25 years old today: what difference has the World Wide Web really made to #travel?

Today is the 25th anniversary of the World Wide Web, an innovation that has fundamentally changed society much as the Industrial Revolution did in the 18th century.

The travel and tourism industry is one transformed – indeed is still transforming and keeping we travel and tourism professionals on our toes. No longer in control of messages, brands or distribution channels. The customer has all that.

But what has changed exactly? The experience or the way we access these? We still go out to eat don’t we? Or are we doing that in a different way? The act of eating I mean, not clogging up social media with what you are eating and how clean the toilets were.

I have on my desk a travel memoir that was published in 1908 and tells of a winter voyage to South Africa by a small party of intrepid English travellers. It includes such gems as having lunch with the Governor and his lady, afternoon tea with Emily Hobhouse who was helping destitute Boer women, followed by a glorious 32-mile motor around the Cape peninsula with its views of ocean, shore and mountain – one of the finest drives in the world, followed by a private tour of Mr Ardens Claremont garden. The group even complains that the city is becoming too modern and that buildings from the past will be lost! Where have we heard that before?

So what had really changed between that trip and my own recent visit 116 years later?

For a start, I wasn’t greeted by a marching band at the airport, nor was I invited to take tea with the great and good of Cape Town, but perhaps if there weren’t so many visitors to Cape Town now, this could have been arranged?

Pre-travel: The journey in 1908 was undertaken for business purposes and the itinerary I suggest would have been planned around specific activities, people and locations. Advice on where to stay would have come from colleagues as well as strangers. That much hasn’t changed. What has, is the ability to now read other customers’ reviews.

Booking: No doubt the travellers from 116 years ago booked with the great travel pioneer, Thomas Cook who was the first to successfully package long haul travel, but it cost a fortune and was not accessible to the masses. I expect the booking was made months, or even year’s in advance with confirmations and embossed tickets issued. How on earth did they plan ahead? How did they know where to stay in Bloemfontein or Durban? Private homes was one answer. That has all changed with online booking, awareness and fierce price competition that is now the norm, with every continent within reach.

Access; whilst I was fortunate to have once travelled on a mail ship between Cape Town and Southampton in just 11 days, for visitors today, with less time on their hands, the overnight flight is indispensable. However, the authors description of entering Table Bay encapsulates the delight that travellers have experienced since those first Portuguese explorers rounded the Cape in the 15th century and will continue to do so in the future. 

Look what’s happened to Lonely Planet: I still use guidebooks, whilst their restaurant listings may not be up to date, the destination essentials don’t really change do they? There is less hype in guidebooks that are keen to convey a sense-place and less about what is hip-and-happening that will doubtless be shut this time next year. I do have the luxury of checking online though, to see what is available but always trusting word of mouth.

A bed for the night: Of course they stayed at the elegant Mount Nelson hotel, that timeless pink Cape Town icon and maybe some of the staff would remember this group? Seriously though, we still all need somewhere to rest our heads at night, but the traveller of today needs more than a bath down the hall to keep them happy. WiFi is considered an essential service, and is probably the shoe-shine equivalent.

Dining: the author doesn’t mention food at all and I expect that’s because the Edwardians had a very different relationship with what they ate and viewed it only as a means to an end. Not something to share with everyone else, all spread out on the table, and only being allowed to be eaten once hundreds of pictures had been posted on various online channels. Whatever would they have made of that I wonder?

When was the last time you sent or received a postcard? It doesn’t say if the travellers sent any, but they were the easiest and most convenient way of showing off to your friends and family where you had been. Sharing discoveries of your travels hasn’t changed, it’s the frequency and ease that has become a double-edged sword. Whatever happened to living for that moment and just enjoying what you were doing?

An Edwardian Selfie: 1908

An Edwardian Selfie: 1908

Memories: these travellers published a book about their journey – how novel is that? It would have certainly been viewed as daring to have travelled so far, been away from home for so long and to have had the wealth to do it! Are we so easily impressed these days? There are no selfies of course, only dour pictures of groups of sombre-looking people in dark woollen suits. I think if they had access to the internet, they would have left those at home and worn something more comfortable. Thanks to the internet we don’t have to invest in quite so much time and money to share our travel memories.

