For years couples have attached little padlocks to the bridge as a symbol of their love. Newlyweds or newly engaged couples travel from all over the world and one reason for their visit is to attach a lock to the bridge. But the bridge is collapsing under the weight of hundreds of thousands of locks. The city stepped in and and said “no more”.
I’ve written about this phenomenon before. Sharing experiences, traditions and superstitions are very powerful motivators. People throw coins in fountains, rub statues and kiss rocks for all kinds of reasons, all over the world. These traditions can be very powerful drivers for tourism, how strange this might sound. Travel often lacks a sense of urgency. You can visit most destinations any time in your life. Paris will still be Paris ten years from now. Mona Lisa will still be the same and so will the Eiffel Tower. But with a tradition tied to a life event such as engagement or marriage, the emotional connection acts as a catalyst.
Paris is putting a halt to it. I understand the safety concerns but here’s what I don’t get. They are taking away a strong motivator for travel. Why not give people an alternative? A new place to place a lock. It would be so simple. Hire an artist to create a sculpture with the purpose of attaching locks. Build it in a way you can remove locks from time to time. The coins from the Trevi fountain in Rome are also collected at night. I can guarantee that without an alternative, people will just move on to the next bridge, or not show up at all.
PRODUCT VS. EXPERIENCES
We’re in the business of making memories and a tourism brand is largely build via the stories people share through word of mouth and in social media. The implication is that the tourism industry needs to stop believing they’re selling products and start understanding they need to sell experiences.
A stay in a hotel is more than a room to sleep in. A visit to a restaurant is more than a meal. A visit to a museum is more than looking at art. It’s the same reason why Apple has turned unpacking their products into an experience. It’s why Starbucks can charge way more for coffee than McDonalds.
Selling products is a race to the bottom, selling experiences a race to the top. Just read the Experience Economy again. Experiences aren’t just the way customers interact with your staff. It includes every touchpoint from the moment somebody books to moment they’ve left.
I’ve been designing online experiences for more than a decade. Interaction design and Information Architecture are well established methodologies and processes. They’re user centred and based on bringing relevant content and services to target audiences in an easy and useful way. The processes are based on keeping a relentless focus on the end user, prototyping, testing, measuring and iterating. Personas, paper prototyping, usability tests and web analytics are all tools in the toolbox to make a good interactive experience.
Why wouldn’t you use the same methodologies and processes in the offline world?
DESIGNING TOURISM EXPERIENCES
Designing offline experiences isn’t something new. Just look at any of the Disney theme-parks The experience is managed completely from the moment you walk in until you leave. There’s a whole Imagineering department responsible for this and the results show. Disney is recognized as the gold standard in theme parks and are the most visited tourism attractions around the world.
DMOs should take Disney’s example and view their DMO through the same lens. Transportation, safety, cleanliness, friendliness of locals and signage all play part in the destination experience. Even though a DMO has nowhere near the control of a Disney theme park, it makes sense to strive to make the destination experience best it can be. By Nett Promotor Score (NPS) as a measure you can predict growth.
Designing experiences and managing the destination experience is starting to gain traction and the discipline is called Service Design. I’m not crazy about the term because it can easily be confused with customer service but it is what it is. There’s a good book called This is Service Design Thinking that explains service design in detail and provides the tools and processes a service designer needs.Technology tools are becoming available and conferences are being organized.
We’ve started doing service design work with clients. It’s a great fit with our company because it uses a similar approach to designing digital experiences. And because the customer experience is the start of social conversations, there’s a natural alignment with social media.
Happy New Year everybody! Here are three things off the top of my head that are important things to consider for 2013. Do you have any more?
1) PUT SOCIAL AT THE CORE
I think it’s pretty clear by now that social media has a major impact on the travel decision making process. If your tourism business or DMO hasn’t realized this yet you better catch up. You should be at level 3 or higher by now.
Most marketers think of social media as an add-on to a traditional campaign, or at least start with traditional thinking. It’s time to flip it around. Start with a social idea and support it with traditional methods. Or do traditional things in a social way. For example, we recently worked with a DMO who let it’s Facebook community vote on what photos would be published in it’s visitor guide.
2) START USING SERVICE DESIGN
Mitigating a mediocre experience with brilliant marketing doesn’t cut it anymore. The experience IS your marketing and the stories your visitors tell each other is what it’s all about. You have two choices. First choice is to join the race to the bottom and keep offering specials, discounts and special offers. The second one is to create remarkable experiences people love and want to be part of, regardless of what it costs.
If your choice is the latter, you need to start thinking about service design. When you’re an operator you need to start thinking about the end-to-end experience you offer your guest. When you are a DMO you need to think about the end-to-end destination experience. Service design is gaining a lot of momentum in Europe, especially in Austria where destinations are starting to take an active role in the design of the destination experience.
3) MOBILE: THINK DEVICE PLUS CONTEXT
I was on a panel at a conference in Barcelona recently and somebody asked about mobile. Before I could even think about it I said “it’s not about mobile, it’s about device + context”. I probably heard it somewhere before but I have never really thought about it like that. But it’s true. Whether you build a desktop site, a mobile site, an adaptive site or an app, it’s not the device that’s important. It’s the context of use.
When you search google maps, it takes into account your device, where you are and what date and time it is. That’s the context of your usage and the information you get back takes that into account. You need to so the same thing. A consumer accessing your content at home is looking for very different things than a consumer walking down the street in your destination.
