5 PRINCIPLES FOR MAKING YOUR TOURISM NETWORK WORK
I’m working with 6 separate groups at the moment that are at varying stages of establishing or developing their tourism network. Each one has a distinguishing set of external circumstances and each has a different goal for bringing stakeholders together. It again highlights to me the need for a ‘How To’ manual for tourism networks. It would be really useful if we could extract what’s common across all Networks, what is known to work, what can be measured and transferred. That’s a project I hope to commit time to later in the year. In the meantime, here is a set of general guiding principles that I’ve observed to be important across all networks. They may serve as a quick checklist if you’re reviewing the health of your own Network or if you’re in the early stages of getting established.
Networks are about taking a collective approach, in the belief that its members are stronger together. The Network’s primary purpose is to give a structure for engagement, and a platform for discussion and co-operation on themes or projects of common interest. For tourism, this would ideally mean that Networks comprise tourism enterprises as well as public bodies and agencies, working together for a common purpose. Limit meetings and activity to the projects of common interest – avoid allowing the needs of individual members or organisations to supersede the needs of the group. To be effective, the Network must vividly describe what “success” looks like and feels like. It must then repeat and reinforce it often.
This principle is about pursuing and adhering to a collective vision.
While networks can deliver multiple benefits, all benefits are dependent on leveraging the collective contribution. Networks are effective as long as its members are contributing in a willing and enthusiastic fashion. To make the collective vision real, describe exactly what is members are expected to do to help make this vision a reality. This usually involves setting criteria for membership and defining standards of participation. Ensure the criteria and standards are written in a language that is readily understood. Ensure they act as positive enablers rather than restrictive barriers or constraints. The Network’s purpose is to enable, not enforce.
This principle is about making the vision meaningful for the average network member.
Assuming that members come to the Network with varying levels of understanding and commitment, Networks will usually need to provide training and facilitation in order to build network cohesion and member capacity. The guiding question is how do you make it possible for the average member to do what the Network is asking them to do? How do you then facilitate multiple members to do this together? Be focused and results-driven, aligning each training support with a Network objective. Not all training or facilitation needs to be formal or costly. Spend time on field trips or in small working groups. Ask members to provide venues. Utilise the experience of members and enable peer sharing of good practice and learnings.
This principle is about building skills and capacity, so members can do what the Network is asking them to do.
What’s your Network’s hard currency i.e. what must be delivered for members to consider the Network successful? What must be delivered for members to remain involved in a committed and enthusiastic fashion? The answer will vary from network to network. The important thing is that everyone in the Network knows what it’s bottom-line deliverables are in each year and at each point in the year. For fee-paying networks, it is likely that ensuring a commercial return of some sort will be important - either through enabling members to save costs, enhance marketing, implement policy, gain media profile, improve business planning processes, or create more compelling visitor experiences. There may be other benefits or ‘payments’, such as positive impacts on the environment, improvements in destination infrastructure, greater entrepreneurial confidence and belief, a sense of camaraderie, teamwork and friendship.
This principle is about committing to delivering tangible, measurable benefits to stakeholders and destinations.
Sustaining the network is a challenge - not only in terms of maintaining financial health, but also in terms of maintaining momentum, motivation, contribution and enthusiasm. Assuming a clearly articulated long-term vision, network managers and leaders can ‘start with the end in mind’ and run the network like a business from the outset. This does not mean the Network must be commercial. It does mean that the Network has a clear figure for the minimum financial costs needed to cover basic operations and has worked out where this minimum figure can come from. Once there is financial certainty, members can focus on projects that add value and move them towards their vision. In terms of human resources, build in processes that maintain freshness in the Network – in leadership, committees, activities and communication. Make it fun!
This principle is about taking a long-term approach from the outset, being realistic about what’s needed for the Network to endure.