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Changemaker Check-in: Jessica Vandy on the Crucial Role of Regional Tourism Organisations

Changemaker Check-in: Jessica Vandy on the Crucial Role of Regional Tourism Organisations

Commentary: Essential Tourism Organisations can serve Aotearoa’s well-being far beyond marketing and should be protected

06 June 2023, Aotearoa, New Zealand: “I’ve had many interesting conversations over the last week about the role of Regional Tourism Organisations (RTO) in Aotearoa – also known as Destination Management Organisations for those outside of the country – since I spoke out in support of Hawke’s Bay Tourism, my local RTO, last week.

I was nervous as heck making my submission, more than any stage or person I’ve spoken in front of before. I felt so deeply frustrated by the decision to potentially defund this valuable organisation.

In recent years, through my partnerships with the Global Destination Sustainability Movement (GDS-Movement) and #MEET4IMPACT, I’ve had the privilege of working with many destinations around the world learning about the varied structures, roles they play, how they’re funded, and what a highly effectively RTO looks like.

The loss of funding in the RTO environment is a constant battle particularly where

  • there is a lack of perceived value for the investment made by councils,
  • there is a misalignment in strategic outcomes (from stakeholders- industry partners and residents), or
  • the local councilors prioritise their own preferred projects for their constituents.

These battles will only become greater as more pressure is placed on councils to deliver on infrastructure, climate resilience, etc., while costs continue to increase.

I don’t have all the solutions. However, I do believe RTOs must play a bigger role in ensuring their value is clearly articulated and understood by residents. This will help ensure that when residents participate in the democratic process, they feel empowered with the right information. There is also a strong argument for more effective measurement of their impact that extends far beyond economic KPIs alone. They can bring important cultural, environmental, and social benefits to communities.

RTOs play a critical role in tourism development, job creation, product growth, infrastructure, community engagement, and events, which is why we must be in favour of supporting them.

Can we please STOP saying they are ‘just marketing organisations’? That is simply not the case.”


More about the author

Jessica Vandy is a passionate sustainability practitioner who built a 16-year career in tourism and events before pivoting in early 2020 to launch her own New Zealand-based consulting business. She works with destinations and event organisers across Asia Pacific to empower the industry to thrive responsibly. She consults, facilitates, and advocates for looking beyond sustainability and into a regenerative mindset. She is a senior consultant for both Global Destination Sustainability Movement and social impact non-for-profit, #MEET4IMPACT. 

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