A while ago I re-learnt a useful tourism marketing lesson from N, my then 12-year old. We were planning a weekend in Berlin. I lived in East Germany in the early 1980s in the days of the Cold War and find it fascinating to go back. N. really wasn't keen and at first I couldn't understand why not.
"Whenever I think of it, it's in black and white and sounds miserable and horrid. When you talk about being arrested and bad food and people following you, it makes me think it's like a scarey old film. I don't want to go there".
The penny dropped. N has heard me talk about my experiences living in East Germany. I've never told her the full story of the reunification or how Berlin has developed into a funky weekend destination. Her mind is full of pre-conceptions and outdated, incomplete information: I need to overcome some of those before she'll look forward to a weekend in Berlin.
This is something which happens so often in tourism marketing.
We can waste a fortune by failing to understand what's already in someone's mind. This conversation reminded me of VisitBritain research which found many Chinese people have read Sherlock Holmes stories and therefore believe London is still prone to pea-soupers. They need to see new images of modern-day London before they'll want to visit.
Tourism marketeers don't always help themselves. For years the North East was promoted as "Catherine Cookson Country", as the setting of some of the most miserable books you'll ever read. Just because a certain literary style or writer is popular doesn't mean it should be the focus for all your marketing.
Until very recently businesses in Haworth (see earlier blog on this) couldn't understand why tourism wasn't constantly developing on the back of the Brontes (3 sisters who died before their mid thirties and a drug-riddled, alcoholic brother are not always the best advert for a place even if they write well).
Tourism marketeers are constantly throwing out messages, telling me people what we want them to hear. But how often do we stop to think about what's already in their minds? What are they really interested in? What misunderstandings do we need to overcome? Have we assumed potential visitors are all as fascinated by the things we want to tell them about (Brontes for example) or are there other aspects of a place we should stress? Do our visitors even understand the information we're putting out?
What are you telling your potential visitors? Is it at odds with what they might already know/believe? We need to find out what's already in their minds before we can fill them with new (and sometimes contrasting) information.
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Please note: all articles are copyrighted Susan Briggs