Now here’s the kicker. Often that means people use another website than yours. Somebody walking down the street looking for a restaurant is going to use Google Maps, Yelp or Tripadvisor, not a DMO website. Even a consumer planning as trip might never even make in onto your website (hello travel bloggers). Your content online strategy needs to include content on third party websites. From inspiration to transaction. Just like we used to do it in the 90s with travel guides and tour operator brochures.
I’m not a foodie. But I like food. I like cooking. I like to eat good food. I like authentic experiences. I like holes in the wall. I once drove 5 hours to eat deep fried cheese. And when I was in LA last month I drove an hour to visit the Kogi food truck (photo). But I don’t really watch food shows, read food blogs or base every restaurant I visit on reviews on Yelp or Tripadvisor.
I have friends for that.
My friend Stephanie is a foodie. She tries crazy recipes and knows about all the new and hot restaurants in town. And beyond. There aren’t a lot of cities I travel to where she doesn’t know of someplace amazing.
Stephanie is not a big food influencer. She doesn’t blog, doesn’t take photos of her food, she doesn’t pin food recipes. She does influence her friends though. In person or on Facebook. And if she recommends a restaurant, I’m going.
I’m not a foodie. But I’m influenced by one.
Stephanie in turn, is influenced by a host of people who share her obsession with food. She’s part of a passionate community of foodies. A lot of her friends are foodies, she watches Food TV, reads a lot of food blogs, is active on Chow and follows celebrity chefs on Twitter.
Stephanie is a foodie. She makes her decisions based on information from influencers in the foodie community.
The example above is the essence of modern tourism marketing. Restaurants will get people like me in the door because I’m influenced by a foodie, who in turn is influenced by leaders in the foodie community.
As a marketer, you need to approach this in reverse. Activate the influencers who connect with the passionate community, who in turn connect with consumers at large.
This works for any kind of niche. Hiking, skiing, modern art, theatre, gambling, roller coasters, etc. There are thousands of passionate communities and each community, large or small, has influencers. It’s just a matter of activating it.
As a tourism marketer you need to identify your niches and ensure the delivery of your experience is remarkable so people will recommend your destination or product. It will start a cascading effect that produces long term results.
This was one of the messages from John O’Nolan‘s fantastic presentation at the DMO’s and social media conference in Valancia last week.
John rightfully pointed out that when people care enough about your product, take time out of their day and go through the effort to tell you that you need to fix a problem, it probably means they care and want you to succeed.
This is a huge opportunity. Fix the problem, invite them back and you might have a customer for life, and an advocate for your business.
I can’t wait for his book ‘Designing Emotion‘ to come out.
I often hear from hotel operators that negative reviews on Tripadvisor usually aren’t from their typical customers. A 4-star hotel receives bad reviews from customers who got a deal on a discount website because of high parking fees and the expensive restaurant. A family oriented hotel receives bad reviews from business traveler who complain about the noise from the kids playing in the pool.
I use the chart below in some of my presentations:
There are a lot of people will love your product and a lot of people who probably won’t. The people who love of hate your product are the people who will talk about you in social media. The people in the middle shrug their shoulders and won’t mention you either way.
Two lessons from this chart:
I think it was Michele McKenzie who said at Online Revealed Canada that people in the tourism industry should realize they’re in the business of making memories first and putting heads to beds second. I agree.
If you haven’t seen Simon Sinek’s TED video below, you really should. His book is a worth a read as well.
Simon’s hypothesis is simple. Businesses communicate wrong. They communicate WHAT they do, then HOW they do it. Instead they should communicate WHY they do things, then HOW they do it, then WHAT they do. When you inspire people about WHY you do things, the how and what makes more sense.
At Think! we believe we can make people’s lives better by making tourism experiences better, one destination or product at a time. We do this by working with DMO’s and tourism product operators, helping them create remarkable products and market them to the niche audiences that truly love them. We have a methodology and we offer strategic development, training, products and delivery services to achieve this.
Why should somebody visit your destination or business? Don’t tell me because you have the best food, the best golf, best art scene or the cleanest rooms. That’s WHAT you do. And everybody else claims the same thing.
Disney themeparks are in the business of making “magical” memories for families. Vegas is in the business of making memories that “stay in Vegas” to anybody but families. They both know their WHY and so does everybody who works there, and their customers who visit know it as well.
What’s your WHY?
When we were on vacation in Ireland a few years ago we went to kiss the Blarney Stone of course. When I was trying to find out what the stone is about, why people kiss it and when it all started it turned out there are all kinds of legends but no real definitive answer. The only reason why people kiss the stone seems to be because everybody else does it.
We also went to this festival called Puck Fair, where a little town parties for a whole weekend. They catch a wild goat (the puck), get it crowned as king by a young girl and hoist it on top of the main stage for the duration of the event. Why? Nobody is really sure. But the town is packed.
In Rome, people throw about 3000 euros a day in the Trevi fountain. In Prague, people rub the Statue of St John Nepomuk.
People are social and people want to be part of a story. For a tourism business or DMO, traditions can be remarkable experiences that put people in the story of your destination. People will go out their way not to miss them.
What traditions and folklore does your destination have people can be part of?
It doesn’t have to be steeped in history either. It can be as simple as nailing a pair of shoes to a tree. Next thing you know it’s a tradition, everybody is doing it and you have a tourist attraction like in Prince Rupert, BC.