For many DMOS, the pandemic is awakening partnerships with local economic development organizations (EDOs) and other government entities in new and often fruitful ways. In fact, it’s one of three central trends identified in the new DestinationNEXT 2021 Futures Study, released in August.
“Destination organizations are expanding their roles in many directions,” according to the report. “They’re aligning with government and community organizations more intentionally to support initiatives designed to improve social issues and local quality of life; fuel priority sector development; attract outside investment and high-value talent; and elevate the overall destination brand beyond a tourism lens.”
One example of this kind of collaboration that has quickly gained traction since the start of the pandemic is destinations working with local governments and EDOs to offer short-term visa programs for traveling remote workers, also called digital nomads. For countries largely dependent on travel and tourism, it’s a strategic way to fill in the gaps left by the steep decline in leisure and business travel. Costa Rica will now grant special digital nomad visas for up to two years, and Barbados and Panama have launched similar programs along with Croatia, Bali, Dubai, Georgia, and Thailand, among others.
In cases like these, DMOs are tasked with getting the word out while working with local government entities to ensure the process is streamlined enough for visitors to navigate. In Panama, for example, DMO PROMTUR Panama oversees and promotes a digital nomad program to highlight the country’s competitive advantages, including a dollarized economy, flight connectivity, and safety.
“Remote work is the ‘what’s next’ for destination marketing,” said Daniella Middleton, senior vice president, tourism development at DCI. “Remote workers who take extended workcations and choose to blend their work with time off in a chosen location, are a new segment of visitors for DMOs to target. This type of visitor is inclined to stay longer, spend more money, and engage more with local businesses in the destination. This could certainly be a path towards a new sustainable tourism model.”
One success story is Barbados’ “12 Month Welcome Stamp” campaign, launched in 2020, which far surpassed expectations — going viral with close to 2,000 media mentions in North American outlets alone and 4.8 billion impressions. By the end of the year, the country had received close to 2,000 applications, almost double its initial goal of 1,000.
A key step to Barbados’ success was getting the program off the ground quickly through the support of the country’s prime minister, Mia Mottley, said Eusi Skeete, U.S. director at Barbados Tourism.
“The one thing that this has taught us, in building out this program so quickly, was the importance of collaboration,” Skeete said during a panel session at Destination International’s Annual Convention in Baltimore in July. “It was so important that we had collaboration between government, because the immigration department was involved; the prime ministry of health, which was managing the pandemic; then our partners on the ground across all sectors — it was really about bringing all these individuals together.” Skeete added that what made the program effective was the fact that they were all working toward the same goal.
In the U.S., cities have begun capitalizing on the trend as well. During the pandemic, a surge of companies and remote workers, especially from the financial and tech sectors, began to migrate to the South Florida metropolis of Miami.
This movement has been further shepherded by Mayor Francis Suarez, who has plans to turn Miami into a major tech hub, with a particular emphasis on blockchain and cryptocurrency. In June 2021, Miami was able to lure the world’s largest cryptocurrency event, Bitcoin 2021, from Los Angeles, hosting more than 12,000 attendees in several venues scattered throughout the artsy Wynwood district — more than double the expected attendance. It was there that Mayor Suarez announced that Blockchain.com would move its company headquarters to Miami, and event organizers have since announced that they will bring their 2022 event to the Miami Beach Convention Center in anticipation of attendance surpassing 30,000.
This kind of alignment isn’t necessarily new, but “the pandemic really put this all on steroids,” Rolando Aedo, CDME, COO at the Greater Miami CVB, told Convene. “The convergence of all these things … has really expanded our role in economic development.”
Aedo sees situations like Bitcoin as a two-fold opportunity for the destination. “We’ve got our county partners, we have our city partners, so we would be remiss, quite frankly, if we didn’t closely align and support their priorities. If we’re bringing meetings and conventions within certain vertical markets, i.e., fintech, then it’s an opportunity,” he said, for the EDO “to engage those attendees and those companies — ‘Hey, you brought your meeting and convention here, why not consider relocation?’”
And vice versa: “When the economic development organization is hosting site selectors for potential business expansion or relocation,” Aedo said, “then we engage and say, ‘Hey, you’re considering relocating your business — well one great way to dip your toe is by bringing that board meeting or that regional meeting or your annual convention.’”
DCI’s new research backs that up even further — its report, “Talent Wars: How COVID-19 Reshaped the Battle,” is due to be released in October 2021. In a survey of more than 1,000 people who relocated in the past 18 months, “first-hand experience” with a destination, either through a leisure or business trip, was cited as one of the top three ways talent formed an impression of a destination.
Jennifer N. Dienst is managing editor at Convene.
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