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What is the real situation regarding digitalization in German destinations?

The abbreviation DMO once stood for Destination Marketing Organisation and the work of a DMO concentrated on marketing the region by means of classic “push” advertising campaigns. As a result of digitalisation, many tasks have changed and a DMO is increasingly acting primarily as a destination management organisation.

Within the NTG Consortium, the DSFT is actively working on the implementation of content in a DMO competence matrix. The tasks and competencies anchored in this matrix are based on, among other things, the view that the DMO must set an example of leadership in digital issues to the actors in the region in order to keep pace with digitisation. The same applies to the management level of the DMO towards its own team. The right know-how and mindset is crucial for this. The DMO – together with a network of institutions – is therefore often responsible for the “digital” further education of (tourism) service providers.

In an interview with Adi Hadzimuratovic and Dr. Alexander Schuler (April 2020), it becomes clear where DMOs stand in Germany so far and what still needs to be done.

Data, figures, facts to determine the situation in 2019


Open data, content management, chatbots or virtual reality – all current buzzwords in the context of the digitalization of German tourism.

But how digital are the management organizations and their destinations positioned in the country? In the late summer of 2019, the “BTE Tourismus- und Regionalberatung” in cooperation with the German Tourism Association (DTV) consulted more than 400 tourism organizations on this topic. Dr. Alexander Schuler, managing partner of “BTE Tourismus- und Regionalberatung”, presented the first results on the German Tourism Day. In the following interview, Dr. Schuler answers some questions about the study.


Mr Schuler, are you surprised by the results of the survey?


Unfortunately, the results have confirmed a situation that I often observe in my projects in Germany: there is a strong disparity between the state and the local level in terms of the way tasks are performed, the need for further training, and the instruments used.

While the state marketing organization takes care of e.g. database management and Open Data, the regional and local DMOs still focus on classic topics such as search engine optimization, social media, or website construction. The grassroots usually still have a lot of basic homework to do before they can get involved with new technologies. In many cases, the basic infrastructure – especially broadband expansion – on which applications and processes can be built upon is simply missing.


The service providers are central cooperation partners of the DMOs, without whom the system would not work. More than half of the local and regional DMOs estimate that less than 50 percent of their overnight accommodation establishments can be booked online. What is the reason for this?


The figure is frightening. It confirms our gut feeling but this challenging situation is also familiar to many DMOs. Nevertheless, only a few local DMOs have time to take care of this. They cannot divide themselves to staff the counter at the tourist information and at the same time knock on the door of individual establishments. This cannot be done if the tasks are about more than the staff and budget. We will never achieve 100% online bookings, but there is an urgent need for action here. We need to join forces and, in networks with the regional DMOs, take away the fears and reservations of the providers and qualify them. To do this, the DMOs have to go into the many small businesses and train them locally.


What are the central obstacles? Why is digitalization not progressing faster?


In Germany’s tourism industry, only 2% have WiFi available in the entire destination. It is therefore not surprising that the lack of broadband is one of the biggest obstacles to the implementation of digitization (ranked 4th). In addition to the lack of broadband, insufficient financial resources (unchallenged in 1st place), the lack of know-how (2nd place), and the quality of the content (ranked 3rd) are the biggest obstacles with digitization at all levels. The lack of human resources is also frequently mentioned as the main reason for this among “Other”. The results thus make it clear that qualified experts are a key element in professionally mastering the mammoth task of digitization.

Where is there a concrete need for further training?


What is exciting is that the overall handling of language assistants or chatbots at all levels plays little or no role at all. This also corresponds with the need for further training. Despite the extensive range of training courses and webinars on alleged trend topics such as chatbots, AI or augmented reality, the greatest need is seen in classic or “tangible” digitisation topics. The TOP 5 with different priorities at the regional and local level are social media, content strategies, search engine optimization, database management, and analysis of the influx of visitors.


Which steps are important now? Where would you start to promote digitalization?


We have well-equipped state marketing organizations that promote and structure digitalization in the destinations, whether with nationwide content architectures or tourism networks. This is important and correctly located at a higher level. But the greatest pressure is on the regional and local level – because they provide the data. This is where we first need to change our understanding of our tasks. That means less marketing, more management, and more work inwards. Because the more qualified the local players are and the more they take care of maintaining good content, the better the external perception will be since visibility will then increase even without a trade fair stand and print products. This shift in tasks must, of course, be backed up by appropriate resources. Budgets have to be shifted or larger units have to be formed to be more efficient when working together.

Digitization, data management… all of this takes on a whole new significance with restrictions on the number of visitors, distance regulations etc. What does this mean for the digital skills of the destination?


It highlights all the more the necessity to a) take care of good, systematised and open data in the destination, as b) all necessary instruments (e.g. APP/PWA) can be built on this and c) the DMO urgently needs to earn its “M” for management instead of marketing. If we have this good data in one system, destinations can use it to guide their visitors in such a way that they can restrict access to spaces (highly frequented hiking trails e.g. via hiking parking management or hiking bus), leisure attractions or modes of transport to maintain distances in the current corona period. In a post-corona period, which will hopefully come soon, these instruments can be used to provide targeted, real-time assistance to guests, to shorten waiting times at attractions, to guide nature tourists better through sensitive ecosystems and to offer them better service overall to optimise the quality of the experience. The DMO must, therefore, think carefully about its new tasks, and the human and financial resources required for them.

In the meantime, the findings of the study have been actively used and flowed into the idea of “Digitize the Planet”. This non-profit organisation actively supports digital visitor guidance in tourism destinations and protected areas by integrating legal (e.g. entry bans, route bans, temporary closures, etc.) and local regulations into websites, apps, navigation systems and digital assistants.


For more information (in English) see: https://www.digitizetheplanet.org/en/digitize-the-planet-e-v-i-g-english/


The author:

Dr. Alexander Schuler studied economic and social geography, sociology, and environmental sciences at the University of Potsdam and earned a doctorate in economics on the topic of “Management of Education and Destination Change” at the Leuphana University of Lüneburg, Germany.

As managing partner of BTE and spokesman of the management board, he now manages the office in Berlin. Dr. Schuler is a lecturer at various universities, speaker, and trained moderator (conflict, team, process and organizational change). As a founder, consultant, and moderator, he has been successfully supporting companies, towns, regions and countries in their national and international tourism development from Berlin for many years.

About neusta destination solutions GmbH

neusta destination solutions is part of the “team neusta” group of companies. 20 years of experience and specialization in the tourism sector distinguish the owner-managed and medium-sized full-service provider. With its approximately 1,200 employees, the group focuses not only on professional skills but also on essential values such as open and cooperative partnership within the team and with customers. The focal points of the group are divided into four core areas: Development / Solutions, Consulting, Communication, and Service.

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Further results of the study can be found here (in German)

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