Social Exchange Between a DMO and Its Stakeholders: A Case Study in the Rural Southeast United States

Angela G. Sebby


Many rural areas in the Southeastern United States implement tourism to supplement the declining manufacturing and farming opportunities in their communities. Through informative resources from the USDA, regional tourism development projects, the Main Street America program, and national, state, and regional grants, rural communities have the necessary building blocks readily available to advance tourism projects. However, numerous rural counties still incur obstacles in the development of tourism, resulting in the inability for them to sustain a viable destination area.

Destination Marketing Organizations (DMOs) appear ineffective in marketing the rural area as a destination that fully embodies the culture, history, and natural resources it exhibits due to small-town politics, naivety of the benefits of tourism, and misaligned brand images. Consequently, visitor demands and expectations cannot be met due to the lack of trust in the DMO’s ability to recognize the stakeholders’ contributions for the betterment of the community as a destination brand.

Understanding how to obtain stakeholders’ confidence, a DMO can develop strategic relationships through continual and consistent social exchange, strengthened over time, as trust evolves. These relationships sustain the all-inclusive brand image for the rural destination area, increasing visitor satisfaction and, therefore, stakeholder investments.

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