Becoming immersed in local culture is not something you need the internet for: what is still required is an open mind and willingness to engage and put yourself out of your comfort zone. The author enthused at great length about meeting with people from across the diverse South African spectrum in a manner that is so familiar today.  He also voices an opinion of his host’s political views, but it’s guarded and sets out not to offend anyone. Unlike these days, we can offend whom we like, when ever we like.

Perhaps what has evolved since 1908 is not the desire to visit new places, experience new things and then share with others, but that this can now be done in a much faster time in a way that suits so many more individual tastes, budgets and time pressures. We, the travel professionals want above all else, those ringing endorsements that will drive more business. But the travel essentials of needing transport, food and lodging has not changed – all of the above still served with varying degrees of skill, comfort or food poisoning.

I await the next 25 years with great impatience.

Posted in Local Distinctiveness, London, Marketing Communications, Social Media, South Africa, Tourism, Travel and Leisure | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Locals are Destinations’ Custodians

It’s not just about grand vistas and easy to capture statements of beauty, it’s in the detail that a landscape’s story is told.

Full of bold statements and a mind-boggling array of activities, I wasn’t sure five night’s in a resort would do the Overberg region in the Western Cape any justice.

Much visited, advocated and t-shirt’s bought – in fact I was born in Cape Town, I was now ready to re-discover other old haunts. Travelling east along sweeping bays fringed by plunging blue mountains, empty beaches and aqua seas with villages and small towns tucked in at various pretty bays along the way, Walker Bay is traditionally famous for winter whale watching in this region called the Overberg – roughly translated as ‘over the mountain’, is a destination ready to put itself firmly on the map.

The timing is right: Cape Town is enjoying more well-deserved accolades and subsequent increase in visitors, but it feels busy. Faded overseas country flags and restaurants struggling to cope are the downside to success. The Overberg on the other hand, didn’t appear to have any flags and has space and room to breath aplenty. It is a two hours drive away and the coastal R44 feels like Chapman’s Peak without all the crowds.

Calling in on old friends along the way meant not having to spend time in forgettable “farm stalls”, and were rewarded with excellent local food, wine and local gossip – what not to miss and what to avoid (there’s a marketing lesson in there somewhere).

Our destination was Grootbos, a resort that needs no introduction as it’s been widely promoted and written about and it’s somewhere I’ve wanted to visit for a long time. Clearly a successful business, it has great appeal, so expectations were high.

There is a misconception in my industry that visitors are helpless/hapless or stupid, and need entertainment spoon-fed to them 24 hours a day. Some of us are none of the above; we want to relax, spend family time together but also want to absorb the local culture, colour and stories.

I am not a fan of resorts; benefits are hazy and they are for lazy, disinterested visitors, who only leave on a coach, starve out local business and have a negative impact on the wider environment don’t they? Whilst I cannot vouch for the Grootbos supply chain, there’s ample local food and wine to choose from, local employment opportunities and the Grootbos nature reserve. But perhaps not so obvious is the huge detail and layers of heritage that are peeled back by the staff and specialists who share their home with us. It’s a privilege to able to enjoy somewhere as pristine as this and to be a guest in another person’s world.

We went out on various excursions in the bay and each one offered something unique: lead by an individual with their own perspective on life that guiding training school thankfully hadn’t erased. Like a carpet, their own threads and experiences are inter-woven into the wider landscape story. We would have missed completely if we were racing around from one wine farm to the next.

One guide was keen to share his love of the national and local obsession, rugby, yet was far too professional to overtly hero-worship a Springbok player and guest! With another, I expected if I’d have cut her in half, the colours of the South African flag would be proudly on display. She was bold, in-your-face South African, working to keep the fynbos flag flying high, so I shouldn’t have been surprised to be accused of being a traitor as I live overseas….and wanted to know what she could tell us about fynbos that we didn’t already know? Surprise us – and she did just that, with her passion and in-depth plant knowledge. A third guide was so happy to be working there, I lost my fear of being astride a horse and would have followed her anywhere.

Whilst I will never be a rugby, equestrian or fynbos expert, I now have a very different view and greater appreciation of them all, and their part in the story of wonderful Walker Bay in the outstanding Overberg.

These personal experiences you won’t find on social media, in a guidebook or from a tour guide on a bus. They are priceless!

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Thank you to Destinate and my good friend and colleague Mariëtte du Toit-Helmbold for including this blog (with much better pictures) on her website.

