Empowering Communities Through Destination Stewardship

girl sitting on a rock overlooking land

A transformative shift in tourism is afoot. It’s no longer enough for DMOs to focus their efforts solely on the visitor's needs, wants and behaviors. A new stakeholder group has emerged - and they are here to stay. Say hello (if you haven't already) to your residents.

A great place to live is a great place to visit - which is why communities are fast becoming the greatest stakeholders for DMOs to consider in their destination promotion, management and stewardship efforts. Embracing a community-centric approach not only fosters positive cultural interactions between residents and tourists but also encourages a sense of local pride. 

In this blog, we dive into destination stewardship, the role of the community and share some strategic ideas for how you can start, or continue, to empower your residents for the betterment of your place.

Stewardship is an “and”, not an “or”

One of the biggest questions we are asked by our DMO friends and clients is: does embarking on a Destination Stewardship journey mean we don’t do marketing any more?

Our answer - no. The heart of any successful destination stewardship strategy lies in recognizing your community's integral role in shaping your destination's identity. Stewardship and marketing aren't opposing forces. They work in tandem, interwoven to reinforce a destination's brand essence.

Your brand, and the marketing initiatives you put in place to tell your story to the world are a core and integral part of any stewardship strategy. They work together and when done right, should be uniquely ownable by you - and only you.

At Miles, we think of destination stewardship as your opportunity to "preserve your point of difference in the world by being a steward of your place, its peoples and unique history, culture and nature".

Your point of difference, or your brand essence, is found when you reach an equipoise of these four principles:

  • Economic Value & Prosperity
  • Protection & Respect for Heritage and Culture
  • Community Wellbeing & Inclusion
  • Environmental Preservation & Ecological Balance

When you create an equal footing between community and visitor needs, guided by these four values, you achieve destination balance

The journey towards this equilibrium involves placing the community at the core of decision-making processes. It begins with listening and seeking to understand your community's perception of tourism.

How do your residents feel about tourism in their own backyard? What are their perceptions of you, as the DMO? Do they know what you do, or why you exist? What are the pain points within your community that tourism has an impact on or perhaps more importantly - could be part of the solution to? 

Tourism has touch points everywhere.

For those embarking on the path of community-centric tourism, here are three fundamental considerations:

1. Rethink Success Metrics

Traditional Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) hold their importance, but expanding to encompass additional impact measures offers a more comprehensive perspective.  Consider these metrics to help you to paint a holistic picture of how your community engages with tourism in your destination:

Community Engagement and Empowerment: Create a platform to gauge community participation in tourism decisions.

Socio-economic Impact: Consider income and employment opportunities for community members, the growth of local businesses and entrepreneurship. Improvements in the overall quality of life within the community.

Cultural Preservation and Revitalization: How do you evaluate the success in preserving and revitalizing cultural heritage within communities or the degree of cultural exchange and interaction between tourists and community members?

Environmental Impact and sustainability: Do you, or could you, actively encourage reduction in waste and carbon footprint, the promotion of eco-friendly practices, and the involvement of the community in environmental conservation efforts?

Visitor Experience and the Satisfaction: Measure the levels of visitors who engage with community-centric tourism initiatives. 

Long-Term Commitment and Collaboration: Is there a way you can  assess the strength of partnerships between public sector, private sector and the local community, and the continuity of community-led initiatives?

2. Embrace the Digital Revolution

The digital revolution is providing platforms for engagement and participation that we have never seen before - and they are ever evolving. 

Online Platforms and Virtual Communities: Provide space for your residents to share ideas, feedback, and concerns related to tourism, allowing them to actively participate in discussion forums.

Crowdsourcing: Enlisting help from a literal crowd or community to seek innovative input and ideas for challenges you may be facing. A new take on problem solving. 

Citizen Science Initiatives: Engage community members and visitors in research and monitoring programmes to both empower and foster a sense of ownership in the preservation of your place.

Digital Storytelling and Local Content Creation: We’re all familiar with that one!

Feedback and Monitoring Systems: Allow community members to report issues, provide feedback, or suggest improvements related to destination stewardship. 

Decentralized Autonomous Organizations (DAOs): …Or at least the concept of. DAOs use blockchain technology to enable transparent decision-making and collective governance. Imagine a scenario where community members hold governance tokens, participate in voting processes, and contribute to the decision-making regarding tourism development, resource allocation, and sustainability initiatives.

3. Reimagine Governance Models

Participatory Planning, Public-Private-Community Models: Consider community-based tourism cooperatives to empower the community and ensure representative decision-making. These models amplify the voice of the community in shaping the future of tourism.

Destination Stewardship Councils (DSCs): DSCs build on the concept of a tourism council, or industry advisory group. They are responsible for a coordinated approach to sustainable tourism where private, public and civic representatives have defined responsibilities for the management of the four key principles we talked about earlier.

Post-COVID, DSCs have gained popularity as destinations seek to avoid returning to "business as usual" practices that have the potential to burden their communities. The World Travel and Tourism Council’s Destination Stewardship Framework suggests Destination Stewardship Councils as a ‘proactive approach, striking a balance between the needs of visitors, destinations, and residents.’ They are designed as collaborative, resilient, and long-term initiatives, involving various stakeholders from the tourism eco-system to ensure continuity - despite changes in leadership, government, and economic cycles.

In conclusion, the journey towards community-centered tourism is propelled by three core tenets:

  • Redefine Success: A comprehensive evaluation of impact measures provides a holistic perspective of a destination's influence.
  • Embrace Innovation: Leverage the digital revolution to amplify community engagement and participation.
  • Empower the Community: Listening to resident concerns and involving them in decision-making ensures a harmonious relationship between community and visitors.

These three things together, which will look different every DMO and at every stage of a destination stewardship journey, are a powerful mix to preserve your point of difference in the world by being a steward for your place, its peoples and unique history, culture and nature. 

He aha te mea nui o te ao 
What is the most important thing in the world? 
He tangata, he tangata, he tangata 
It is the people, it is the people, it is the people

- Maori proverb

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