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Why DMOs and Tourism Organizations Do not Really 'Get/Attract Visitors': Uncovering the Truth behind a Cargo Cult



The term "getting visitors" is a colloquial expression of the assumption that tourist organizations of all sorts (DMOs) (Destination Marketing/Management Organizations) can attract new or additional visitors to a destination especially by using communication tools. In this article, we use well-founded scientific studies, critical reasoning, and practical considerations to argue that this assumption rarely holds. Eleven selected myths surrounding the practice of DMOs are critically examined and characterized as a cargo cult. It turns out that huge effort is put into creating extremely little added value in terms of additional visitors. The consequences, especially for today's "marketing-oriented" DMOs, are far-reaching. DMOs still have legitimacy. But this must be based on the original rationale behind DMOs, specifically as a solution to instances of market failure in public spaces.
Why DMOs and Tourism Organizations Do not Really 'Get/Attract Visitors':
Uncovering the Truth behind a Cargo Cult
Pietro Beritelli, Christian Laesser
The term "getting visitors" is a colloquial expression of the assumption that tourist organizations of all
sorts (DMOs) (Destination Marketing/Management Organizations) can attract new or additional visitors
to a destination especially by using communication tools. In this article, we use well-founded scientific
studies, critical reasoning, and practical considerations to argue that this assumption rarely holds.
Eleven selected myths surrounding the practice of DMOs are critically examined and characterized as
a cargo cult. It turns out that huge effort is put into creating extremely little added value in terms of
additional visitors. The consequences, especially for today's "marketing-oriented" DMOs, are far-
reaching. DMOs still have legitimacy. But this must be based on the original rationale behind DMOs,
specifically as a solution to instances of market failure in public spaces.
Keywords: DMO, "getting visitors", "attracting visitors" cargo cult, destination marketing, destination
communication, destination branding
This article was originally published in German as:
Beritelli, P. and Laesser, C. (2019). Warum DMOs und Tourismusorganisationen nicht wirklich
‘Gäste holen’ – Die Aufklärung eines Cargo-Kults. In: Schweizer Jahrbuch für Tourismus 2018/
2019. T. Bieger, P. Beritelli and C. Laesser. Berlin, Erich Schmidt: 53-83.
With this translation, the authors have freely interpreted and slightly adapted the original version
to fit to an international audience.
Please, cite this document as follows:
Beritelli, P. and Laesser, C. (2019). Why DMOs and Tourism Organizations Do not Really
'Get/Attract Visitors': Uncovering the Truth behind a Cargo Cult. IMP-HSG, University of St.
Gallen. St. Gallen.
DOI: 10.6084/m9.figshare.9924428
ISBN: 978-3-9524416-7-1
P. Beritelli, C. Laesser
1 Introduction
We believe that destination marketing and management operate under a number of
misunderstandings and false beliefs. Over the past ten years or so, we have increasingly observed
that a number of principles derived from research and practice have taken on a momentum that has
brought an entire generation of tourist professionals (practitioners and academics alike) to subscribe
to theories that do not hold up at all or only partially under careful scrutiny. In our view, this
development is disconcerting, since among other things following this dogma leads to actions that
generate high costs while proving useless or at best highly ineffective. In this article we attempt to
explain the following:
1. We expose as "myths" a total of eleven beliefs and action logics that in our view are un-
2. We apply scientific findings and lines of argument to these eleven myths to demonstrate
that these beliefs may in fact be myths rather than facts;
3. At the same time, we include critically reflected practical knowledge, or in other words,
4. We thereby encourage the reader to pause and reflect on real travel behavior, from both
personal experience and observation.
Before proceeding with this in the next chapter, we note that our argumentation may sound somewhat
polemical. Our observations are however based on actual discussions and observations in the field as
well as from academia, not only in Alpine countries and Switzerland but also from our work on an
international level. It is obvious that no single destination or its management and/or marketing
organization (DMO) subscribes to all eleven myths at the same time. Still, we have encountered
combinations of these eleven myths in every possible variation in the reasoning of destination
representatives. This article should not be understood as a provocation, but as a well-intentioned and
serious critical examination of supposed facts using scientific findings and arguments. This is not
about engaging in "DMO Bashing." At the end in fact we offer ideas on how to further develop the work
of such organizations, which we still regard as important actors in tourism marketing, where this
marketing is understood as taking into account all instruments and dimensions. The reader is invited
to critically examine in turn the case we make in this article in the hope that this will produce a fruitful
discussion from which everyone can learn. We would be gratified with this outcome.
When we speak of DMOs in this article, we mean local, regional, and national tourism organizations or
agencies. Normally a fine distinction would be made between the tasks of these organizations. But
based on the assumption that all these organizations "acquire/get visitors," all of them follow the same
thought patterns and carry out the same activities. In fact, in practice we observe that many of the
activities described in this article are being pursued by DMOs at all levels.
2 The Myths and their impact
Here we introduce several myths prevalent in science and practice that originated in the belief that
DMOs can bring visitors to a destination. In other words, it is assumed that a local, regional or national
Why DMOs and Tourism Organizations Do not Really 'Get/Attract Visitors'
tourism organization or agency has the means and capabilities to influence tourists in such a way that
they come to a destination precisely because of the efforts of the DMO. This belief is historically
rooted in the 1970s at the latest, when advertising and communication became more important,
especially for consumer goods. At that time, tourism directors across the world had to legitimize
themselves, their organizations, and their use of additional state revenues and taxes. But first things
Myth 1: Destination branding by DMOs brings visitors to the destination.
Popular science publications today propagate the belief that a brand created by a DMO brings (more)
visitors to a destination. In most cases, an advertising agency is hired to carry out an extensive
analysis of the destination, with the result that some abstract terms and features (e.g. "brand core")
are crystallized. In at least as extensive brand processes, which are also known as "brand strategies"
or simply "strategic processes," possible projects and in particular advertising content are formulated
for selected geographic markets or general target groups. As costly and involved as these processes
are, they generally produce little of consequence. Often they generate (1) a new logo and (2) a new
communications campaign. In research, this approach has been questioned for some time (e.g.
Anholt, 2008).
Counterargument: Destination brands of DMOs are at best (territorial) markers.
To date, there are virtually no serious studies on the effectiveness of destination branding, especially
in the case where entire countries are not destinations. At any rate, the impact of advertising seems to
be very low not only for destinations but even for single visitor businesses (Stienmetz, Maxcy, &
Fesenmaier, 2015). We therefore thoroughly examined this topic in a recent study (Beritelli & Laesser,
2018). The majority of practitioners and researchers are liable to four fundamental fallacies or errors of
Fallacy 1: "reverse branding." By this we mean that the name of a place, region, or country has often
been known as a geographical name for centuries, and images of such places have likewise been
formed over a long period of time. Brand consultants and destination managers misappropriate this
fact by first talking about a currently world-famous place in their presentations and then, for example,
making a connection to the logo of the corresponding DMO. In this way, they insinuate that the public's
knowledge of the destination is due to the DMO's good branding. However, in reality the place's name
has been around for a long time, and when we talk about such places, we do not have DMO logos
with their brand names or their communication content in mind. Well-known geographical names of
places or regions are much older, are mostly not rooted in tourism, and are more prominent in the
minds of the visitors than touristic keywords and associations combined with a logo deliberately
created by the DMO for that purpose.
Another erroneous approach (fallacy 2) is the argument that well-known consumer or capital goods
brands should serve as models for destination brands. First, the argument goes, consumer brands like
i-Phone or Coca-Cola are famous and unmistakable because companies with marketing departments
and large budgets stand behind them. It is then suggested that the same can be done for places and
P. Beritelli, C. Laesser
regions. However, a tourist destination is obviously not a product prefabricated by the provider, but
rather an experience space that makes various resources available to the visitor. In fact, you can take
all your own vacation trips as examples and ask yourself what the product was and who actually (co)-
produced what. You yourself were so strongly and prominently involved in the co-production of your
experiences that one can actually speak of the traveler as co-producer (Beritelli & Bieger, 2015;
Kaspar, 1995; Maggi, 2014; Smith, 1994). Even if you visit the same place twice, you will (co) produce
completely different experiences. Your memories and associations change with every new experience.
