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Nicholas Hall

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“What if we scrapped the DMO, would anybody notice?”. This is a favourite topic at debates and one that often comes up in my experience of circling the globe talking at destination conferences, one that I occasionally indulge in but at the same time never really buy into. Others, however, are deadly serious when they question whether DMOs should exist in the future, citing their inevitable demise for a whole raft of reasons.

Role of the DMO

After a recent trip to Kosovo, I remain positive about the role a DMO can and should play in helping the local visitor economy thrive, inspired by seeing what the absence of one really means. I’ve seen so many examples in my engagements where the DMO time and again demonstrates how critical their role is and by the same token on my recent trip to Pristina I was shown just how damaging not having a DMO is in driving the destination forward, whichever direction that may require.

Referred to fondly by Kosovans as ‘Europe’s Youngest Country’, Kosovo is not without its challenges, marred by decades of troubles from the fighting. Today, Kosovo is in a process of regeneration, focused on rebuilding itself and setting out a new future driven by a young and educated population with an international outlook. My short two-day visit helped me to meet so many passionate young people, from the enthusiastic grads who put together ‘Girls Coding Kosovo’ to the entrepreneurs who’ve created so many passion driven businesses from hostels to hiking.

As part of my work, I ran an interactive two-day workshop, which included some brainstorming on Kosovo’s strengths and opportunities, some ideation around business collaboration and development, business networking and for me, the most insightful, a programme of one-to-one business mentoring sessions. I had the pleasure of sitting with many of the businesses in a series of meetings designed to give them my outside perspective on their businesses, which was very revealing indeed. The businesses I met with were incredibly grateful to have an expert take on what they were doing digitally but in all honesty, most didn’t really need it.

 

Businesses and International Marketing

Working with tourism businesses in Kosovo showed me that when it comes to digital skills, many are on top of their game with great online visibility through their websites, social media engagement and of course, key to any great digital strategy, many had also mastered the art of running a business and being content creator at the same time (not easy!). What I found to be lacking was the support they needed to gain traction on the international market. Some of the best businesses had such incredibly engaged communities with brilliantly shot and edited hub content which really sells their offer in a convincing way, yet despite ticking all of the digital boxes, I heard the same question again and again, “business is great but I’m only reaching local and Albanian market, how can I tap into the international market?”.

This question I found, was not so easy to answer. Of course, my reaction was “influencers, you need to bring more influencers over” but that is something one hostel alone is going to struggle with and the whole selection, hosting, facilitating the process that comes with that would be a complete diversion from the day-to-day running of their businesses. Whilst the benefits are enormous, dare I say game-changing for many businesses, the reality is that achieving more international visitors isn’t a business problem, it’s a destination problem. It showed the real need for leadership at a destination level and the significant impact that not having a DMO causes in hampering growth.

Destination Development

DMOs play such a wide range of roles that they certainly can’t all be put in the same basket. What they do depends so much on the state of development in their destination, their accessibility, perception, industry, exports etc. Broadly speaking however, National Tourism Organisations focus at what we call ‘top of funnel’ brand building, creating early stage awareness and focusing on international markets, whilst local DMOs need to focus on local development, where adaptability to digital is a huge focus and understanding the ebbs and flows of the digital experience economy is a never ending challenge.

In reality, Kosovo needs both, but the opportunity for a team to take a leadership role on behalf of the destination as a whole is one crying to be taken. It’s so important that a strong brand starts to emerge in Kosovo, where the locals, businesses and visitors all have a story tell, with one voice. It’s important for ambassadors to emerge from the many hidden gems and opportunities that this little country has to offer and most importantly that someone takes a lead in identifying which content creators and influencers can help build that brand and tell that story through their networks and communities around the world. Combine this with savvy business development focused on securing better access, more international events, building out global appeal around the hundreds of festivals already happening and you have the beginnings of a prosperous and ‘undiscovered’ destination, just waiting to be explored by globetrotters, festival goers, experience enthusiasts and weekend trippers alike.

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