. These key differences were found in the areas of: destination management; market development; business events; funding; and management.

The Time Has Come For Reengineering: Our research identified five key roles we believe destination organizations should focus on in the future. These roles are: Curators of destination content; Adopters of business intelligence and data science; Catalysts of economic development; Activists in community placemaking; and Collaborators within strategic networks. These roles, in some cases, will be a significant departure from the current reality and will require identifying and nurturing core competencies.

Destination organization leaders must not only have the courage and foresight to make crucial choices about the strategic priorities that impact marketplace performance. They also have to look internally at their governance and management competencies to ensure their organization has the structural alignment and skill sets to effectively implement their choices. Such an evaluation requires a rethinking and possible re-engineering of how they are designed to achieve success.

Download the DestinationNEXT Futures Study here. 

About Jim McCaul:

As Vice President of Destination Products Management, McCaul oversees the development and execution of growth strategies for the association’s destination products, including DestinationNEXT, DestinationFRIST, DMAP, empowerMINT and the Event Impact Calculator.

McCaul has over 10 years of experience in the tourism industry and has worked on projects for a multitude of destination marketing organizations around the world. He began his career as a market research analyst with YPartnership (now MMGY Global). In this capacity McCaul gathered insight into the evolving travel habits, preferences and intentions of North Americans, and implemented research projects for DMOs including the Mexico Tourism Board, Bahamas Ministry of Tourism and the Papua New Guinea Tourism Authority. 

Prior joining Destinations International, McCaul served as the Online Marketing Specialist for the Namibia Tourism Board, as part of a development project for the Millennium Challenge Corporation. McCaul has served a number of roles at Destinations International, beginning as Content Manager, before being promoted to Director of Communications and his current role as Vice President of Destination Products Management. He holds a Masters of Tourism Administration with a focus in Sustainable Destination Management from The George Washington University.