This is because a destination is not a product that objectively and factually provides the same
functions and benefits to all consumers1. In a tourist destination, providers provide at best combinable
elements for a coherent experience. To assume that a DMO should have control over the brand
management and the corresponding experiences during the stay bespeaks a huge over-estimation of
its importance.
Fallacy 3: "Blurry communication" Ultimately, it is claimed that it is primarily about the communication
content and not the logo. After all, no one would make such an effort for just a logo. Destination
managers and their consultants often say: "A brand is not a logo." And yet it is exactly that, since
DMOs can only transmit general, vague, interchangeable messages because of their limited
resources, the heterogeneity of the various visitor resources and offers in "their" space, and their
strong dependence on their stakeholders. Thus, they violate the basic principles of branding, such as
clear positioning through differentiation, uniqueness of services, competitive position, clearly defined
target group(s), long-lasting consistency in behavior, and so on. The logo is often the only constant
and thus the message's only recognition feature. And this is often not clearly recognizable either. On
the other hand, unique attractions – at best unique services, cultural expression and the like – are
recognizable. Let us illustrate this briefly. The illustration below shows that for cases 1-4, there is no
chance of recognizing which places or regions are being discussed, precisely because the logo has
been covered over. There are very few places in the world (e.g. Paris) that are world-famous thanks to
strong "markers" (attractions, events, or such). A photo of such a place has no need for a logo or a
1 The use of the term "product" in relation to travel generally leads to erroneous conclusions be-cause it is assumed in tourism a supplier pro-
duces something and then prices and sells it ac-cording to demand. The actual production process, however, is triggered by the travelers them-
selves through their travels and is gradually formed into an experience through their own deci-sions. To speak of "products" offered by a service
provider is to use an incorrect term, which of-ten leads to an inflated estimation of the providers' role in this process. Put accurately, they only
provide services. Package tours as well are not "products" but should be more accurately termed a bundle of services (or services with a specific
price) and understood as such.
Why DMOs and Tourism Organizations Do not Really 'Get/Attract Visitors'
Figure 1: No logo, no recognition due to "blurry communication"
Source: (Beritelli & Laesser, 2018)
The fourth fallacy was revealed in a study (Beritelli & Laesser, 2018). Here, 1.600 respondents were
asked in each of four famous Swiss destinations (4 x 400) to recognize the right logo next to three
wrong ones; first for the place they were currently visiting and then for the other three destinations.
The ones who recognized it best were the interviewees who were in each place and in places where
the logo was seen practically everywhere. Zermatt, which is plastered over with logos, had the highest
recognition. Respondents in the group coming in second place were in locales they had previously
visited. It was found that the less time that had elapsed since their previous trip to this destination, the
more likely the respondents were to guess the correct logo. The worst recognition of a logo was by
respondents who had never been to the destination and, if they had seen the logo at all, had seen it in
the media. In this last case, they mostly misidentified it. Indeed, the impact of advertising is highly
dependent on the frequency (as often as possible) and recency (as recent as possible) of the
messages (Higgins & King, 1981; Levin, Joiner, & Cameron, 2001; Nelson, 2002; Zajonc, 1968). Even
the largest budgets2 are not enough to enshrine a lasting, clear message.
The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority has a total budget of approximately US$350 million, with a large portion, actually more than
US$100 million, spent for advertising, Do you also remember their advertising campaign, if you saw it? Is that why you went to Las Vegas, if you
ever did?
P. Beritelli, C. Laesser
We conclude that destination brands can be used at most for a few, clearly delimitable spaces (e.g.
cultural attractions) or then, in a reduced form, as a territorial marker, similar to a municipal coat of
arms or the place name sign at the entry/exit of a town. This has unequivocally to do with the original
definition of a trademark. For example, Kotler assigned "brand name" early on as an attribute of the
product and not as part of "promotion" (Kotler, 1980). Today, we still define the brand as an attribute
that sets our product/service apart from others: "... [a brand is ...] name, term, design, symbol, or any
other feature that identifies one's good or service as distinct from those of other sellers. (AMA, 2010;
K. L. Keller, 2003).» So if you're looking for your favorite shampoo on a supermarket shelf and quickly
recognize it, it’s been well "branded" (i.e. marked, labelled).
Why DMOs and Tourism Organizations Do not Really 'Get/Attract Visitors'
Myth 2: The more communication DMOs engage in («buzz/ background noise»), the more
visitors will come.
This myth ties in with the first myth. Here it is maintained that you simply have to engage in a lot of
communication. Somehow, at some point, you will be noticed. The marketing mix – more technically
correct – the communication mix, is misunderstood in such a way that as many channels of
communication are used for 'market development'.3 In the end, travelers will surely remember the
advertisement or the communication message and then book a corresponding trip. In reality, though,
the marketing mix or the communication mix presupposes that the provider thoroughly understands
the effect of the various instruments and uses only the one with the strongest leverage. Anyone who
uses all channels of communication either has no knowledge about their effect and/or too much
money at his or her disposal.
Counterargument: DMO-driven communication to attract visitors rarely reaches the (potential)
If, as established by the study described above for Myth 1, DMO-initiated communication is only rarely
and too briefly perceived, it is clear that only fragments of this message will remain in people's
memories. In the worst case a message sent for Destination A is kept in mind by the potential visitors
as a message for a similarly equipped, comparable Destination B. The following illustration shows how
this myth has led to ever-increasing expenditure on destination communication. Of the two anonymous
vacation destinations in Switzerland, overnight stays and the budget were indexed. The figure shows
how, despite stagnation and continued declines in overnight stays, increasing amounts of money are
being spent by DMOs largely on communication. In phase 1, the traditional tasks of a tourist office are
still being performed. Since the 1990s, people have been scrambling to increase budgets for
"destination marketing" (which means primarily communication) (point 2). Today, this belief has
become so deeply rooted that no one questions whether it makes sense (point 3). The competition is
always increasing and more and more must be spent on communication to be noticed. In actuality,
however, DMOs' activities are marketing frills.
3 In this context, the term "market development" is curiously overblown. It is assumed that one can influence a market for one's own purposes in
the same way as one can for example pre-pare dough to make a good bread. In reality, the travelers decide and act in all manners except as the
DMO desires.
P. Beritelli, C. Laesser
Figure 2: Race for "Destination Marketing" leads to continuously increasing DMO budgets
Source: (Beritelli, Reinhold, Laesser, & Bieger, 2015, p. 121)
The so-called "buzz/ background noise" or, in other words, the attempt to engage in communication
because everyone else does, falls short and shows that DMOs have no idea exactly which clear
message should be sent to which target group. The term "buzz/ background noise" hints at the belief
that one should not miss anything, especially where putative competitors are concerned4. This also
produces the institutionally driven version of this myth, which has generated another misnomer of
destination marketing: "Have a high profile/ Show presence."
This puts the tourism experts in good company with other industries: Various advertising studies have shown that companies often advertise
because their competitors have done so, for ex-ample with detergent ads on television.
Why DMOs and Tourism Organizations Do not Really 'Get/Attract Visitors'
Myth 3: The more the DMOs are present ("Have a high profile/ Show presence”), the more
visitors will come.
This term is used above all for public fairs or other events at which DMOs can present themselves at a
stand. "Presence" is also shown in the media by introducing a new campaign to "attract visitors," for
Counterargument: The DMOs are present where their financial backers are located and where
other DMOs are present.
