I’ve spent most of my career in tourism working closely and deeply with tourism networks or more informal groupings of people seeking to collaborate within a destination. I’m a great believer in the power of tourism destination networks, as are many others – there’s a widely help belief that the key to a strong tourism destination is that there is strong collaboration within the destination between tourism operators and other stakeholders.
So how do you ensure tourism networks maintain high performance and achieve what they set out to achieve? Tourism networks generally get formed for the good of the destination, driven by the idea that tourism operators and destination stakeholders can achieve more together than they ever could separately. By working together and pooling resources, they have a higher chance of elevating the destination and achieving greater economic, social and environmental benefits. In short, they tend to start with the good of the destination in mind.
Networks rely on their members contribution of time and of money. There’s usuallly a membership fee and members are required to give a lot in terms of time and resources. As time goes on, individual members start to question ‘Well, what am I getting back for that time and for that investment of money? My fee was €100 this year. Did I get €100 worth of benefit?’ Then those in charge of the network, those co-ordinating or leading, start to spend their time and energy on justifying the network in terms of member benefits, articulating what benefits members get, listing what members got back from their money, persuading members to join again next year based on a guaranteed benefit...
Suddenly, the network finds itself turning away from its higher purpose of the destination and into this instrument for creating and communicating benefit to individual members. While it’s an understandable thing to happen, is there a way to prevent it happening?
The first step is to be aware that it’s almost an inevitable part of the cycle of running a network. One of my key themes is about vision and one way to address slipping into member focus is is to ensure that the network keeps articulating and reinforcing the vision it started out with. That is most likely about the destination – about its economic health, its environmental health or its social health, about it’s long term sustainability. It may also quite likely be about improving the overall quality of the visitor experience. So somebody within the network or all members across the network need to consciously maintain an awareness of the vision and need to remind of the vision and articulate and reinforce it often.
The vision is the higher purpose. It’s the thing that elevates individuals beyond thinking about their individual member benefit and back into thinking about the destination overall. It’s clear that within the framework of one’s own business, the paradigm relates only to one’s own business. When you step out into the paradigm of a network and a collaborative space, then you need to shift the paradigm and move the mindset out towards the benefit of the destination. That’s what we call the Destination Mindset.
There are 3 pillars that you can use as a reminder to members about the value of the network.
By getting caught in ensuring direct return to individual members, networks lose sight of what their visitor needs. Keep the focus on the destination and remember to speak to visitors, not to members.
Networks provide a framework for contribution, a space where tourism operators and stakeholders can start to collaborate in pursuit of a greater vision. A network is not an extension of your business. It’s an entirely different space where you get the opportunity to invest with others in the shared destination.
While the annual fee and contribution leads to an inevitable short-term focus, the purpose of a Network is to build a destination that lasts. This is a long-term perspective, an investment in the future health of the destination which will benefit both the place, the economy and, in turn, the individual business.
Keeping an eye on these three pillars will help ensure that your network delivers high performance benefits for your destination over the long term.