What is the relationship between a Renaissance painting, an urban concrete slab and the work of a bellboy in a hotel? In the tourist field, everything: the meaning they contribute to an experience. In three examples and 10 keys I tell how to activate it.
8 min read
The opinions expressed by collaborators are personal.
I open with three personal experiences linked to tourist storytelling . The first is from Ghent, in Belgium. There they keep an invaluable work of the Renaissance. It is the ” Adoration of the Mystic Lamb “ painted by Juan Van Eyck in 1432. Its panels speak of the salvation of man by the divinity. For years, those responsible for local tourism promotion sold it as a claim. Beyond some art fans, the success of the campaigns was limited.
They studied the problem and took a better approach: there are priceless works everywhere. There are so many that some are hardly remembered and, unless you have a Mona Lisa, a Sagrada Familia or a Chichen Itza, hardly any will become a global attraction. Millions of dollars are thrown away every day in useless advertising.
They launched a campaign with new stories . Seeing her, everything changes. Far from announcing boring art exhibitions, it presents contemporary stories mixed with emotions that identify us all. How could a work from 1432 deal with such current issues?
Those storytellers made me want to go to Ghent. Now I know that this work will help me grow internally, reflecting feelings that are part of my being: love, peace, respect … These are things that I seek because they give meaning to my life. Municipalities of the world: take good note.
The deceased pothole
Second example. Walking through the center of Barcelona I found a nice slab attached to the floor . Not only does it have a different color from the others. It also has an inscription: “Here lies a pothole.” I researched and discovered that it is the brainchild of French street artist Ememem . Last October, during the riots that followed the sentencing of the leaders of the Catalan independence movement, urban paving slabs were used as projectiles against the authority. There was a problem of rage, another of misunderstanding and another of vandalism. Of the latter, physical discomfort remained.
With his slab, Ememem healed a pavement wound and demonstrated that ingenuity brings solutions. Now, that land is a declaration of principles of how Barcelona wants to be and of what history its inhabitants want to tell. Oscar Vilarroya has a book whose title expresses the sentiment: ” We are what we tell each other .”
Millions of tourists will see and portray the slab, and upload it to their social networks. It is a way to bury physical and emotional potholes. Something worth seeing and sharing. Something, again, with meaning.
Image: Mario Sorribas
The bell boy drama
I live the third example when I visit a new city. I stay in hotels and, if I have a free moment, I ask the receptionist to recommend something interesting to visit.
The answer is usually a tourist brochure where I am hand painted the area of cool restaurants or expensive shops. What they offer me is the same thing that I find in all cities: global brands and identical activities. To see that, I stay home. So I insist: “But wouldn't they have something of their own, interesting and different from what is in my country?”
This is where the bell boy or the bell girl play it off. Many ignore the stories of the city where they work. But sometimes I am successful. And I learn things that are really worth it, because they clearly answer two concerns: “what is the point of this recommendation?” and “what makes the experience of this place unique?” That changes my experience.
The great cities of the world increasingly resemble each other. And hotel companies that distinguish themselves from others have the delicacy of wanting to learn from each local environment in which they operate. They also support the sensitivity of their staff and ask them to recommend experiences (not things or places) that make the stays memorable. Experience is what makes a thing wonderful or horrible.
I appreciate those who make sense of my journey. And I recommend them to everyone. I do the same with the restaurants, the museums, the points of attention to the traveler and the tourist trusts and trusts that I visit, either for pleasure or for business.
Ten keys to storytelling to make the tourist experience make sense
In addition to sunbathing and eating well, academic research shows that tourists want to learn and discover the destination. Personally, I want them to tell me about values and feelings that make me grow and not about things that I already have at home.
Tourist storytelling begins and ends with people: from professionals to clients. It has little to do with commercials and a lot with what is essential. And, as Antoine de Saint Exupéry's “ Little Prince ” said, “what is essential is what is invisible to the eyes”. I always tell companies, municipalities and organizations dedicated to tourism and leisure to do ten things to connect with the essentials. The same ones that I recommend to you:
1. Don't cut your past. Creating an innovative narrative does not mean giving up the past or using the same old words. Just look for a new approach to your roots. As in Ghent, it talks about the feelings, values and concerns of today's people. That attracts. The opposite is to lose identity.
2. Tell specific episodes. Tourist storytelling is not about writing a novel about the destination. It is enough to “cure” (select and exploit) small daily anecdotes that show how the people who live (or lived) in the destination are, what are their challenges and what are their achievements. Like the Barcelona slab.
3. Broadcast the stories through multiple channels . In a hotel, it will do little good to have a single bell boy capable of telling those stories. The entire organization, from the waiter to the manager, from the web to the newsletter , must have that sensitivity and have the necessary resources, attention and training.
4. Maintain narrative coherence . Not everyone in your organization should tell the same story. But they must speak of the same values through the stories they tell. Here I mention some values: integration, creativity, innovation, dynamism, desire to live … There is more.
5. Recognize the tourist . I affirm that the only story that tells is that of the client. So: how do you expect the experience to interest you, if you don't take him into account as the protagonist? How will visiting this or that resort improve your life? How is that experience going to help you grow as a human being?
6. Collect the feedback . Organizations that listen to the customer have an advantage: they integrate everything they learn. And that makes them better hotels, restaurants and recreational parks. The same is true for tourist administrations: abandon self-promotion campaigns. Listen to your tourist at once!
7. Create alliances with those who share your values . Find other entities and companies with the same values. Agree with them and create packages of joint services in which your client can find the coherence of point 4. Believe me: they will go crazy with illusion.
8. Think of a scorpion . Someone said that the best texts and novels save the spark for the end, as scorpions keep venom in their tails. Make sure that the experiences you recommend save a final learning, a lesson, a twist that leads you to understand the entire experience in a new light.
9. Remember that teaching is learning twice. Studies show that people learn more when they need to teach than when they just listen . Your client is not a passive being. He wants to be able to teach others with what he learned on the trip. If you want him to speak well of you, give him material so he can do it and thus gain social value.
10. Remember that “what happens in Las Vegas stays on Instagram . “ As Professor Tom Van Laer's team demonstrated, people want to share their experiences. But only if they are significant. Recommending someone to go to a global restaurant chain or to the same stores as always is wrong. To put him before something significant is to give him the ammunition necessary for his own stories to succeed on social networks.