To debunk this myth, a few critical questions and common sense are sufficient. Have you ever gone to
a travel fair to plan a trip? When you went to the travel fair, did you bring along any documents or
information that you used to book your trip with? If so, was this at a DMO's stand or at a tour
operator's who advertised specific offers? How many times has it happened to you that you were so
impressed by a DMO stand at a public fair or other sports or cultural event that you went straight home
and booked a trip, or recalled this impression years later and booked then? It has long been
recognized that public fairs count for next to nothing in travelers' decisions (a value of 1.14 on a scale
of 1 (not at all) to 4 (very strongly); only radio and TV-advertisements score worse (T Bieger &
Laesser, 2004).
In actuality, showing presence has more to do with institutional representation. In truth, large sums of
money are spent on stands at expos and fairs where other regions and countries are also
represented. Many destination managers then allow themselves to be blinded by the appearance of
their "competitors" and hope to look good in the eyes of their paying stakeholders, including politicians.
They make these comparisons without realizing that their actual potential visitors do not frequent
these venues or do not use them to make their travel decisions. In the end, however, all the
stakeholders present there are satisfied because they have seen "their" destination represented. In
this way, this myth has stubbornly persisted for decades.
P. Beritelli, C. Laesser
Myth 4: The more marketing DMOs do, the more visitors will come.
In the 1980s tourism researchers themselves lent weight to this mistaken notion. For periods and
countries in which tourism increased, correlations (A and B are related) or more advanced regressions
(A leads to B) were manufactured between DMOs' (marketing) budgets and arrivals/overnight stays.
The results were sometimes significant and positive (e.g. Uysal & Crompton, 1984; Uysal & O'Leary,
Counterargument: The vast majority of the "evidence" for this is either spurious correlations or
even inverse causalities.
Spurious or pseudo-correlations are the curse of statistics as well as a constant danger, even for
economists. They arise when the researcher examines the relationship between two variables using
probability statistics. Significant and even strong relationships can also appear between two variables
which (1) have nothing at all to do with one another and/or (2) where just the right data points or the
appropriate years are found that produce a significant correlation. The reason for these problems is
simple: An equation represents the same thing in different ways on both sides. An equal sign can thus
never establish a causality that specifies the direction or the influence (cf. the chicken-and-egg
problem). Obvious cases of pseudo-correlations are entertaining (Vigen, 2015). But significant
relationships between the (marketing) expenditures of the DMOs and statistical quantities such as
arrivals or overnight stays can always be constructed if a suitable period is selected and ever more is
spent for destination marketing. The sketches below show four different cases. In the first case
(Quadrant I) we find destinations and countries that because of their remoteness, for example, are still
very rarely visited. At the same time institutions and organizations are of limited significance, because
the state provides few services or because the areas are sparsely populated. Remote areas and
regions such as large parts of Russia, Central African countries, and Greenland are in this category.
But there are also numerous cases in Quadrant II. DMOs are hardly present here and offer at best
local information. Here the role of institutions is limited or the state lacks financial and personnel
resources. Tourism, on the other hand, is flourishing and the destination is enjoying increasing
numbers of visitors. Mediterranean destinations, especially in countries such as Italy, Greece as well
as the Balkans, where budgets are no longer used for tourism, can be found in this quadrant. But
comparisons can be made with neighboring destinations. For example, the German shore of Lake
Constance is currently registering a rapid increase in the number of visitors without the DMOs having
received larger budgets (Case II). By contrast, the number of visitors on the Swiss side is stagnating,
despite stable or increasing DMO expenditures (Case IV).
The myth that has encouraged the belief that more spending on tourism and thus bigger budgets for
the DMOs will produce more visitors has been strengthened by studies of cases belonging to the time
frame found in Quadrant II. In fact, studies are more likely to be commissioned for such periods. With
the increasing importance of tourism, people seek to demonstrate the role of DMO budgets and to
show how better to manage and market them.
Why DMOs and Tourism Organizations Do not Really 'Get/Attract Visitors'
Figure 3: DMO budget and number/growth of visitors - All possible cases
source: own illustration.
It is notable that there are sufficient examples of all four cases and that there is therefore no
scientifically robust evidence (e.g. Deskins & Seevers, 2011), that these two variables are related.
"Not really": In an Australian study that examined whether more marketing expenditures generated
higher numbers of visitors, the authors were obliged to acknowledge a limitation in the study (Crouch,
Schultz, & Valerio, 1992). Crouch et al. argued that the significant correlation allowed not only a
causality in one direction, such that "the higher the budget, the more visitors," but also permitted an
inverse causality, such that "the more visitors, the higher the budget." The latter is at least as plausible
as the former. This inverse causality actually reflects immediate and more easily comprehensible
mechanisms. As tourism figures rise, it will be easier to lobby for more funds for the benefit of the
industry. In many other cases there is even a fiscal automatism, e.g. turnover or overnight-based
taxes. Some of these mechanisms are also partially enshrined in law. Thus, at a given visitor's tax
P. Beritelli, C. Laesser
rate, the budget of the DMO increases continuously, as long as more visitors arrive. This leads the
DMO to market more actively in good times and to look less critically at the impact of the funds used.
What is unfortunately increasingly happening in various Alpine destinations is case IV, where declining
visitor numbers are causing a drop in visitor taxes. The shortfall has to be made up for by tapping
other sources of funding in order "to remain competitive," i.e. spending more on communication.
Why DMOs and Tourism Organizations Do not Really 'Get/Attract Visitors'
Myth 5: DMOs attract new visitors through social media and with the help of influencers.
Some DMO managers and marketers have recognized the problems detailed above. Hence, they are
focusing on a new communications topic: Social media and in particular influencers. The topic of
influencer marketing is not really new. In the past, opinion leaders and testimonials were also used in
tourism to try to attract new visitors. If celebrities buy a product or visit a place, many others will imitate
them, according to this belief.
Counterargument: The sender of the message is critical, not the channel.
Consumer influence via social networks (not just digital ones) actually exists, as shown for example in
studies on imitation of cigarette smoking by adolescents (Sen & Basu, 2000), in clubs (Lee, Cotte, &
Noseworthy, 2010), in neighborhoods (e.g. Yang & Allenby, 2003), and, of course, in the context of
visits, for example with friends (Wheeler & Stutz, 1971). What most studies have in common, however,
is that the influenced know the influencer personally and normally maintain a dialog with them. In fact,
the word-of-mouth (WOM) mechanism plays a more important role than the channel itself used to
send the recommendation5. WOM plays an especially central role in travel (Mazzarol & Soutar, 2002;
Michael, Armstrong, & King, 2004; Murphy, Moscardo, & Benckendorff, 2007; O'Leary & Morrison,
1995; Stokes, 2008). The overriding importance of word-of-mouth advertising has also been
demonstrated in Switzerland with and without social media (e.g. Laesser & Bieger, 2008; Laesser &
Riegler, 2012).
Clearly, WOM is becoming e-WOM via digital channels and is at least as effective in this form (e.g.
Litvin, Goldsmith, & Pan, 2008). In the end, people still trust those they know and have a personal
relationship with. Whether the contact is made in person, on the phone, or through social media is not
crucial for those involved. Yet the new media seduce DMOs into developing a presence there too. But
it does not quite work like that. There is no sound evidence that travelers have actually visited a
destination because of a DMO's posted messages – we are not talking about bookable offers here.
"It's the sender, not the channel, ...!". We should finally take this to heart when evaluating this myth.
For behavioral models not personally known, such as celebrities, the immediate, geographical
proximity to the current location and events is crucial in influencing the decision to visit. Thus, a
famous actor in a resort can post a current picture of himself specifying his location and hundreds of
fans located within a radius of up to two hours will go there. Whether the DMO is actually responsible
for this is doubtful, and whether this counts towards the DMO's goal of "bringing visitors" is an open
5 Consider that travel recommender systems do actually work, but rather for single businesses (e.g. hotel, restaurant) and in particular for visitors
who are already at the place. At this point, visitors have already been attracted to the place.