Posted in DMO's, Local Distinctiveness, Marketing Communications, Niche marketing, Rural Tourism, Short breaks, South Africa, Tourism, Travel and Leisure, Twitter | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Talking Landscapes

A landscape defines a destination. Too many destinations are churning out the same old ‘me too’ messages that fail to excite or intrigue potential visitors because so often it’s the detail that is overlooked in the quest to instantly capture the bigger, more visually obvious picture. It’s only when you stop racing through the landscape and look closely, can you spot the clues that form the fabric of often intriguing landscape stories. 

This article is about celebrating the small and often mundane detail that can set a destination apart from the ‘something for everyone’ herd.

In the naturally outstanding Chilterns, in South East England, where I live and work, it was on a  late afternoon walk, when the sun had broken through a veil of cloud that I saw new definition in familiar landmarks, now bathed in unfamiliar light. I could see the skeletons of several man-made structures and remains of earlier industry and occupation, some from as long ago as 5,000 years and others quite recent. It got me thinking about the previous occupants of this landscape, and how the success of their endeavours had been determined by wind, water and topography.

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College Lake wildfowl reserve, Chilterns

What is beneath our feet? The seam of chalk that runs through South East England (and is perhaps most recognised at the White Cliffs of Dover), is what defines the Chilterns chalk escarpment. The chalk has long been quarried for the manufacture of cement, flint mined for implements and building material and the scars are evident as you browse the hilltop views, or go sledging down the steep quarry slopes in winter. There is still a working cement quarry at the foot of Pitstone Hill, and nearby is College Lake wildfowl reserve, a splendid example of how local energy and passion turned a decaying quarry into a key site owned and managed by the Berks, Berks, Bucks & Oxon Wildlife Trust where you enjoy local and visiting wildlife. There is a tiny museum that has some dusty marine artefacts found at the quarry; shells, clams, nautilus, sharks teeth and a set of mammoth tusks that take pride of place in the visitor centre.

The Peddars Way is another long-distance trackway that links Norfolk with the Chilterns

The Peddars Way is another long-distance trackway that links Norfolk with the Chilterns, and the Iron Age axe on the way-markers is testament to its heritage.

My walk took me along just a short part of the Ridgeway, an ancient trackway in southern England that goes from Norfolk in the east to Wiltshire and the Vale of the White Horse in the west, following the chalk escarpment. For at least 5,000 years travellers have used this trading route along high dry ground that made travel easier and provided a measure of protection by giving traders a commanding view, warning against potential attacks. Now promoted as a long-distance footpath the modern route follows the general line of the Icknield Way, thus continuing to give meaning and purpose today.

This same trackway passes many sites of past Iron Age lives including spectacular hill-forts, ditches and sometimes hard-to-identify tumuli, a mound of earth and stones raised over a grave or graves. There is also good evidence for the Ice Age itself in the form of nearby coombs and dry valleys.

A site that really dominates the landscape is Ivinghoe Beacon with it’s lone tree still acting as sentinel. Once a prominent Iron Age hill-fort with Bronze Age round barrows, it still finds purpose in the bonfires that are lit for special celebrations such as the Millennium and Royal Jubilees and is popular with weekend aviators and their model aeroplanes.

Pyramid Orchid

Pyramid Orchid

It’s not just about man-made structures. The chalk downland supports an incredible range of plant and animal species too, including butterflies and rare orchids which are are relatively easy to find, but I am sure there are many more species that I have yet to spot – an adder being at the top of the list.

We all want to leave a mark on the landscape, something to impress (or intimidate), the neighbours. The Chilterns has two chalk hill carvings worth a mention; the Whipsnade Lion and Whiteleaf Cross. The former was built in the 1930′s and is over 140 metres in length to mark the position of ZSL Whipsnade wildlife park. The latter is more mysterious with a number of theories as to it’s origin; a Saxon celebration of a victory over the Danes, a phallic symbol later Christianised, a direction sign for a (non-existent) medieval monastery and a seventeenth-century alternative to a village cross. Whatever the reason, just sitting on the brow of the hill alongside an iron-age barrow with only the wind in your ears seems almost timeless. The modern world vanishes.

Can’t see the wood for the trees: The beautiful adjacent Ashridge Forest estate has been home to Iron Age farmers, the Romans, Tudor nobility, Capability Brown and the British Army who have all taken advantage of the natural bounty that this great wood offers. They have built settlements, enclosed, landscaped, hunted, harvested and dug trenches to practice for warfare! Many of these clues are not hard to spot like sawmill pits and pollarded trees. Now managed by the National Trust which manages to successfully combine commercial interests with extensive visitor facilities and heritage interpretation.

