Small destination marketing organizations (DMOs) are small in stature but they often have an outsized impact on their communities. They’re the challenger brands that are always willing to try something new, are on a first-name basis with many local small business owners, and know the ins and outs of the stories their destinations have to offer visitors.
They’ve also been through a lot since the pandemic hit, and we love them that much more for persevering and coming out stronger on the other side.
Small DMOs usually represent smaller communities which were especially vulnerable to pandemic travel restrictions. The pandemic has been unpredictable and can change at any moment, but things are looking up, and tourism love is being spread to the destinations that need it most. U.S. road trips are already surpassing 2019 levels, data from travel intelligence company, Arrivalist, shows, and many hotels and travel booking sites are remaining busy.
Many travelers will still stick to their pandemic travel behaviors of visiting rural or suburban destinations with plenty of outdoor activities and room to spread out, and others will feel more confident visiting busier places and attractions. That’s great news for small destinations that are often close to lots of nature, parks, farms, and green spaces, and also have vibrant and cozy downtowns to explore.
We want to celebrate the small teams and all of the creative marketing that they’re doing to punch above their weight and challenge their communities to dream bigger while keeping their small town charm intact.
In case you need help staying efficient during your busiest periods, we have four tips for how to plan ahead to make the most of your time and show your destination in it's best light.
1. Stay nimble - things could change at any moment
Small DMOs are even more important in providing current travel information because they’re often one of the only information sources available. Having the latest updates available on your website and social channels builds trust and comfort with travelers.
Some destinations like Visit Mobile are also taking a nimble approach to recruiting top talent for their local hospitality workforce ahead of the summer. Since the global travel industry continues to suffer from a labor shortage, the DMO recently partnered with the city and community organizations to launch the Work on Mobile website. The goal is to promote hospitality as a rewarding career path and help local businesses recover from the pandemic.
Regardless of how demand pans out, destinations like Mobile need to rebuild their hospitality workforces so that staff can start learning what makes a visit to Mobile unique.
2. Don’t neglect local travel – it will still be big this year
Domestic and local travel will still likely make up the bulk of visitation for many destinations this year and that’s also a great thing for local economies.
Douglas County Travel & Tourism was created in 2020 during the onset of the pandemic and represents a destination in the Atlanta metro area. Its 2022 estimated budget is a little over $500,000 and is focused on attracting regional travelers from Atlanta and elsewhere in Georgia with plans to expand its marketing nationally. Douglas County happens to be home to Sweetwater Creek, the most visited state park in Georgia that draws a lot of visitors from Atlanta, along with many other beautiful parks and outdoor spaces.
The DMO has capitalized on its outdoorsy offerings to organize exploration challenges of Sweetwater and similar parks that give travelers the opportunity to win prizes from local attractions. Challenges like these also make for perfect user-generated content (UGC) to reuse throughout the season!
*A screenshot of the Sweetwater Creek State Park Exploration Challenge registration widget from Douglas County Travel & Tourism’s website.
The Canadian Government also launched the Rediscover Main Streets Initiative aimed at reinvigorating tourism along Atlantic Canada’s main streets, and part of the goal is to get local residents involved in the recovery. According to a statement, the initiative “will contribute up to $10 million to provide funds to non-profit organizations across Atlantic Canada, including business improvement associations, tourism associations, chambers of commerce, and destination marketing organizations to help them generate new ideas that inspire locals and tourists alike to rediscover all that their main streets, downtowns, and neighborhoods have to offer.”
3. Partner with local businesses
Local businesses need all the tourism dollars they can get this year and small DMOs are rolling out all the stops to make sure visitors know about them. Even with a small staff and budget, it just takes one social share from a traveler who cares about your mission to create a snowball effect of support.
We love this example from Explore Butte County where the DMO partnered with local clothing company Upper Park Clothing to launch the “Hike Butte and Give Back” campaign. The campaign raised money for Chico Velo Trailworks, a local organization that supports the creation and maintenance of sustainable trails in the region. Twenty-five percent of profits from each sale will be donated to the organization and the DMO used its social channels to encourage visitors to support the cause.
4. Repurpose old content
Think of how you can repurpose old UGC and blog posts from your website and update them for the season. Much of your content is probably more evergreen than you realize!
A good example is this blog post on sunflower fields from Naturally McHenry County, a small DMO about 60 miles from Chicago. Instagram and other social platforms helped make sunflower farms a must-see each year and you can bet that this kind of content will generate interest year upon year. All your team has to do is edit opening information, any visitor updates, and populate your UGC Galleries with fresh images to let travelers know what to expect this year.
Small but mighty
Smaller DMOs don’t let the challenges they face stand in the way of the impact they deliver to their destinations. Small DMOs are forced to do a lot with a little and, as a result, they have to get creative with how to stretch a limited budget. The outcome, however, is creating memorable campaigns and experiences that show visitors why going off the beaten path is often the best route to take.
The power of UGC is priceless, as it helps these small teams capture places and moments that they would otherwise be unable to.
Want more inspo from small destinations with big impacts? Download our ebook to discover more innovative, unique campaigns from small DMOs.