Even a lot of marketers outside of the travel industry think of drug companies or health insurance when they hear the phrase DMO. Don’t be confused: DMO is just an acronym for destination marketing organization, and in the last few months, they’ve been steadily emerging onto the social web, en masse. Maybe you’ve even been to a DMO’s website, without knowing it.
Mommy, What’s a DMO?
Most American cities with populations of greater than ten or twenty thousand people have some sort of DMO, in the form of either a Convention & Visitors Bureau or a Marketing & Tourism Organization. Some of the bigger DMO web properties include New York’s NYCGO , Chicago’s ChooseChicago and San Francisco’s, OnlyInSanFrancisco . [Disclosure: my client.]
As individual sites, most large DMOs would rank as Top 5000 Internet sites, but when you look at even the top five DMOs, combined, they collectively represent a Top 800 site, roughly the size of an Etsy , a McDonalds, a Mahalo or Pizza Hut.
No single one of these properties have begun to make huge strides on the social web yet, but many of the larger sites are slowly integrating features that validate permanent steps in socializing the travel-planning process. The NYCGO site has “light” social features, like user-identity and profiles, and restaurant and venue reviews. The ChooseChicago site has a blog-like MyNoteBook feature, which allows users to laundry-list attractions, and share to friends (but, sadly, only via email.) The San Francisco site even incorporated four different blogs in the last year, including Foodie411 and Eco411 , a municipal green blog.
The GoSeePortland has even integrated tons of user-generated reviews in the last year, making it like a highly localized Yelp. (One caveat: the line between true user-generated content and brand-generated content is a little blurry on destination-based review sites.)
Good Intentions, Structural Hurdles
There are some structural hurdles in place, as some of these sites are run on platforms ill-suited for social feature integration. Many destination marketing websites are written in Classic ASP vs. ASP.Net , which, while scalable for creating large dynamic-content websites, requires hefty upgrades for social graph integrations (think Facebook Connect , MySpace Data Availability). This was not due to poor planning either; no marketer or web manager could have envisioned social graph integrations when they launched these sites three or four years ago, and ASP Classic likely looked like an ultra-reliable and scalable platform at the time. The web teams who stuck with PHP or Coldfusion are in a slightly better position for this sort of implementation.
Twitter: A Viable Shortcut?
In the meantime, many DMOs are using Facebook Fan Pages or Twitter as a shortcut to the social web, simply because it’s easy and accessible. The barriers to jumping on the social web via Facebook or Twitter are low, but the outcomes (trips or flights booked, brand awareness) are also low. While it may cost $200k to develop a huge destination website (or double that to develop a socially-enabled destination site), the cost to making a Twitter page and having a marketing manager run it are hundreds of times lower.
Travel social media brand GoSeeTell CEO/blogger Martin Stoll has done in-depth research following DMOs on Twitter, and by the end of last month, has found a few destinations, like Philadelphia and Baltimore, engaging in over a hundred conversations each on Twitter. [Sample Baltimore tweet: “Don’t mess with Texas? Don’t mess with Baltimore is what I say.”] GoSeeTell’s Portland portal, GoSeePortland, has nearly as much traffic as the city’s own site1, only six months after its launch.
The 2009 Forecast
It’s well known among social media analysts and consultants that the travel market is under-served on the social web; where about 15% of tech brands have some sort of social web presence, that figure is closer to 3% for travel brands. While a strong and sudden resurgence of social web usage by travel brands isn’t likely in Q1 and Q2 of 2009, expect this gap to close significantly by end-of-year. As travel marketers and DMOs realize that the social web brings similar-or-better return-on-investment to their current marketing tools (SEO, banner ads, direct mail).