The beechwoods that supplied furniture makers with quality hardwood were once worked by bodgers, an itinerant woodland worker who specialised in making legs (no less than 144 legs where needed each day to make a living), and stretchers, or bracers for Windsor chairs that once made the area renowned for its chair-making industry, centred on the towns of Chesham and High Wycombe. They left  behind their saw-pits and the beechwoods we can see today.

Pitstone Windmill with Ivinghoe Beacon in the distance

Buildings are positioned with purpose: Landscape plays an important part in determining form and function, not least windmills and watermills, although the reasons they were built may be long gone. There are sometimes subtle reminders of lost buildings, such as soapwort (used as a natural soaping agent), while some mills still command the local landscape, the location purposefully chosen for exposure to the elements. Historic Pitstone post mill, built c.1627 one of the oldest in Britain milled grain for close on 300 hundred years before a devastating storm in the early 1900’s put an end to it’s industry, is a good example of this.  There is also a working watermill at nearby Ford End, a typical small farm mill of the late 1800s, making use of a local river that comes from springs below the chalk in the field not far off from Pitstone windmill. A small stream, called Whistle Brook is formed there and flows between the villages of Pitstone and Ivinghoe, marking the parish boundary. Both these sites are now dependent on volunteers given up their time and expertise to restore and open so that visitors can visit and even buy freshly ground flour.

The Chalk streams are themselves a unique characteristic and attractive feature of the Chilterns landscape rising through the chalk hillside. Not only do they support a massive range of plants and animals, they also once supported thriving industries such as the farming of watercress bound for the tables of London and now confined to just a few sites who farm on a small, but still delicious scale. The chalk of the hills is an important aquifer, exploited to provide clean water supplies in the area.

The Romans brought many improvements to Britain, and were the first to plant vines in the chalky soils, although I am not sure how their wines stacked up against those from the Mediterranean vineyards. There are small wine farms nestled against south-facing Chilterns slopes who produce white wine and bubbly to growing acclaim, the Chilterns Winery at Hambledon being the most well known.

All of these in their own way, make up a destination jigsaw that can surprise and delight as the story of a destination and it’s people is told.

More information on the naturally outstanding Chilterns can be found here: VisitChilterns.co.uk

Posted in Local Distinctiveness, Niche marketing, Rural Tourism, Short breaks, Tourism, Travel and Leisure, UK | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

English is a nightmare. Even for the natives.

But hearing a Swedish-Canadian pronounce Norfolk place names is something to savour.

Norfolk is not as flat as I imaged. Not quite soaring peaks, but some respectable bumps that know not to out-do those famous big skies and far-off horizons. I had been openly mocked for going there for a long weekend; why not the ever-popular Lakes, Cotswolds or Cornwall? With support like that, what chance does any destination have against this group of heavy-weights bullies?

So not a favourite with the masses it seems, but discovered Norfolk certainly is: by well-heeled ‘Boden families’ in shiny 4×4′s who make their presence felt with smart restaurants, snappy country gear and gift shops staffed with some very plummy accents. Surely this is not the real Norfolk?

Norfolk feels remote and everywhere else far away. Tucked away in a region mysteriously called East Anglia, it conjures up images of a windswept coast, desolation and empty landscapes with the powerful north sea pounding at the beaches. Was Norfolk that place on the way to somewhere, or an escape from somewhere more vibrant? However, I have no doubt the people living and working there recognise the location’s magnificent landscape qualities, character and local distinctiveness, including a fantastic food offer, wildlife, walks, and water sports.

Perceptions of the countryside are however, shaped by familiarity with star-filled skies, cab journeys to the pub at high speed down dark country lanes and how quickly your lunch is served.

I was there to celebrate a friend’s milestone birthday and in the interests of privacy, I won’t say which milestone – but it was important enough for friends to get together from Sweden, Austria, London and the Chilterns, with apologies from Canada.

We had rented a converted barn – how Boden* is that? – that had won a design award, perhaps for the sunlight steaming through architectural features (that would have once been called windows) that illuminated thick cobwebs that showed at least three seasons of their own architectural and arachnid design skills. Being an opinionated bunch, quickly picked holes in their endeavours however, not least of all the floor which to our untrained eye’s looked like pebble-dash covered in resin. “What a devil to keep clean!” came the retort – when a few years ago we would have all agreed how funky it looked.