P. Beritelli, C. Laesser
Myth 6: The higher the level of public awareness of our destination, the more visitors will
come. Hence, DMOs need to increase public awareness of their destination.
«Our town/region has so many beautiful and interesting things to offer! If only the world was aware of
this, we would have more visitors. All we have to do is increase the level of awareness of our
town/region/country!" This logic has already induced many decision-makers to invest a great deal in
communication about the DMO. The belief that engaging intensively in communication through the
DMO somehow attracts greater numbers of new and returning visitors is also linked to Myths 2 and 4
in this article.
Counterargument: We are familiar with many world destinations, but we do not decide to visit
on the basis of their popularity.
Actually, today everyone knows about all world destinations that are potential travel destinations.
Anyone who has learned a bit of geography at school knows approximately where Hong Kong is
located. If we did not know about Dubai before, we recognize it today as a magnificent holiday
destination on the Arabian Peninsula as a result of media coverage of its bombastic construction
projects. Travelers have also learned from friends or documentaries about the scenic beauty of
Patagonia. Interestingly, we do not remember anything about the DMOs of these places or regions,
probably because we never noticed them or their messages6. What is relevant for travel decisions is
what we can actively call up (unaided awareness). An early study that we conducted showed (1) how
few destinations we can mentally retrieve and (2) that we are familiar with them mainly because we
were there ourselves.
6 Take the test. Recall past vacation spots (places, regions, countries) that you have visited. How did you know about the existence of these desti-
nations or at least their names? Did messages or information from DMOs play a role? Then use a search engine to search for information about
the corresponding DMO. In most cases the search will yield some results. In some cases, you will be amazed at what this organization has com-
municated and how little of it has reached you (perhaps nothing).
Why DMOs and Tourism Organizations Do not Really 'Get/Attract Visitors'
Figure 4: Unaided recall of Alpine destinations in Switzerland
Source: Data from a survey of the IMP-HSG, 2005.
Actually, such results should not lead to the conclusion that awareness of the destination should be
increased (how is that supposed to be done?). Once again, it shows that travelers usually make
simple decisions based on their personal environment and experiences. This finding also clearly
contradicts the currently popular concept of the “customer journey.” This suggests that in order to book
and travel we first need inspiration and then have to dream, i.e. that we follow a linear controlled
process. This leads us to the next myth.
P. Beritelli, C. Laesser
Myth 7: DMOs must make sure people dream of 'their' destination. The 'inspiration' and
'dreaming' phases are an integral part of the decision-making cycle of (potential) visitors.
The AIDA marketing formula of the 1980s (A = attention, I = interest, D = desire, A = action) has a new
form today. Many concepts today assume that potential visitors must first be inspired (this also
presupposes a place's name recognition), in order for them to dream of it. This is followed by the trip
planning phase, which is then strictly implemented. The modern version also makes allowance for
guests capturing their impressions and posting them on social media ('sharing'). The new process is
usually presented as a simple, direct cycle running approximately as follows: Inspiration - Dreaming -
Planning - Traveling - 'Sharing' and then starting over again. The more communication the DMO
engages in over the cycle, the greater the likelihood that potential visitors will be retained throughout
and that the cycle can be influenced or even controlled.
Counterargument: We dream of many places we never actually visit. Travel decisions are made
following a different logic than used for consumer goods.
A journey is the result of many small individual decisions. This is sometimes called a "portfolio
decision." It's about where we go and stay, with whom, when, with what, etc. Planning does not really
have a starting and ending point; plans are continuously made, revised or even canceled. Moreover,
many decisions are further postponed because of the increasing digitization in society (DiPietro,
Wang, Rompf, & Severt, 2007). Many travel decisions are also made impulsively (Laesser & Dolnicar,
2012). The inspiration and desire to visit very specific destinations stands in stark contrast to the fact
that in the end we tend to go where we have been before and where our fellow travelers agree with.
We recently asked 110 people about destinations they dream of visiting but have not yet visited.
Afterwards we asked why they had not yet visited. The strongest inhibitors by far were social
conditions ("had no opportunity to go with ...", "do not know anyone there", "do not know anyone who
could go with me"), followed by "no time" and "not enough money" (Beritelli & Reinhold, 2018). Hence,
the decision hinges on exogenously determined opportunities that have to align with one's own
intentions and possibilities (e.g. time, money Laesser, Luo, & Beritelli, 2019). All our lives we dream of
visiting places and countries that we will probably never get to visit. On the other hand, we do visit
destinations that we never dreamed of visiting. Or we may plan to visit certain destinations, in greater
or lesser detail, and then have to change these plans because we cannot find the right travel deal or
properly arrange the trip or because the planning process generates new ideas and suggestions that
seem more appropriate7. In short, "dreaming" is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for a
decision; there are only a few cases where both hold (the decision is congruent with the dream).
Rather, there are many cases where these two domains are independent of each other. It is a
somewhat naive belief that a DMO can keep the decision-makers engaged throughout these different
processes, or even specifically identify new ones and lead to the final, binding reservation. At the
latest, the decision maker's engagement is lost when the reservation is made, as shown in the next
7 In marketing, this is also referred to as the 'world of identification' and the 'world of action.' These two are rarely compatible. The first is where we
construct and develop emotions, images, desires, and the like in our minds, while the second is where real actions take place (Rutschmann and
Belz (2014).
Why DMOs and Tourism Organizations Do not Really 'Get/Attract Visitors'
Myth 8: DMOs can bring many visitors to their destinations via digital distribution channels.
Just as travel agents and tour operators can provide individual travel services and sell package tours,
DMOs can do the same for the visitor companies serving their destination. In the end, the first
outgoing distribution and the second incoming distribution operate via the same channels (e.g. trade
fairs, digital sales channels). It is assumed that DMOs can successfully broker and ultimately sell the
services of their regional partners. Myth 9 deals with the issue of brokering. The following
counterargument takes up the issue of DMOs' direct sales via their own channels.
Counterargument: DMOs themselves sell less than could be hoped for through digital
channels. If a visitor goes on a DMO website, it is usually after he or she has made a decision
and booked a reservation.
The impact of selling through DMOs' own websites has remained at a negligible level in recent years,
or – if it was ever higher – has since declined. Depending on the survey and the country, 0.3-4.5% of
the total booking volume for hotels is transacted via these channels (Schegg & Fux, 2013, 2014;
Schegg, Stangl, Fux, & Inversini, 2013). This is not least attributable to the fact that destinations in
general and their DMOs have hardly anything to sell and that in recent years not only OTAs (online
travel agencies) but also the digitization of direct sales by individual tourism companies have made
great leaps. In fact, company websites along with the OTAs are the most important digital sales
channels for tourism services (e.g. Schegg & Fux, 2010; Schegg & Fux, 2014). It is noteworthy that
expenditure on DMO-led online sales channels is not worthwhile the large majority of the time. Rather,
DMOs can serve as facilitators or enablers of a sales and distribution process. The only way to
generate more "sales" would be through DMOs' own (incoming) production of bundles highly tailored
to specific needs8.
In addition, a study on information and booking processes we conducted in 2004 showed that in the
majority of cases DMO channels only become important after the first central bookings or decisions
had been made, or that they were used in advance of the reservations to obtain a general overview,
but not for bookings (Bieger & Laesser, 2004).
8 We refer here to sales consortia, which are run, for example, by hotels and mountain railways in some Alpine destinations. Until now, this has
worked mainly for volume business in undifferentiated travel (e.g. car travel, ski ticket, hotel accommodation). Further differentiated models are
P. Beritelli, C. Laesser
Myth 9: DMOs bring many new visitors to their destination via B2B platforms.
