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Reshaping DMOs in England

Martin Fullard talks to Nick de Bois, who in 2021 was commissioned to conduct an independent review of Destination Management Organisations in England.

Before the pandemic took hold, conferences and meetings were worth £18.3bn to the UK annually in direct spend, making up the single largest portion of the total £84bn events industry.

Yet, the way this business is brought in, much of which comes from overseas, is inefficient and ineffective. That is how it is described by Nick de Bois, former MP and chair of the Event Industry Board, who was commissioned to write an independent report on Destination Management Offices (DMO) in England, and how they can be better shaped and structured to help shape the UK’s post-pandemic recovery.

When David Cameron took office in 2010, DMO funding was effectively stopped, and that gave rise to far smaller and far less well equipped DMOs who, try as they may, have not always been successful in bringing big event business to their respective regions.

“This report has been a long time coming,” says de Bois “By essentially having abandoned regional development agencies in 2010, which had a key role for creating tourism boards, which most people think of as leisure, but of course had responsibility for the business tourism, including events, DMOs started popping up all over the country. By my count there are between 150 and 160 so-called DMOs in England.”

De Bois says these DMOs are funded differently, and they operate differently. “Some of them are very small, some of them are large, and virtually all of them duplicate, overlap, and often under achieve, not through a lack of effort on their behalf but because their very structures are designed to limit the potential.

“The problem is that the Government had been working on a lazy assumption. Our sectors have grown between 2010 and up to the pandemic. You will have seen something like a 20% level of growth in the visitor economy. “

We’re talking about our business visitors, our conferences, our meetings and our incentives. And, of course, the leisure sector. That lazy assumption is that they’re doing alright. And yet, when you examine that, particularly as I did, when I looked at what was happening internationally, and how DMOs and governments interacted, it’s quite clear that we’re underachieving compared to our competitors.”

De Bois says that it’s “unacceptable” that the UK has only one city in the Top 100 Cities list, that being London. France has doubled its growth compared to the UK, for context.

What is needed?

The de Bois Review: an independent review of Destination Management Organisations in England lays out 12 recommendations, both for the visitor economy and the Government. “If they’re implemented, I believe the events industry can reach its full potential and play a major role in the recovery process,” de Bois says.

What, then, does the Government need to do in the wake of this report? “There is no coherency to the landscape. There is effectively no lever that the Government can pull,” he adds.

“I introduced coherency by saying the Government should introduce a tiered system, where we will have anywhere between 17 and 20 DMOs. They would effectively be a coalition of the willing, where areas have come together, where they have common interests and can clearly work together in collaboration.”

In this instance, de Bois says that these DMOs could develop sustainable tourism, not just in terms of the green agenda, but by ensuring that visitors are dispersed across the wider area of that locality, and not centred on the hotspot. Within these top tier DMOs would be a series of intermediates.

“So structural change is key, because of the appalling standards of finance, in the sense that they are all different,” says de Bois. “Some get a bit of funding from local governments, some get it from private enterprise, they’ve evolved where there’s a market failure.”

Money is the key to unlocking the UK’s potential. To restructure the nation’s DMO so that they can drive business, de Bois is calling on £50m core funding. “I’m asking for a core funding of £50m over three years. This would be bid for by people coming together to form these tier one DMOs,” he says. “If they are successful and are awarded the money, they then have a clear set of objectives they must meet, and they are accountable to VisitEngland. Each DMO would therefore be accredited.”

Accountability is key, and there are examples of existing operations which make it work. “A good DMO can pull its partners together, which would be an example of Tier One. You can see places like Manchester, Liverpool, and London are very good attack brands with a compelling brand offer.

“By being accredited, we introduce cohesion, and we would avoid duplication. It would encourage collaboration, and I’ve asked they would then be responsible for developing and delivering a destination development plan.” 

Click here to read the feature.

The full report can be viewed here.