DMO review – AIM welcomes report recommendations

In March 2021, the government announced an independent review to assess how Destination Management Organisations (DMOs) across England are funded and structured, and how they perform their roles, in order to establish whether there may be a more efficient and effective model for supporting English tourism at the regional level, and if so what that model may be. Its report and consultation response analysis was published in September 2021.

AIM welcomes the recommendations that have been made to government. Responding to the report, AIM Chair Andrew Lovett said;

“AIM warmly welcomes this review and its detailed recommendations as we seek to revitalise our economy post-Covid.

Ensuring DMOs have a cohesive approach across England, deliver above and beyond marketing, can access quality data, and are a strong voice in regional decision making is essential to making the most of the vital place tourism can play place in the recovery.

We strongly encourage the Government to implement the report’s recommendations.”

Report summary from the Tourism Alliance

The report recommends that DMOs are grouped at a regional level through a lead organisation and provided with centrally funding for core activities that fit with Government priorities such as sustainability, skills, inclusive tourism and levelling up. VisitEngland would be charged with managing and supporting this new structure. The report also recommends that the Tourism Minister is elevated to a Minister of State position and either reallocating responsibilities from other departments or the activities of teams within multiple departments to provide greater policy support.

The main recommendations for Government coming out of the review are:

  • Recommendation 1:

The Government should bring coherence to England’s DMO landscape via a tiering approach, using an accreditation process to create a national portfolio of high performing Destination Management Organisations that meet certain criteria. A suggestion that there is a move away from the confusing ‘DMO’ term and call these nationally accredited Tourist Boards.

  • Recommendation 2a:

The national portfolio should then be split into two tiers – a top tier of accredited Tourist Boards acting as ‘Destination Development Partnerships’ or as leaders of them (these could be described as ‘hubs’) and a second tier of accredited Tourist Boards acting as members of these Partnerships (‘spokes’). Destination Development Partnership status could be awarded to either an individual accredited Tourist Board covering a large enough geography (e.g. a city region) or to a coalition of willing accredited Tourist Boards within an area that come together under a lead Board.

  • Recommendation 2b:

The Government should then provide core funding to each Destination Development Partnership. The funding should be focused on activities that ensure their destination remains sustainable, competitive and responsive to high level strategic challenges identified by the Government such as those around sustainability, skills, inclusive tourism and levelling up. The Destination Development Partnership would be expected to pass down a degree of funding to accredited Tourist Boards amongst its coalition and work collaboratively with them to deliver a shared vision.

  • Recommendation 3:

DMOs that do not meet the national accreditation criteria should be automatically considered as part of a ‘third tier’. These are likely to be small, localised Destination Marketing Organisations and the Government should minimise its engagement with them.

  • Recommendation 4:

As it is England’s National Tourist Board, with the statutory responsibility for growing tourism at an England level, the Government should charge VisitEngland with responsibility for creating, maintaining and supporting this new tiered structure. It should receive sufficient funding and resources to do this.

  • Recommendation 5:

The Government must also change its approach, in order to maximise the success of the new system. There is currently insufficient appreciation of the importance and promise of the visitor economy at the top of government, leading to unfilled potential in DMOs and the wider tourism landscape. In practice, responsibility for tourism policy cuts across multiple departments, creating a confusing picture. Practical measures to address these issues could include elevating the Tourism Minister to a Minister of State position and either reallocating responsibilities from other departments to sit under that Minister or making the Minister responsible for the activities of teams within multiple departments – this latter suggestion is an established practice already in other policy areas which cut across Whitehall departments.

  • Recommendation 6:

In order to help DMOs and Local Authorities take decisions on how best to develop the visitor economy in their local area, the Government should improve access to quality data by introducing the proposed Tourism Data Hub as a matter of urgency.

The main recommendations for DMOs coming out of the review are:

  • Recommendation 7:

DMOs must accept that they also have a role to play in driving forward change; it cannot just be left to the Government. To maximise the success of the new structure I have outlined, DMOs will need to take a less territorial approach, have a greater focus on collaboration, and recognise that the current fragmentation is holding them back from acting as effective advocates for the visitor economy.

  • Recommendation 8:

DMOs should seek to diversify their income streams, and should share and learn from examples of best practice. This will enable them to best leverage the core funding I propose and I would expect a commitment to diversification as being an accreditation criterion.

  • Recommendation 9:

DMOs should have a rigorous focus on keeping the skill sets and expertise of their own staff up-to-date, particularly with respect to digital skills, so as to ensure their destination’s offer continues to be sustainable and competitive.

  • Recommendation 10:

DMOs should have more diverse boards that fully represent their communities as well as their businesses and visitors.

  • Recommendation 11:

Local Enterprise Partnerships must realise the value of tourism, ensure the visitor economy is fully integrated into their economic strategies and play their full role as partners in the activities of their local accredited Tourist Board and Destination Development Partnerships. They should recognise that DMO type organisations are best placed to drive growth in regional tourism and they should actively support them.

  • Recommendation 12:

Local government – be that a District Council, County Council, Mayoral Combined Authority or any other formulation – must also realise the value of tourism and should strive to play their part in supporting their accredited Tourist Board and Destination Development Partnership. They should accept that for DMOs to be at their best, they need to be public/private/community partnerships, not based solely in a Local Authority but working in close partnership with them. They should also involve their DMO in any policy decision-making affecting the visitor economy.

Next steps

The next step in the process is that the Government will respond to the findings and decide whether to adopt and implement any, some or all of the recommendations. It would be expected that this response will be published ahead of the CSR as the recommendations include funding implications.

Click here to read the report in full>>