This myth ties in with Myth 8. Not only is a notion prevalent that DMOs can generate a significant sales
volume through their own platforms. Many tourism professionals also believe that DMOs can operate
successfully as intermediaries to tour operators for the services of tourism companies at 'their'
Counterargument: DMOs cannot actually mediate services in B2B channels, since until now
they have had no ability to influence services and prices.
Individual services such as transportation, hotel accommodation, tickets for events or for larger
attractions and many more services that tourists book at home before departure are sold mainly by the
providers themselves. After all, they have been most successful to date when they conduct their
business directly with tour operators because they decide on the scope, quality, and price of services.
By contrast, tourist companies only rarely give DMOs complete control of their capacities and price
range in contracts with tour operators and travel agencies. Often, what happens is even the opposite
of what DMOs want or expect: Tour operators bring visitors to a destination that was not actually part
of the DMO's and its stakeholders' plan (for example, day tourists on buses or cruise liners). Thus
arise forms of mass tourism (also now known as "overtourism"), which point up the gulf that exists
between the wishes of DMOs and reality.
DMOs can facilitate or enable the travel offer production process, taking a perspective of visitors much
like that of a tour operator. However, this presupposes that the service providers are prepared to
provide capacity at the right price and the right time, and to give the DMOs far-reaching powers. The
joint production of bundles of offers, presented by the DMO, for example, can help better control
events at the destination and better serve its image. In particular, it can also better reduce margins
from the increasingly international business of the service providers. This also shows the supporting
role of the DMO, which is explained in detail in the next section
Why DMOs and Tourism Organizations Do not Really 'Get/Attract Visitors'
Myth 10: The impact of marketing activities (communication) cannot really be measured or
proved anyway, but somehow it works.
This myth is actually a general capitulation to marketing itself. In fact, this slogan is used to hide
behind when people run out of arguments to explain or justify specific actions.
Counterargument: The mechanisms behind how visitors reach a destination decision (and
other travel decisions) can certainly be measured and proven.
As discussed above, it is known that a journey results from a combination and juxtaposition of different
decisions. Different decisions are made at different times (Choi, Lehto, Morrison, & Jang, 2011;
Fesenmaier & Jeng, 2000; Hyde & Laesser, 2009). In general, travelers tend to postpone decisions
(DiPietro et al., 2007). However, the constituent decisions for a trip such as group (with whom?),
destination, time and duration, accommodation and means of transportation (Woodside & MacDonald,
1994) are still made at home. What was decisive for the decision can actually be accurately
determined by posing a simple question, namely: “How come you ... right then ... decided to choose
this destination?” (Beritelli, Reinhold, & Luo, 2017). It is important not to ask “why?”. Otherwise, in
hindsight respondents tend to explain preferences that did not really contribute to their decision. For
example, they might give as a reason "to go hiking." But one can go hiking basically everywhere. The
question is how did it happen that travelers ended up in just this destination to go hiking and do other
activities. Thus, what is important is the circumstances and context in which decisions are made using
simple rules or heuristics (Gigerenzer & Gaissmaier, 2011). Try the question yourself using the
example of your own travels9.
We did this in a recent study on winter holidays in the mountains, admittedly in a simplified form
(Beritelli, Reinhold, & Laesser, 2017). In the process, vacationers from a representative sample were
asked to identify a maximum of three of 19 possible triggers that were relevant to their travel decision.
In a second step, they were asked to choose the most important one. The results for trips of three or
more nights are shown in the figure below. Note that in the list we deliberately included communication
channels that are popular with DMOs.
Figure 5: What was the most important trigger for your last winter vacation in the
mountains? (3+ nights).
9 Ask yourself “How did I/we .... make this decision?” What triggers played a role and what made you decide on one destination instead of an-
P. Beritelli, C. Laesser
The result clearly shows that most decisions are based on triggers due to (1) the immediate social
environment (e.g., visiting acquaintances/relatives, visiting at acquaintances'/relatives' second homes,
tips/recommendations) or (2) consumer inertia and habit (Gal, 2006; Thaler, 1980) (e.g. go there
regularly, have been there once, requested by others, ski area very close to them, themselves have
second homes there). After all, knowledge of a destination develops from one's own visits there or
from specific dialogues with resource persons one feels close to who can provide reliable tips and
information (see also Myth 6, Figure 4).
Hence, it is quite possible to prove how visitors make travel decisions and how they decide to visit one
destination instead of another. One only needs (1) to go to the source of the information, namely to the
visitors, and (2) to ask a question that directly addresses the problem.
The more we pose the question, the sooner we will realize that destinations are made by the visitors
themselves as it were, or put differently, it is the interaction between us, other people, and the place
that shapes visitors' experiences. The latter in turn encourages repeat visits and reinforces word-of-
mouth recommendations through our social networks. These social relationships and commitments
are decisive in trips to visit relatives or acquaintances, which account for about 40% of travel with
business travel adding another ca. 15% (UNWTO, 2016).
Why DMOs and Tourism Organizations Do not Really 'Get/Attract Visitors'
Myth 11: New (organizational) structures in DMOs (mergers, acquisitions) bring new visitors to
the destination.
This myth does not refer directly to the belief that "visitors are to be acquired." Still, it assumes that the
more DMOs do to get visitors, the better it will be overall for tourism. Consequently, according to this
thinking, bigger budgets will attract more visitors to the destination. In a situation where budget size is
static, mergers of DMOs and/or their budgets are assumed to have a greater impact (Beritelli &
Reinhold, 2014). What sounds attractive here is the territorial extension that goes along with mergers.
It is believed that the "brand" of a region in which, for example, three "brands" of three localities are to
be found must be far better known – or at least have greater potential – than the individual brands of
the three places. The three places are already included in one single region, and the offer that can be
advertised is much bigger. That will ultimately "get more visitors."
Counterargument: Reorganizations and mergers among DMOs at best create operational cost
reductions and the financing of in-house experts. Organizational size can at best be a basis for
being able to offer qualified employees career prospects.
The truth behind this myth should actually have already been uncovered in the course of the
discussion thus far. We clearly state again here that geographical names are not “brands” that we can
control, design, manage, let alone "lead," as with company or product names10. In the minds of
travelers, places, regions and countries are either concretely linked with their own experiences or with
information which stems from their immediate social surroundings. If we know the names of places
and countries but lack a personal connection to them, our knowledge of them comes from general
geographical knowledge or from media reporting on these areas. In the latter case, it is a
commonplace that names of distant countries and their capitals or unusual places are better known
than those of other cities, regions or places (Dolnicar & Grün, 2017). It is illusory to assume that the
effect of daily media consumption and first-hand personal experience can be overlaid with new
geographical names by a DMO that wants to draw attention to them using interchangeable images
and general texts.
Looking back on more than 15 years of experience of mergers and acquisitions of DMOs, we can say
that these processes have at best (1) enabled cost savings for administrative tasks or support
functions (e.g. IT) and (2) the hiring of better paid employees with certain expertise, not least because
such employees can also be offered better career prospects. This works especially for smaller DMOs
with a few employees or, to put it another way, these benefits beyond a case-specific tipping point will
decrease with increasing DMO budgets. Size only matters for employing skilled people but not with
regard to communication and advertising. Probably, we did not get the full story ourselves, either, ten
years ago (T Bieger, Beritelli, & Laesser, 2009). The larger the budgets, the greater the tendency to
spend money on "marketing" (i.e. communication).
10 In reality, "brand management" by a DMO does not occur. There is at most the existence of cor-porate design manuals, which most partners
sooner or later stop adhering to.