We couldn’t fail to notice a farmer and his new blue tractor as he steamed up and down the field at the back of the house as we took tea on the terrace. We wondered if it was part of the big Norfolk welcome, or was he just showing off and would leave crop circles in the field?

Maybe it’s because most of us work in travel and tourism, is why we had failed to plan any sightseeing and so skimmed through local websites brimming with unappealing photo’s of lumpy people nervously astride  bicycles inviting you to go on a walk scheduled for 2004.

It was therefore with amazement that we timed our visit to Blackeney Point as if we were old sea-dogs ourselves. Closed at certain times of the year so as to not disturb ground nesting birds or new-born grey seal pubs, this beautiful four-mile-long National Trust sand and shingle spit with sand dunes that have formed over hundreds of years onto the shingle ridge, form a rare habitat for unusual plants and animals. Keeping our eyes ‘pealed for the seals’ our tub-load of tourists headed out on a sightseeing trip across a windy estuary with the expectation we were going to get wet. But we hadn’t estimated on Eric; aboard his boat that was delightfully free of life-jackets, safety-announcements or restrictions on smoking and full of tales of the sea. Well, his adventures really in far-flung corners of the ocean, interrupted only by his skilful lighting of a roll-up in the wind.

Awoken in the small hours by determined gnawing somewhere inside the walls of my bedroom, I was now awake and able to plan on how best to dodge the bootcamp-like exercise regimes targeting those parts of the body that were falling apart,  bowls of breakfast muesli and discussions on the benefits of flaxseed going on across the barn each morning. What would the response be if I whipped out a frying pan and started cooking a full English? A slow painful death I concluded.

Hearing a Swedish-Canadian pronounce Norfolk place names is something to savour: ‘Norr-vitch” must be Norwich? “Blingling’ must be Blickling Estate? English is a nightmare! Even for the natives. Did you know that Garboldisham is pronounced Garblessum? And Fulmodeston is pronounced Feltum? Of course you did!

Norfolk by designWhat an unexpected delight Norr-vitch turned out to be. On the way, we were trying to think of what it is famous for; Colman’s mustard, Delia Smith and that football team….but could add nothing more to the pitifully short list.  What we found was a rich heritage of flint churches, an amazing cathedral that embraced the ancient with the modern and deserves an architectural award, a walkable and pleasant medieval city centre, Tombland and Caley’s Horatio milk chocolates – celebrated in the medieval guildhall over a coffee with friendly staff giving a good twist to the local story of Norwich. We call it ‘capsule sightseeing’ and it’s highly recommended.

Will we go back? Hell yes! When a destination cocks a snoot at the rest of the world, they have to be admired for doing things their way.

* For overseas readers, Boden is a clothing supplier who dresses most of middle-England.

Posted in DMO's, National Trust, Rural Tourism, Short breaks, Tourism, Travel and Leisure, UK | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Fewer platitudes would reassure potential visitors about the safety of your destination

Another week, another World Travel Market and each year I can’t fail to notice the footprints of some geographical areas continue to shrink, and the quality of stands gives off a tired and ‘must-we-be-here’ vibe. But there are still lots of growing footprints with big-ticket stands, some with intimidating fortress-like walls into which only the very brave, or hungry will enter.

What was surprising, was the number of enormous stands representing what I would call ‘challenging destinations’. Others may prefer the ‘emerging destinations’ label; Iraq, Iran, Libya, Lebanon and Palestine to name but a few – alongside some well established destinations – Tunisia, Egypt, Mexico and Kenya that are facing political circumstances and market barriers that have resulted in a steep decline in visitor numbers for some, whilst for others, a loss of confidence that must be keeping their tourism ministers awake at night.

The refrain from the stands and in the press releases is that the violence is not aimed at visitors, but is either between rival political factions (aka militia), in a part of the county that visitors never go (or cannot reach), or is never in the resorts. Egypt is in the process of installing webcams at popular destinations in an attempt to persuade potential visitors it is safe to visit. I will be watching this one with interest to see how quickly a key site like the pyramids fills up again. Will potential visitors also be watching the webcams until the crowds return and only then will they book?

