Thursday, April 30, 2009
The tourism industry certainly is not immune to the challenges of the current economic environment. Yet a recent review of a study commissioned by The Ontario Government Ministry of Tourism shows that the industry is as much of a challenge to itself. Just as they did more than a decade ago (when I attended the Ecole Suisse de Tourisme), most destinations still focus on competing on the functional benefit of “quality.” Certainly, iconic buildings, a vibrant night scene or natural beauty are assets that indicate quality and add to the “must visit” factor of a destination. But those are just the price of entry for the tourism industry.
At the same time, most destinations disregard or poorly manage the emotional level of their brands — the sense of place. Much is wrapped up in this notion. Sense of place is a collage of distinct vignettes, ranging from food to architecture, colors, vegetation, animals, locals, language, you name it. All of these vignettes are ingrained in our collective mind, evoking certain emotions. Consider Venice: St. Mark's Square, pigeons, a labyrinth of alleys and small bridges, Carnival, gondoliers, the Grand Canal, and so on. Most of us can conjure up collages of countless places around the world, and they are even more meaningful if we have our own experiences to add.
But even though sense of place means “shared knowledge,” it is up to the destinations to carefully manage and enhance our personal collages with authentic, up-to-date notions. If not, social and even traditional media will take the reins.
Unfortunately, many destinations haven’t taken much notice of the developments in the marketplace, particularly in social media. Instead, they have beaten generations of travelers over the head with the same old, tired collages. Or worse, they have removed all sense of place, even the cliches, as evidenced by recent advertising commissioned by the tourism boards of Albania and Andalusia. Viewing them, I cannot decide if Albania is my passion, or if it is Andalusia that truly loves me. The two commercials run into each other as neither creates a strong enough sense of place. I am much more taken with the fact that Albania, one of Europe’s poorest countries, and Andalusia go together so seamlessly. The same vixens and handsome jocks seem to frolic on beaches in both countries. Wait, did both countries engage the same graphic designer, hire the same art director, and buy the same canned music? I wouldn’t put it past them. At least they saved money on the narrator.
No matter the coveted population — cultural tourists, business travelers, or any other group — I recommend a unique viewpoint and an authentic story, even if that of a chicken. Better yet, destinations would use (human) locals as ambassadors. That said, the commercial by Swiss grocer Migros demostrates to the tourism industry (and others) that fresh viewpoints and good storytelling always are compelling.
photo credit to scottnj via Flickr