P. Beritelli, C. Laesser
Three exceptions prove the rule
These eleven myths and their counterarguments show where the fundamental problem of DMOs is to
be found. Since they do not offer and sell any primary tourist services themselves and since they
normally do not operate the destinations' main attractions, they cannot normally simply "attract
visitors." Exceptions to this rule show that only as a provider can DMOs have a decisive influence on
the travel decision. Specifically, this takes place when a DMO
1. designs, organizes and carries out a cultural or sporting event to a large extent by itself;
2. operates a major tourist attraction itself (e.g. major museum, sports center, castle); or
3. operates another important complementary service which, alongside other service providers,
provides a complementary or competitive edge (e.g. operation of a hotel specializing in a par-
ticular clientele).
Such cases are however rather rare because DMOs define themselves less through local services.
After all, their main task is to "get visitors."
3 Symptoms of a «Cargo Cult»
"Get/attract visitors," "A brand is more than just a logo," "Destination branding," "Brand management,"
"Buzz/ Background noise," "Have a high profile/ Show presence," "New/ strong appearance." These
and many other buzzwords from industry, which also, admittedly provocatively, can be described as
marketing frills, refer to a phenomenon called a “cargo cult.” This analogy was recently discussed in
the destination management literature (Elbe, Gebert Persson, Persson-Fischier, & Lindahl, 2018). The
cargo cult is often associated with religious rituals in Papua New Guinea or among Melanesian island
communities. People there believed that in former times sailors and during World War II US air force
troops brought valuable gifts ('wonderful cargo') from the gods. After the white people left these areas,
the locals implored the gods to continue to bring cargo with the help of white men. For this they used
self-made wooden artifacts (e.g. lighthouses, ships, airplanes, airstrips and towers, headphones) and
rituals (e.g. simulations of radio conversations, drills with wooden rifles). In recent times, cargo cult
science and management has become synonymous with elaborate, meaningless imitation of
behaviors without knowing their mode of action or the underlying technology (Feynman, 1974). Well-
known variations of the cargo cult include the ghost dance and the rain dance.
The similarities between a "cargo cult" and DMOs' "getting visitors," (the latter in parenthesis), are
mainly the following five:
1. The locals do not understand the visitors' technology and do not care where the valuable
gifts come from. (DMOs cannot really ascertain how visitors come to be in their
2. Locals recognize a chief or a group of leaders who, as wizards, determine which artifacts
and rituals are appropriate. (Destination managers and other experts are appointed as
leaders of the destination, formulating visions and strategies and implementing the
"marketing mix.")
3. The locals use artifacts and perform rituals to gain the favor of the gods so that the white
men bring their gifts. (Through the use of "Destination Branding," "Appearance,"
"Presence," "Buzz/ Background noise" and other artifacts and rituals, more visitors are
expected to come).
Why DMOs and Tourism Organizations Do not Really 'Get/Attract Visitors'
4. The locals go to great lengths and believe that the more they try, the richer the gods will
reward them. (DMOs are very busy and need a lot of resources and money).
5. The locals do everything the way the white men did without realizing that the white men
will not return with their gifts. (DMOs do everything as well as or even better than the
tourist companies, but the visitors do not come because DMOs do not offer the
destination's main deals or run their attractions.)
P. Beritelli, C. Laesser
4 So what are DMOs for?
This question is justified at this point. Critical debate on the benefits of DMOs is currently going on in
more than just German-speaking countries (e.g. Pike & Page, 2014). A historical review may help
shed light on the matter. Modern tourism organizations emerged in the Alpine countries in the second
half of the 19th Century11 and appeared almost simultaneously in the countries of the British
Commonwealth. At the time they were the exception. We consider them an exception because they
were founded on the basis of market failure. Where communities (or in general the government) and
tourism companies lacked the means and legitimacy to provide on-site services for their visitors, they
organized and financed functions such as the maintenance of hiking trails, the operation of ice rinks,
or information offices. Soon, these organizations also sold souvenirs, including postcards12. A majority
of these tasks directly benefited the visitors on site, while other tasks served to support the
companies. Basically, however, these were always supplementary on-site services that were provided
out of necessity. Pike and Page speak of DMOs as "hospitals" (2014, p. 218). This is a fitting analogy.
In the end, the patient (visitor) goes to a hospital when he can no longer help himself and the referring
physician (tourist enterprise/host) can no longer be of help.
The figure below, upper half, schematically shows DMOs' position until the 1950s. Incidentally,
national tourism organizations such as those in Switzerland (today Switzerland Tourism) were created
through private initiative. It was not until 1939 that the then "National Association for the Promotion of
Travel" was taken over by the Swiss federal government and later merged with the national publicity
service. Until then, its main focus was on selling rail tickets in the worldwide agency network of the
Swiss Federal Railways (P. Keller, 2017). The position of the DMO in the figure shows that it focuses
on the on-site problems of the visitors as well as supplementary offers or coordinating services (T
Bieger, 1996) between the companies. In addition, the DMOs' role in Incoming-Operating in leisure
and business tourism is limited to counseling and organizing only when the potential visitors or groups
inquire directly with the DMO (i.e. an exceptional function in the case of market failure). This happens
when the visitors are mentally already at the destination or have (pre-)selected it. Put more exactly,
these organizations also take on supporting and advisory roles in planning and designing public
spaces, provided that they also have an overview of what the visitors are doing and can assess this
together with the actors in the destination (Beritelli, Reinhold, & Laesser, 2014).
11 The first tourism organization known to us is the St. Moritz Visitor Association, founded in 1864.
12 Postcards present a special image that generates meaning not only in the eyes of the visitor but also for the recipient. Selling postcards and
commissioning beautiful posters creates pictorial artifacts that may mislead DMOs into thinking they can influence visitors through images they
produce themselves. "Getting visitors" via images thus seems a logical conclusion.
Why DMOs and Tourism Organizations Do not Really 'Get/Attract Visitors'
Figure 6: Original purpose of DMO vs. "Get/ attract visitors"
source: own illustration
The increasing automation of the financing of DMOs via taxes and government support (Beritelli &
Laesser, 2014) was both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, in good times, with increasing
numbers of overnight stays and successful lobbying, a lot of money poured into the coffers of these
organizations. On the other hand, this money was not only spent quickly and uncritically but had to
satisfy an increasing number of stakeholder groups (Beritelli & Reinhold, 2013). The simplest logic,
which legitimizes general activities that benefit everyone, is based on as much communication as
possible, which is noticed primarily by the stakeholders themselves. The promise to "get visitors"
makes sense to the donors and the DMOs. This works as long as everyone believes in the cult.
If DMOs are tasked with "attracting visitors" (see Figure 6, lower picture), then they are responsible for
much more while lacking the ability to provide better services than the other organizations involved. At
the same time, they lose their connection to their original functions, which have admittedly changed in
P. Beritelli, C. Laesser
the meantime. The operation of an information center today is no longer comparable to that of twenty
years ago, simply because of the progress made in information and communication technology, which
allows visitors to inform and orient themselves more independently and to make their own decisions
and even purchases (T. Bieger & Beritelli, 2018). DMOs still have a raison d'être. But they must return
to a realistic role and find a new self-conception.
5 Outlook and closing remarks
"Back to the roots and then a leap into the future!" This is not just a fitting slogan, but a way of thinking
that can allow DMOs to rediscover their own identity and legitimacy. Only thus will they be able to
create genuine added value for visitors and stakeholders in the destination. The way there is
uncomfortable and requires patience. But there are enough available approaches (for an overview see
Beritelli & Reinhold, 2014; Reinhold, Beritelli, & Grünig, 2018). A well-founded, specific analysis of
demand and an equally specific identification of problem areas can help give the DMOs a recognized
place in the supply system of the destination (e.g. Beritelli et al., 2014; Beritelli et al., 2015).
Tourism remains a phenomenon in public spaces as well as an emotional distance and information
business. Someone must continue to design and develop services around this phenomenon to meet
needs, not only those involving relationships between visitors and service providers, but also because
of travelers' mutual interactions in increasingly scarce public spaces. The latter serve as a resource for
both the visitors and the locals. Benefits must therefore not only be secured or created for businesses
that live directly from tourism but also for the general public.
