The Social Cost of Co-ops


I am extremely fortunate. Fortunate to have peers, fans and followers that will take time out of a busy day, ignore their kids or postpone lunch to read my thoughts, ramblings and musings on tourism. It is an honor that humbles and amazes each time I consider it.

If you will allow, I assume that part of the appeal is my honest outlook on all things tourism. You trust and respect my opinion, even if you don’t agree with it.

Never shy to share my thoughts via an article or tweet, I would call out close peers…Mo, Tim, Katie…if they ever fucked up a campaign. To my knowledge this has yet to happen.

Continuing a pattern of painful honesty, I introduced this nugget of wisdom into a recent edition of the always intriguing #tourismchat.

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You can catch-up on the mayhem that ensued via a simple hashtag search of #tourismchat.

Let’s expand those 140 characters and see if I can explain my reasoning and rationale.

The crux of my argument is that for a DMO or CVB to attain a position of trust it must eliminate any conflicts of interest. While co-op advertising can likely be traced back to the first time a DMO and two members were in the same room, the perspective that social media has placed upon transparency should cause us to reconsider the cost / benefit of such a relationship.

If DMOs want to become the expert representative for their region, a one-stop-shop (ugh) for everything about the destination or a trusted resource for vacation planning information, how can they accept money to promote one attraction, restaurant or hotel (over another) while making recommendations without the potential perception of bias?

Social media has forced changed upon us.

DMOs are actively taking money from a hotel for placement in a print piece, while answering ‘where should I stay?’ questions on Twitter.

Is that a conflict of interest? Would a DMO promote one member or sponsor over another without regard for the best answer? Probably not.

But does the consumer know that?

Whether the social interaction is related to a contest, campaign or general information is not important. The larger issue is what position the DMO wants to maintain with the consumer. In the past, we have walked the line between marketer and journalist. Promoting those who pay, while attempting to create the appearance of independence.

What is the DMO?

A marketing machine for the highest bidder or an independent local expert for the tourist?

I am not saying one is right or one is wrong. Simply that I don’t think they can continue to exist within the same organization.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with building an audience, creating content and then selling access or marketing opportunities to those with the ability to pay for said access. Google, WhereTraveler, Orbitz, Southwest, even Disney, have created profitable outlets with this very crude explanation of the business model.

Perhaps I am creating a conversation that is not required. A mountain from a molehill. No big deal, right? The traveler does not care.

DMOs should keep selling access to sponsors, advertisers and members. Being in the same business as Google, Where or Orbitz is a good thing. Outlets with plenty of content, regardless of expertise.

After all, who needs expert travel advice?

Comment? @travel2dot0 or email.