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How the tourism sector thinks about storytelling, platforms

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You would expect “emotional” storytelling and content marketing to feature high on the agenda at a publishers’ convention. But in the tourism sector? Yes. At the world’s largest tourism expo - ITB in Berlin last month - these topics were central themes. Visit Finland set the scene, explaining why they have created their own new digital magazine, in German, for content marketing. 

Reading through the ‘key topics’ at this year’s Internationale Tourismus-Börse (ITB - ‘international tourism market’) in Berlin, those who are mindful of challenges in the publishing industry could easily be excused for thinking they had arrived at the wrong convention.

Under the title ‘Disruptive travel: The end of the world as we know it', organisers welcomed visitors with the words: “we are experiencing the full force of a new phenomenon, the digital transformation... this new technology trend has the potential to undo established value chains and create a completely new order”.

Topics like “digital transformation”, “augmented reality”, “virtual reality”, “dynamic content creation”, “social media as a sales channel”, “content marketing” and “emotional storytelling” featured in dozens of the workshops presented over three days. To a publisher, all of these issues will sound eerily familiar.

Finland’s tourism authority seems to be leading the pack. They argue that the challenges being experienced in the disruption of attracting tourists to their country are similar to the disruption experienced in the publishing industry. Consequently, they have come up with a solution vested in both.

Jyrki Oksanen, director for Central Europe at Visit Finland told ITB conference goers, they realised that conventional advertising and marketing were not achieving desired results any more. It kick-started the search for alternative solutions.

Oksanen explains that it all started when they realised the practice of translating their own travel ideas into a foreign languages to use in marketing ceased to be effective.

This led to a vision to activate bloggers from other countries who visited Finland “to honestly write about their own experiences in their own languages”, says Oksanen. 

“We also realised we needed to provide these bloggers and contributors with their own channel or platform to publish their work, which could then be integrated with social media platforms.”

The first initiative in achieving this was to collaborate with a German agency - Intensive Senses - who is now responsible for facilitating and creating content specifically aimed at German consumers. Intensive Senses created a publishing platform for this: the digital magazine ‘Dein Finland’, which Oksanen says not only “raised enthusiasm for travel” to Finland, but also proved to raise additional income from travel bookings.

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Director of Intensive Senses, Joachim Schmidt, told hundreds of tour operators at the convention’s eTravel Lab the answer to content marketing in the tourism industry is similar to promoting products in publishing. The success hinges on good storytelling, and when it comes to selling tourism destinations, storytelling that appeals to emotions. 

But similar to brands that would like to see immediate sales on the back of content marketing, many marketers in the tourism industry lack vision, he says. “The way we need to tell stories is not to advertise bluntly...The discrepancy we see is that tourism marketers think in terms of selling products. But (potential) travellers think in terms of emotions.”

He says the days are long gone when travellers need to be bombarded with information such as to do lists, opening times, menus and a run down of conveniences. “That’s what TripAdvisor is for…” 

Neither do they need more information. “People are already overwhelmed by messages. Their senses are saturated.”

He compares the abundance of neon banners on New York’s Time Square with what the internet is doing to consumers. “People are blinded by the sheer volume of messages on websites. They have unlimited access to information to the point that they now selectively choose what information they want. People consciously choose to ignore advertising. They know where the banners are and have stopped reading them.”

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In this environment, consumers warm to inspiring content, or in Schmidt’s words: “Stories they do not recognise as advertising.”

He offers five tips for creating content marketing in the tourism domain that finds engagement with readers:

1. Logical structure. No matter how important emotional writing is to readers, every good story must be well planned, focused and written to target each potential market grouping.

2. Stories must be authentic. Tell real stories about real people and real places. Adhere to this rule and real people will not only relate to it, they will share it.

3. Create passion. Stories that evoke sympathy and interaction with places, issues and characters always have a viral element. These are the stories that get shared on social media.

4. Objectivity. Writers who are honest cannot always only praise destinations. If an experience is bad, it needs to be said. “Otherwise you will be ridiculed on social media”.

5. Presentation. Choose the right medium for the right target market and make sure the quality lives up the platform. A video platform demands quality video productions, a photo platform demands quality images, each social media platform demands its own style.

As Schmidt points out, meeting the above criteria demands long and hard hours of work. However, “In our experience it’s time well invested and I assure you, it pays off,” he says.

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