DMOs can make a valuable contribution to increasing the value of public spaces by working to ensure
that the added value and benefits of using these public spaces as a visitor resource do not dissipate
but remain in the community and the supplier system, for example through forms of cooperation and
appropriately designed offers. In the future, DMOs will have to invest more resources in facilitating or
at least modifying the design of specific offers. Organization of their own events with an emphasis on
specific forms of tourism are good examples.
It is clear that a good offer or experience – especially in times when people can communicate through
social media more easily than ever – is itself perhaps the most effective form of advertising. For this
reason, funding for "advertising" can be reduced. Other actors, specifically the visitors, will take over
generating the "buzz/ background noise."
The complexity of destination management is increasing. Keywords in this context are progressive
digitization, increasing internationalization, and demographic change. In the future, DMOs can help
substantially to deal with this complexity if they resist just starting from simple standard solutions to
simple problems and indulging in the cargo cult and instead critically and constructively question their
role and activities in the "system destination" on a consistent basis. We hope to have contributed to
this process with this admittedly somewhat polemical article, and we look forward to forthcoming
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P. Beritelli, C. Laesser
The original article in German appeared at the end of February 2019 and caused a debate in both the
tourism industry and in other circles (politics, media, public). We welcome the interest in our work. For
us as researchers it is our job to communicate new findings, to constantly question apparent "facts"
and to empirically test and critically examine opinions. Only in this way can we serve society. Because
of various discussions conducted in the media, we feel obliged to provide a few supplementary points
that will hopefully support a well-founded and differentiated debate in the future. It is also important for
us to clear up misunderstandings and to provide more clarity. Here are the most important points and
The article was written primarily for representatives of the industry, for employees and managing direc-
tors of DMOs, their consultants, as well as for representatives of tourism companies, lecturers and stu-
dents in tourism. The availability of new scientific findings and increasing evidence against the notion
that DMOs “get visitors” made this article possible. Secondarily, we addressed DMOs’ funding part-
ners and institutions. Those include representatives of the tourism industry, who also belong to the
first group and, in addition, representatives of government authorities and politicians who finance tour-
ism organizations and who in the context of their executive committee work represent them in public.
In order to address these two groups, we also chose an appropriate publication format (book chapter,
not a blog or an article in a newspaper or magazine). The article is long and rich in information. It con-
tains technical terms and mechanisms described in a detailed manner, because we strove for an in-
depth technical discussion. Anyone wishing to take part in this discussion should therefore read the
entire article in detail and, if necessary, exchange views on further discussions in professional circles.
This is the only way to avoid misunderstandings.
A major concern we address via the analogy of the "cargo cult" is the inappropriate, inaccurate, and
ambiguous use of terms by tourism professionals, the public, and academia. Terms such as "destina-
tion marketing" are ambiguous and are deliberately used to manipulate or used unconsciously, out of
ignorance. In this article we have tried to name activities and concepts correctly and as clearly as pos-
sible. Hence, we speak of "advertising" and "communication." We also clarify differences between the
terms "offer," "product," and "service." The technical jargon, which has been colloquially established
for a long time, has increasingly led to the fogging and concealment of ideas and actions. As scholars,
we must counteract this superficiality and cacophony. The clearer the ideas and the closer the con-
cepts are to reality, the more unambiguous the language and the more respectful and decent the de-
At the beginning of the article, we note that our arguments may sound polemical and provocative. This
does not mean that we have written this article simply to provoke. We are serious about the problems
and challenges presented by "getting visitors through DMOs." We have taken it seriously in the past
years as well, when we talked and wrote about it in parts. In fact, we did not uncover anything new
with this article. In the past, however, we noted that this rather difficult topic was not well understood –
or those responsible do not want it to be understood – and therefore requires an unmistakable formu-
lation, even if this may now come across provocatively. In other words, it was about time that someone
clearly and comprehensively put this down.
Why DMOs and Tourism Organizations Do not Really 'Get/Attract Visitors'
When we write that "DMOs cannot get/attract visitors," we are not suggesting that these organizations
make no sense or are useless. In the last two sections of the article, we focus on exceptions in which
DMOs could very well attract visitors, and we show that they can play a supportive role in helping visi-
tors and providing services for tourism suppliers. Therefore, we do not suggest throwing everything
overboard. On the contrary, we implicitly stress that we seriously have to rethink the future roles and
functions of these organizations.
With our contribution we focus on the misconception that tourism organizations "get visitors" directly
and through their actions. A tourism organization demanding money to "get more visitors" (whatever
the level) treads on black ice. It should be clear, by now, that it cannot keep such a promise. With this
contribution we also want to caution the representatives of DMOs against burdening themselves with
unrealistic promises and later trying to prove the impact of their actions, for instance via dubious tour-
ism impact studies of destination marketing commissioned to consultants or research centers. The
longer money is given with the expectation that the DMO will directly "get" more visitors, for example
by increasing the number of arrivals, the more the credibility of these organizations and that of the en-
tire tourism sector will further suffer.
In our article we specifically address the misconception that "DMOs get visitors." Through several ap-
proaches we show that such a mechanism does not exist or has an infinitesimal impact (exceptional
cases at best). In particular, we emphasize that "communication" in general and "advertising" in partic-
ular have no effect. What we did not discuss in our contribution is the separate question of whether
communication and advertising, if perceived by potential and actual visitors, is a meaningful task for
DMOs. Hence, we differentiate between "travel decision because of" from "remembering advertising or
communication.” Whether advertising and communication is remembered by respondents is another
issue and should correctly be called "image advertising". We ask readers to keep these two concepts
separate. DMOs cannot "get/attract visitors" with advertising and general communication and should
therefore not refer to visitor arrivals or spending when they want to prove the impact of their actions.
However, they could advertise, hoping to send out an image that will be noticed. The question here
remains to what aim and at what effort and price (see Myths 3, 5, 6, and 7).
We hope with these supplementary points to foster a better discussion, because as we have written in
the article, we want to promote a constructive discourse.
... Particularly for smaller DMOs, they need to leverage maximum benefit from both their technological resources and human capital (i.e. through effective digital collaboration) in order to not only remain as a competitive place to visit but also to live and work in (Fyall & Garrod, 2019). As such, DMO transformation is necessary as there is increasing complexity in destination management (Beritelli & Laesser, 2019). ...
Full-text available
While the tourism sector shifts towards digital transformation, Destination Management Organisations (DMOs) often struggle to adapt to their changing technological environment. This study explores the antecedents of digital collaboration and develops a framework for micro-DMOs to enhance effective destination management through digital technologies. An integrated sequential qualitative approach was adopted by conducting multi-phase interviews, in addition to designing and trialling a real-world trial digital platform. The research provides empirical evidence that digital collaboration is essential for micro-DMOs, necessitating them to transform their current “websites” into digital platforms which act as a hub for business stakeholders to actively be involved in. Antecedents of successful digital collaboration include mutuality, trust, control, and leadership which may be manifested differently from non-digital collaboration. Additionally, the study identifies three aspects for digital collaboration; marketing, networking and knowledge sharing that demands specific attention. Our results have theoretical, methodological, and practical implications for academia, industry and policymakers.
... , der kürzlich auch in englischer Sprache erschienen ist (Beritelli & Laesser, 2019b) Beginnen wir mit fünf einfachen Vignetten aus dem Alltag verschiedener Menschen. ...