Another popular line is that the millions who work in the tourism industry are relying on me to support them and visit their places of work and buy their products. This is playing with my guilt as a  consumer living in a developed nation. I should be out there supporting tourism colleagues and those in need shouldn’t I? Well no. Not if mine or my families safety will be in question.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office gets a regular bashing as their FCO travel advisories are not simply overturned because the tourism ministers says it should be. It would be interesting to know the proportion of travellers who ignore these advisors and visit anyway.

There are specialist tour operators offering tours to these destinations, and I expect their clients are well up for some hardship, lumpy beds and long bus journey’s, but then the rewards and bragging rights will be exceptional.

Fewer gimmicks, fewer platitudes and more straight-talking could reassure potential visitors about the safety of these destinations. How are the tourism ministries themselves engaging in government dialogue and lobbying? Where are the insights into what is actually happening in their countries? How is this affecting the visitor experience? What do the locals have to say about it? Tackle the negative perceptions some consumers have and reassure us you are not just applying a sticking plaster over a gaping wound by directing us to look at your webcams.

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Brand Building. By Stealth

To come in under the radar, you have to harness the energy, insights and influence of your local businesses to build the brand with you. You are the enabler, not the controller.

For a brand to have an identity that consumers use and trust is the holy grail. But you need to have marketing muscle and resource to compete with the biggest and the best don’t you? Although it seems these days even the smallest destinations get their 15 minutes of online fame. What is the best approach for getting your money’s worth if you are developing and building a brand?

There is plenty of analysis available online on various destination and city brands, and you won’t find it repeated here. What you will find is a ‘no-frills nor big bucks-needed’ approach to making serious inroads into building your destination brand.

Story-telling is very much on the radar these days; telling the shared story of your destination is a good way to stand out, to avoid those long lists of ‘anywhere’ products and indecipherable listings, to set yourself apart, and dare I say enables niche markets to access and grow your share. It sounds good, but how easy is to implement with any creditability? If you have any examples, please share them as the reality is many of us work in places that are not that easy to sell – for all sorts of reasons; crime, distance, perceptions, politics or even religion.

If you work in one of those destinations that really is a hard sell, what does your destination have to say that others don’t (or can’t), or makes for a memorable visitor experience? And I don’t mean just a seafront with endless shops, vibrant nightlife, hidden gems, something for everyone, or a ‘whether you like this or whether you like that’ destination. It’s all meaningless noise. You might as well stop reading here.

If you like a challenge and are feeling brave however, read on!

Everywhere has a logo, or at least a tatty sign that identifies a place or boundary. The official DMO’s will invest hugely in branding, and sometimes that is where the brand starts and stops. These days, it’s less and less about official sources and all about unofficial recommendations and word of mouth which can so easily by-pass officialdom and see customers dealing directly with the service providers.

When brand building, brand development and branding in general is mentioned, only those with deep pockets typically step forward. It doesn’t have to be this way. Believe me. I have recently seen what £30,000 of branding development has produced vs £5,000. The former a big report, happy consultants and mediocre logo; the latter a highly focused branding effort with strong business buy-in – which is the project I worked on. Brand development by stealth.

If you hear people say, which they will, ‘your destination is made up, it’s not real’, and you can point to businesses and locals using your brand, you are perfectly within your rights to tell them where to go. If you can’t, your critics have a point.

How are your businesses working with you to promote a unified brand and associated messages that a consumer can come to recognise and ultimately to trust? To come in under the radar, you have to harness the energy, insights and influence of your local businesses to build the brand with you. You are the enabler, not the controller. In turn, businesses need free marketing resources to use to in their own communications with suppliers, intermediaries and customers.

What is needed?

  1. A logo, multiple formats of high and low resolution with branding guidelines.
  2. A good ear to hear and act on what the marketplace is telling you.
  3. Receptive businesses.
  4. To recognise and be prepared to communicate the offer, warts and all.
  5. Hooking up with another destination, preferably one that has done this, can be hugely rewarding.
  6. Be strong. Be firm. Use a carrot and stick if a business won’t clear up their act, help them to get it right, before adding them to the destination offer.
  7. Inspirational copy that describes the destination and unique key selling points that can be used across the distribution channels. Please don’t ask the office junior to write it though, invest in a professional copywriter who knows where to look, how to say it and won’t use the horrible marketing jargon described above.
  8. A copyright-free and free-to-use gallery of high quality images.
  9. Customer engagement competitions and trails.
  10. Above all, a business network that is easy to access and free to interact with.

