When you imagine going somewhere, what do you see in your mind’s eye? Is it red text shouting ‘Free piña colada’ at you? Or is it you sipping a cold piña colada, inching your foot into a warm ocean, listening to the gentle sound of waves lapping on the shore, with a tropical sun slung low and orange on the horizon?
Likely you’ve chosen the latter and yet marketers are still talking the language of markdowns, coupons, save, save, save–quick-fire messages that are aimed at increasing click throughs and not necessarily deepen or enrich destination dreaming. Sure a travel deal appeals to all of us but in the rush to grab our attention online, the experience, the tangible, sensual journey of our trip planning gets lost between stay another night for free and a continental breakfast included.
The fact is, dreaming is how we plan our trip in our minds. We dream about a place then, slowly, we move towards the reality of it. We talk to friends and family, we peruse websites, we sign up for travel deal alerts, we watch videos, we go on TripAdvisor, we form ideas about the destination in our minds eye. We dream about ourselves in the destination. Maybe we are planning a trip with our partner, or solo, or perhaps with our family: A picture forms in our minds of how it will be, what it will feel like, the food we might try, the cold beer by the pool, the afternoon sleep under cool white sheets in the hotel, the feel of warm air against our skin, the culture we can explore, the unscheduled days of just ‘being’ in the destination.
How can hotels and tourism organizations foster dreaming and create immersive, experiential stories that allow more travellers to dream of their destination? By using strategic storytelling across multiple-platforms that allow travelers to engage with the true character of your destination.
Here are five ways you can create better destination stories that will foster dreams of travel and convert prospective customers into ones that book with you because they want to experience the story you’ve promised to them:
1. Tell the untold story
Always talked about your amazing seaside view from your restaurant? Try telling a story of a local who fishes there instead. Create a video story of that fisherman, from the moment he sets out in the morning, with the first rays of dawn breaking to the moment when he drags his catch in at the end of the day. Show your chef buying the fish from him. Tell the narrative of his experience looking up at your restaurant, knowing he provided the scrumptious dinners that the guests are dining on and the pride that brings him as an entrepreneur and fisherman. Tell the untold stories of your destination; there are thousands of them but they require a paradigm shift and a willingness to explore. But then, isn’t that why we’re in the travel industry? We’re explorers at heart!
2. Use multiple platforms to extend the experience
Obsessed with your EdgeRank on Facebook so that is where you spend your time? Think again. There are hundreds of platforms to use as tools to tell your destination story. For instance, using the same fisherman story as an example, you could tell an Instagram story of the day, using collages, filters, hashtags and geotagging it for an entirely visual narrative and then share that story on your Tumblr, Facebook, and Twitter. Additionally, you could use a longer prose approach on your website or blog, embed your video story and link out to your other platforms to extend the experience further. Creating a cross-platform story will allow customers to enter your story from any of these channels. They may just read about it on Instagram or they may just want to listen to it, or they may enjoy all of the media you created. The point is, today’s consumer wants the choice and they want it available to them how they wish–to consume, to curate it, and in some cases, re-assemble components of the story into their own narrative and that should be encouraged! It is no longer how you wish to define it but rather enabling your customers to experience it and share it.
3. Use multiple media forms to engage the senses
To enhance your destination stories, you could add a lovely layer of sound using Soundcloud so folks that prefer phonographic stories can enjoy the sounds of your voices on the ocean (using the same fisherman analogy), the thud of the fish as it hits the bottom of the boat, the musings of a fisherman on his voyage out to sea everyday. For instance, you could create a series of recordings about the fish as a theme for your restaurant including a fun interview back in the kitchen, with the Chef preparing the fish and talking about his process, the sound of hot oil cooking, the sounds of chopping, and so on. These are visceral experiences that extend your story and enrich it for customers. However, an important point of view to always ensure you have woven into your narrative is that of the customer–do not undervalue the role this plays in your storytelling! Everything is about peer review now so you cannot leave your customers out of your story. Interview the diners to end the fish narrative and set this against a backdrop of them with that famous view of the ocean you feature. Your story ends with happy smiling faces (of actual customers), the sound of the ocean lapping playing in the background, and a video of sizzling fish on a platter delivered to a table. Now you’ve got someone dreaming as they imagine themselves in your story.
4. Create a narrative with compelling characters
Find compelling characters. Either make them up (it’s okay to use fiction!) as a virtual guest who explores your destination or search out locals or guests that have a natural storytelling ability. This doesn’t mean bravado and performance–it means a genuine and engaging personality that you want to listen to and spend some time with. Likely there are staff members in your organization you may not have considered as great storytellers before but they are worth searching for. The banquet captain who happens to be an opera buff? Tell the story of his day, with a spot where he stops in an empty ballroom and sings his heart out. Film clips of him preparing for a huge event, his tenacious and gregarious leadership as each component gets put together for the big night. Then show that same ballroom full to capacity and the opera playing in the background. Good storytelling does not start in marketing. Good storytelling starts with an individual who is compelling and has an interesting story to share. Make it your business to search them out.
5. Tell behind-the-scenes stories
Social media loves behind-the-scenes storytelling. Let the corporate brand tell the grand narratives, that’s their job, but as individual destination organizations you must be able to show the texture and taste and feel of your world as it ‘really’ is to prospective travelers. Get behind the curtain, show the wizard at work! You don’t have to reveal state secrets but you will want to tell the stories of how your amazing experience gets pulled together for the traveler and demonstrate the care and attention your give it in the process. In an amazing documentary called The Monarchy: The Royal Family At Work produced by the BBC takes the ‘commoner’ behind-the-scenes into the Queen’s world where the stories of the employees are told and brilliantly positioned in the larger narrative of the Royal family. Intimate, often humorous, conversations between the Queen and her staff pull back the posh curtain to reveal the intensely hard work that goes on to support the Royal destinations, and the many generations of families that have happily been in the service of the various palaces.
I am always shocked that hotels don’t profile their long-standing employees more–they are a million dollar database of stories for that hotel! But I digress. It doesn’t have to be a long story about an employee but it does have to be interesting. For instance, even the smallest detail can be a source of interest. You could create a micro-story on the pillows of your hotel. Where they are sourced, why the Executive Housekeeper likes that brand over another, what they offer in terms of the feel and softness to the guest, and then, get a quote from a happy guest about the pillows. One more reason to stay at your hotel that a traveler might not ever know about in your corporate brand story that’s busy talking about the view and the 360 room videos.
If you have a smart phone, you can literally create video, photography, and phonographic stories from the palm of your hand! Be strategic about your story, and be sure to write out a narrative before you hit the production of your story or you will have a harder time putting it together once you’ve created the content. The key is to invest in your storyteller and I’m not talking about hiring some Gen Y because they seem like they know how to Tweet. Be highly discerning in hiring for this position, afterall, they will be your chief storyteller and in my opinion, that is one of the most important jobs in a destination.