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Why DMO Storytelling Doesn’t Work

Rosenfeld Media via flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Rosenfeld Media via flickr (CC BY 2.0)

At most tourism conferences I’ve been attending, one or more speakers tells the audience how important storytelling is and why DMOs should be doing it.  I must admit, I don’t get it.

I understand when an author tells a story set in a destination. Or when Hollywood makes a movie there. Or when travel writers visit and write up their experience as a story.  And it makes sense for DMOs to help get all of these storytellers to their destination.  But what story is a DMO supposed to convey in a Tweet or a photo that makes people actually want visit? The “storytelling” that most DMOs are “curating” feels more like Visitor Begging or Photo Fluff.  It’s either a Tweet that sounds something like “Hey, visit us in the off-season… it’s a little chilly, but the prices are lower and there’s lots of fun stuff to do.”  Or they’ve crowd sourced themed content and are putting up pictures of local food or sunsets.  The photos are nice, but there are nice meals and sunsets everywhere… not a strong hook to buy a plane ticket and spend your valuable holiday time there.

When the product is great, the story basically tells itself.  When Apple’s iPhone 6s came out, a photographer recently blogged that the video footage was sharper and better on his iPhone than on his favorite $3ooo Nikon DSLR camera. And he uploaded evidence.  That’s a great story that makes for a compelling reason to purchase the iPhone.  But what makes it work is that Apple managed to make their iPhone 6s camera such high quality.   That is, it’s a product development that’s newsworthy.  And a blogger noticed on his own.  The tourism version of this would have been to have the same iPhone as last year (because DMOs don’t create product) and try to get people to take photos of their iPhone or tell about some feature that is not new, nor is unique to the iPhone. It’s tough to sell that story to anyone.

What sort of story gets people to visit a destination? How about something like this: we’ve invested $30 million in cleaning our beaches and adding a new waste treatment facility and now our water and beaches have been judged by independent scientists to be the cleanest and clearest in the Caribbean. (You can almost imagine the media headline “XX  Has the Caribbean’s Best Beaches and Clearest Water”)  That’s a product development tied to the direction you want to take your branding, which is also a great destination driver. And it’s got a strong news hook that will make the story likely to get picked up by the media.   But that starts with the question: “Who do we want to be?” (the destination with the best beaches and water in the Caribbean) and “What do we need to do to reach that goal?”  Then comes the product development… and then the press release.  Many destinations are starting with the press release (what can we announce today?) and working backwards.



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