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Whole Brand Thinking™ for destination organizations to become a community-valued asset

Whole Brand Thinking™ for destination organizations to become a community-valued asset

By Warren Wilkinson
VP, Travel

The COVID-19 pandemic has wrought havoc and financial distress at an unprecedented rate on the travel and tourism industry. The impact has been devastating for the 500-plus destination marketing organizations in the US, the majority of which are designated 501(C)6 not-for-profits. 

The sudden and drastic drop in visitation coupled with the unintended consequences of 501(C)6 omission from the Paycheck Protection Program has exposed the harsh realities of destination organization funding. Government budgets have been severely impacted. Patterns of behavior and revenues streams that have been the mainstay of funding have been decimated. Serious adjustments and a rebuilding of confidence and a sense of purpose for destination organizations will need to take place.

Enter Whole Brand Thinking

We believe a whole brand is a company or organization that believes everything it does is its brand. A core idea—what we call a red thread—guides, inspires and connects every action a whole brand takes, from marketing to business ideas. Whole brands outperform fragmented brands, the result of research we conducted studying 125 brands in 16 categories, just released. Read more about The 360°Advantage: How Whole Brands Dominate.

When considering the tourism industry, destination organizations need to operate as the whole brand steward of a destination and apply creativity across the whole brand spectrum.

Whole Brand Thinking, applied to destination organizations

When destination organizations embrace such holistic thinking and deploy it across the entire destination, entire communities will better understand, believe and behave as a product in totality. This pivot is a great starting point for destination organizations to build value in the eyes of the community’s residents. 

This includes considering all the elements of a community that benefit from a strong destination brand. The obvious benefactors include:

  • hotels
  • restaurants
  • livery
  • car rental
  • venues
  • attractions
  • cultural institutions. 

Several other areas of a community also benefit from a whole brand mindset. The government sector including local, state and federal taxing districts benefit from a vibrant and economically healthy community. Additionally, less visible benefactors include employers large and small, property owners, managers and sellers, hospitals, airports, colleges and universities. 

Historically, destination organizations significantly focus their efforts outside the community driving overnight visitation and economic impact. When leveraging a whole brand mindset, a destination organization must work across the entire brand spectrum and collaborate with traditional tourism partners as well with the other areas within the community that benefit from a strong destination brand. These additional, inward collaborative efforts strengthen the community’s brand and elevate the destination organization's position in the community as an asset and an important lever in advancing the community as it competes on the global stage.

The tourism industry has become more metric driven promoting KPIs as evidence of their value. These include hotel occupancy, avg. nightly rate growth, visitation, and of course tax receipts. However, this strategy limits a destination organizations purview to organizations and businesses that are directly tied to the tourism industry and to the efforts of the destination organization. More importantly, residents that are not associated with the tourism industry may not understand or care about the KPIs promoted.  

Everyone wins with Whole Brand Thinking

When looked at more closely, many other industries and organizations benefit from the work of a destination organization. Community assets like airports benefit from a stronger destination brand through increased ridership and air service development. This alignment can lead to an additional funding source and a reputation for being an important community asset, like an airport. This type of collaboration is seen across the globe at the annual “Routes Conference” the globally recognized route development conference.

A great place to visit is a great place to live—and a great place to live is a great place to work. A destination organization that effectively stewards the destination brand elevates the community as a place to visit and in turn a place to live and work. The important work a destination organization does in stewarding the destination’s brand lessens the burden of major employers recruiting efforts making the community an attractive place to live and attracting talent to compete in the global economy. 

In large and small communities, hospitals, healthcare networks and higher education institutions are the largest employers. When these large organizations recruit doctors and other professional staff, they expound on the high quality of life and the vibrancy of the community. In many cases, they may use the marketing materials destination organizations create. These collaborative efforts can lead to meaningful metrics that can be reported out to the community This partnership can lead to a deeper relationship, public support and possible direct funding. 

A destination organization that develops and stewards a modern brand that resonates with young people is invaluable to a college or university community. The reality is that they are in competition with other schools to attract the best students and faculty. This is great opportunity for a destination organization to lean into Whole Brand Thinking and align their strategies and collaborate with these institutions.  

As all these industries attract investment and business, and subsequently attract workers, the demand for real estate drives higher property values and higher tax revenues for the community. These efforts have a positive impact on commercial real estate prices, which means commercial real estate investors, developers, building managers all have a stake in the efforts of a destination organization. Additionally, as the economic vitality of destination improves so does residential home values which have a positive impact on the entire real estate sector. Developing partnerships with the local realtor associations can help elevate the importance of the destination organization as a shared community asset. 


When you take a holistic view and then define the stakeholders of a destination organization by whether they derive benefit from the organization, then the network of stakeholders is much more diverse than the current funding models suggest. A destination organization that takes a whole brand approach to destination stewardship and makes a meaningful effort of engaging and communicating the community it serves will position itself as a vital asset to the community worthy of uninterruptible funding.

Barkley US

Sep 03, 2020

filed under:
Brand Culture,COVID-19,Marketing,Millennial,Modern Consumer,Purpose,Travel,Whole Brands


B Corp, Brand Culture, CPG, Culture, Diversity + Inclusion, Financial Services, Gen Z, Healthcare, Marketing, Modern Consumer, Purpose, Research, Restaurant, Retail, Scratch, Sustainability, Travel, Whole Brands
B Corp, Brand Culture, Culture, Modern Consumer, Purpose, Sustainability, Whole Brands
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