There are some practical considerations around quality too;

  1. Who is deciding whether or not a product is deserving of the brand?
  2. Does a product have to have a local provenance, or is it enough that is sold locally?
  3. Who is policing the customer experience? How can this be done? Should it be done?
  4. Who decides when the identify has run it’s course?

If it’s done well, it can be adopted anywhere, used on local produce – food, textiles, as a part of a suppliers identity, on bright new signage and websites. Wherever there is a need to communicate a message and essential brand values.

The result could be an integrated brand identify that locals see everyday and (potential) visitors base their purchasing decisions on. Sorry Brand Consultants, we don’t your services here!

Posted in DMO's, Marketing Communications, Niche marketing, Retail, Tourism, Travel and Leisure, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Do Small Children Like to Wear Lavender?

“Is this place only full of old people?” is what I hear from younger family members who dig deep to drum up enthusiasm for yet more hunt-the-horses, or count-the-crests whilst we visit another National Trust (NT) property. “Don’t go anywhere, near anything, or see if you can fit into that wardrobe, just in case, god forbid, you breath on something valuable and I have to re-mortgage the house”. It’s not like that really, but I still find myself repeating this phrase ad nauseam.

Mention the NT, and you will get all sorts of reactions; coloured by your age, heritage tolerance levels and demographic. Traditionally the preserve of the retired and middle-class families with young children, the NT is doing all it can to broaden the heritage appeal. A noble cause.

Founded way back in 1895 the NT’s aim is saving the nation’s heritage and open spaces. Alongside are the very powerful conservation laws that means that there are no longer shocking acts of heritage vandalism or spite – as in the case of the Reverend Francis Gastrell. He bought Shakespeare’s Stratford-upon-Avon house in 1753 but quickly became irritated with tourists who kept showing up wanting to see it, says architectural historian Gavin Stamp. Not content with merely chopping down a mulberry tree planted by Shakespeare in the garden, in an extraordinary fit of spite, he demolished the whole house in 1759! It was never rebuilt and only the foundations remain. This thankfully, would not happen today.

With a reputation for being successful, the NT also ‘get’s’ heritage, with lots of effort expended on events, trails, how-to guides, competitions, re-enactments and food. They also rely on over 60,000 volunteers waiting to greet visitors in each and every space, just itching to share a little-known fact or anecdote, which makes the NT the largest voluntary conservation organisation in Europe.

I joined the ranks of NT stalwarts last year and bought my membership card as I kept finding so many properties and gardens near my home, it seemed silly not too. Half way through the year, I am struggling, to get my membership value for money. Odd because I haven’t stopped splashing cash at other museums and visitor attractions.

Perhaps it has to do with the reality of a visit; the bossy language, the endless lists of things we parents should have done with our children by the time they reach the age of five, 15 and 50, is just guaranteed to make those amongst us who are not into competitive parenting, feeling resentful and a trifle embarrassed.

The events programme is extensive and well-developed, with very public opportunities to forage for food, make your own wreath, candles or cake. My family hates all the above, and prefers a more low-key visit, absorbing things in our own way and in our own time.

Over-priced restaurants flogging organic-just-been-picked-with-the-dew-still-intact tuna sandwiches with a price tag that wouldn’t make a central London sandwich shop blush. Yes I know you can take your own picnic, but that’s not the point. The merchandise in the shops does not always match up to the new demographic – unless children like to wear lavender?

There are still ropes aplenty, and by national museum standards, not much visitor interpretation, precious few touch-screens or audio guides, but then you have the wonderful volunteers, furnished with all the information you could ever need and more. I wonder how many hours they give up, how much training they undertake, how many children they have patiently explained the treasure-trail of the day to, and cups of tea they have put away?

They are under-rated and for me, what makes a visit worthwhile. Forget the instructions on how to build a den, or how many puddles little Noah should have jumped in by now; tell us why Andrea is working her shift in this historic property, what is her connection to the area, her knowledge and take on the Duchesses dalliances – so ‘Now magazine” I know, and the elegant Mrs Tickell looking down from the walls might not approve, but it’s all about the story-telling that really brings any heap of stones or ancient landscape alive. And that is why the volunteers should be celebrated. They give so much without presuming to know what it is we need from our brush with heritage.

Record numbers volunteer for the National Trust – BBC News

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