Recent research underlines the importance of understanding the tourist destination as a demand-driven construct. Visitors activate different configurations of supply elements that produce a complex and dynamic fabric referred to as a space of flows. Today, we have the means to understand how these flows shape the evolution and gestalt of tourist places. This article proposes a new framework combining three concepts and related foundational theories: visitor flows, trajectories, and corridors. In tandem, they describe how tourism manifests itself in space and time. Trip decision, trip execution, and tourist performance unfold through social mechanisms generating the totality of visitor flows. Stakeholders must understand how visitor flows in their destinations emerge and evolve in order to decide on specific design interventions.
Full-text available
This book illustrates how the boundaries created to manage and market tourist destinations are the root of the practical and academic problems that trouble destination management these days. The St.Gallen Model for Destination Management (SGDM) introduces an alternative perspective that allows transcending past boundaries and thus getting closer to the real complexities of managing tourist behavior in dynamic systems. While this may sound daunting, it starts with something very practical: The observation of how tourists of different kinds move about as flows of visitors. Strategic visitor flows (SVF) are the basic unit of analysis and planning of the new model. The SGDM connects these flows to demand and supply networks. Underlying mechanisms explain the social forces that drive tourists’ behavior and the interdependencies that determine a viable supply of tourist services in destinations. The model builds on practical experience in more than 30 destinations and the latest insights from ongoing research on destination management and marketing. Internationally, we observed that a basic understanding of the presence of multiple visitor flows and of the related network mechanism enabled actors (e.g., from hotels, food and lodging, operators of attractions, transportation, tourist organizations, and politicians) to break free of existing preconceptions. The SGDM and its instruments enabled them to rethink tasks, responsibilities, and projects. This ultimately allowed them to make more efficient and effective use of their scarce resources, benefiting both visitors and destination actors. From an academic stance, this book suggests that the SGDM’s focus on strategic visitor flows serves as the foundation of a new paradigm in destination management and points to avenues for further research. This book targets practitioners, students, and scholars with a concern for the viable longterm development of tourist destinations.
Full-text available
Der Beitrag führt in ein neues Verständnis der Destination und den darauf basierenden Ansatz des St. Galler Modells für Destinationsmanagement ein und zeigt die weitreichenden Konsequenzen für das Entscheidungsverhalten sowie die Handlungen der Akteure auf. Touristen überschreiten in ihrem Reiseverhalten die Grenzen angebotsseitiger Planungseinheiten und Leistungsbündel. Das vor allem durch soziale Kräfte getriebene Verhalten der Touristen stellt für das Destinationsmanagement und -marketing eine große Herausforderung dar. Diesem wird mit opportunistischen Praxisansätzen und perspektivischen Teillösungen aus der Wissenschaft heute nur ungenügend Rechnung tragen. Der Beitrag stellt einen neuen Ansatz dar, den drei Eigenschaften auszeichnen: (1) Er verbindet neuste wissenschaftliche Erkenntnisse mit Umsetzungserfahrungen aus der Praxis; (2) er versteht Tourismus als soziales Phänomen und stellt somit die Nachfrage und das Besucherverhalten in den Mittelpunkt; und (3) er führt zu einer dif ...
Purpose Most state-of-the-art approaches for the analysis of the process of travel decision-making follow Woodworth’s neo-behaviouristic S–R (stimulus–response) or S–O–R (stimulus–organism–response) model. However, within this model, scholars primarily focus on the S–R relationship, investigating specific decisions by describing or explaining an outcome as the result of an input of several stimuli. There is a lack of investigation into the “O” dimension of the S–O–R model. This paper aims to contribute towards closing of this gap by conceptually and holistically expanding existing models with new perspectives and components. Design/methodology/approach The authors base the conceptual process on a subjective/interpretative research paradigm, by combining outcomes from different theories and concepts into a new, more holistic approach; and challenging this approach by seeking counterarguments as well as supportive arguments at three conferences and workshops. Findings The paper expands the body of literature by positing a generic conceptual operationalization model focusing on the organism (“O”) domain of decision-making. To achieve this, and further to operationalize the S–O–R model, the paper proposes to integrate an M–O–A (motivation–opportunity–ability) approach. Originality/value The analysis of the body literature reveals that there is still a lack of analytical and especially workable models/approaches for the analysis of the process of tourist decision-making. The paper contributes to that discussion by offering an alternative and generic operationalization of the tourist decision-making process by inducing a theoretical framework from the deductions gleaned from a number of existing theories.
Purpose The need and legitimacy of destination management organizations (DMOs) are increasingly questioned. Still, the tourism literature provides little advice on how DMOs change and finance their activities for the benefit of their destination-given contextual change. This conceptual article aims to contribute to filling this gap. The authors do so by proposing a typology of business models for destination management organizations. Design/methodology/approach With the help of typological reasoning, the authors develop a new framework of DMO business model ideal types. To this end, the authors draw on extant literature on business model typologies and identify key dimensions of DMO business models from the tourism literature. Findings The challenges DMOs face, as discussed in the tourism literature, relate to both ends of their business model: On the one end, the value creation side, the perceived value of the activities they traditionally pursue has been declining; on the other end, the value capture side, revenue streams are less plentiful or attached to more extensive demands. On the basis of two dimensions, configurational complexity and perceived control, the authors identify four distinct ideal types of DMO business models: the destination factory, destination service center, value orchestrator and value enabler. Originality/value The authors outline a “traditional” DMO business model that stands in contrast to existing DMO classifications and that relates DMO challenges to the business model concept. The typology provides an integrated description of how DMO business models may be positioned to create and capture value for the organization and the destination(s) it serves. The ideal types point to important interdependencies of specific business model design choices.
Have you ever unexpectedly met someone you already knew in a remote travel destination? Many people have or will at least a couple times in their travel biography. In this article, we theorize how such chance meetings help better understand the socially embedded nature of travel behavior and choice. We validate the underlying assumptions with an exploratory empirical study. By conceptualizing chance meetings and connecting them with social network theory, we get closer to predicting where people precisely travel and what activities they engage in at particular points in time. This socially embedded perspective transcends the importance of attractions and activities as object of reference between traveler and place. Broadly, these findings contribute to the discussion on the social origins of travel and on how choices are taken in travel.
Travel decision research still struggles to explain a large portion of the variance in travel choices. We argue that advances in this domain must originate from a shift in the kinds of questions we ask travelers to understand what triggers their decisions. The proposed shift from “Why did you . . . ?” to “How come . . . ?” changes the emphasis from retrospective sense giving to a contextual understanding of travel choice, focusing in particular on the constellations that produce actual travel behavior. This shift opens research avenues of a new theoretical and methodological nature and has fundamental implications for consumer research as well as destination marketing practices.
Tourist destination branding has become a major element in tourism marketing. However, it could potentially be the case that tourists are unaware of brands intentionally constructed by destination marketing organzations (DMOs) because they do not even recognize the main identifier as represented by the destination logo. This paper tests the truth of this assumption for the cases of four supposedly well-branded Swiss destinations. The results show that destination logo recognition is, indeed, very limited. In addition, destination logos appear to be most effective when used for specifically branding the place right on the spot. In terms of the original meaning and aim of ‘branding,’ the results imply that branding (using the logo) is primarily useful for the product (i.e. the experience) in the destination rather than for destination communication. Since DMOs spend considerable amounts of money in branding processes, we conclude that the impact of branded communication and advertising campaigns is greatly overestimated.
Park, Nicolau, and Fesenmaier proposed the Destination Advertising Response (DAR) model as a means to more effectively evaluate destination advertising campaigns by incorporating the key decisions or components (i.e., facets) that comprise a trip. While this model appears to be an attractive alternative to traditional destination advertising evaluation, little research has been conducted to examine its validity. The goal of this study is to evaluate the potential usefulness of the DAR framework based upon current understanding of the travel decision-making process and industry practice. Additionally, the framework is evaluated based on a series of empirical analyses that consider the impact of destination advertising on the destination decision as well as on several trip-related decisions. The implications of this model for destination advertising are substantial in that it provides a much richer foundation for the development of destination marketing strategies.