The second step is a statistically valid email survey of travelers from principal markets to learn about present and past visitors, and those who have not visited. Small to mid-size communities should benchmark the appeal of activities and attractions identified in the audit (large MSAs may need to break this element out as a separate survey due to the size and number of assets involved) in order to establish asset classes and allocate marketing resources. A DMO should be willing to invest up to three percent of its annual budget every 3-5 years to assure its programs are strategically focused.
Destination photography is the third major element of the Gold Standard. A DMO must own a library of professional quality digital images with the photographer and model rights assigned in perpetuity. The photos should document the most important asset classes and geological features (as identified by the survey in step two), and include images of memorable emotional exchanges between people (i.e., father/son) who reflect the demographics of target audiences.
The fourth element in the Gold Standard is most important: a website that reflects all the assets identified in the destination audit like an online encyclopedia, including complete information such as hours, prices, maps, descriptions, etc. In categories where multiple entities exist (hotels, restaurants, golf courses, etc.), the data should be arranged in comparative charts that relate key information of interest to travelers. The information should be searchable in an interactive database format, as well.
Organization and format of the website are critical. Information should be arranged as much as possible to highlight the most popular subject areas identified in the traveler survey, with no more than 25 major links per page, 12 options per menu, and 4-5 clicks to reach any webpage. A keyword analysis should be conducted to confirm the terms that should be search engine optimized so they are easy to find. The website should be responsive so it can be viewed on a cellphone, tablet or PC.
Fifth on the list for a DMO with a gold standard pedigree is a full-time staff member, or the equivalent, dedicated to researching and updating all information provided by the DMO at least every six months. While it may not be possible to change printed materials more than once a year, attraction price changes, new hotel names or special event cancellations should be reflected on the website as soon as possible, and all staff and volunteers should be apprised immediately.
The sixth element of a Gold Standard program is an official high quality Visitor Guide published at least once per year detailing the most important assets in the traveler survey, as well as essentials like address, hours of operation, etc. The DMO should publish and distribute at least 100,000 copies, respond to requests for Visitor Guides within 3 days, and make it downloadable from the DMO website. Visitor Guide advertising should not exceed more than 40 percent of editorial content.Providing outreach to constituents through social media comprises the seventh and most recent addition to the Gold Standard. DMOs must maintain a destination Facebook and Twitter page, and the content should be monitored regularly. Users should be engaged daily, with responses to inquiries posted as soon as possible. Through continued outreach, at least 25,000 followers should be cultivated on these exchanges, with links to them integrated into the DMO website. A YouTube Channel should also be devoted to sanctioned video productions about the destination.
The eighth feature of Gold Standard compliance is operation of a Visitor Center that is clearly identified with wayfinding signage off the most traveled road into the destination, or adjacent to its most popular visitor attraction. It must offer clean restrooms, a comprehensive collection of area literature and be open seven days a week with knowledgeable information specialists on hand to explain and sell the destination.
Disseminating high quality e-mail information to opt-in subscribers on a regular, scheduled basis is a ninth component of the DMO gold standard. A DMO should feature a prominent, easy method on each page of its website for constituents and visitor prospects to sign up for targeted, insightful email news and features about the destination’s most significant interest areas identified in the survey. Providing a simple means for readers to opt out of receiving such communications is also mandatory.
The tenth and final step in the Gold Standard process is cultivating an authentic brand with a unique emotional attractiveness and theme for the destination, and integrating it into all DMO marketing efforts including ads, brochures, photos, Visitor Centers, websites, etc. To achieve the maximum impact, the brand must engage a broad swath of the community to develop and champion it. The strength and appeal of brand elements should be tested with residents and travelers prior to formal adoption, and at five to ten year intervals thereafter to tweak its effectiveness.