Promoting a destination? Make sure you don’t miss out on its stories.

It’s half term down here in the Southwest. Both Dartmoor and Torbay are full of happy visitors, and I’ve been doing a bit of amateur tourism research.

You mean people watching?

Well, you could call it that. But this has been people-watching with a purpose. I’ve been taking some notice of how people engage with their destinations.

Just being nosy?

Maybe! But there’s a method to my madness. Writing about places is a big part of my freelance work. It’s the part I enjoy the most because it gives free rein to my inner explorer.

So what have you noticed?

That stories make people stay longer. Sit at a destination long enough and you’ll notice the people who read information boards, follow storytelling walking trails, or carry guide books (paper or digital), are still there late in the afternoon when others have left.

So why is this important?

Because the better we engage with a place, the more we want to be there. We linger longer, spend more, and make return visits. We also want to look after that place better. And not just in high season.

Isn’t storytelling just another form of marketing?

Much has been written about storytelling in marketing but the message is actually really simple. You can’t make friends with people without understanding their stories. It’s the same with destinations. The places you want to spend the most time in are the ones you understand the best. By helping people to deepen their understanding of their destinations, we encourage them to return.

So storytelling can boost tourism?

According to Visit Britain, in 2019 tourism spending on overnight visits was £24 billion. Forecasts for 2021 suggest a huge reduction, to £9.8 billion. This has clearly had a huge negative impact on employment, often in areas that were already suffering from a seasonal job culture.

But I believe storytelling could be the key to reversing this. By giving visitors access to a destination’s stories, we can make them stakeholders in its future. In other words, we can help them fall in love with a place. And it’s that level of appreciation that will make those all-important visitors want to stay longer, support local businesses, and return again and again, even off-season.

Don’t they do that anyway?

Sometimes but encouraging return visitors has never been more important. We’re experiencing a staycation boom across the UK. With Europe out of bounds, our holiday destinations are finally bustling again. But what’s going to happen when overseas holidays open up again? How can we make sure all these happy holidaymakers keep visiting their favourite UK locations?

Let them in on the stories?

You’ve got it! I believe storytelling is the key to destination loyalty. Let’s face it, the Great British holiday is never going to be able to compete with Europe’s almost guaranteed sunshine but boy do we have some stories to tell.

What about overcrowding?

Good point! Our UK favourite locations are experiencing unprecedented crowds but storytelling can help with this too. By encouraging people to discover, then fully engage with new destinations. In other words, it can help spread the load.

So storytelling can promote new destinations?

It’s simple really. Stories make holiday experiences richer, broader, and more memorable. They also give visitors a narrative to retell. Something that’s really important in today’s social media-led world. Why not tell people stories then let them do the re-telling for us?

Are you sure about all this?

Positive! That’s why I’ve been throwing so much effort this year into creating stories about the places I love. There are lots of ways to do it, and the great news is that stories allow you to include messages about looking after a place too. After all, as CS Lewis said, ‘A (children’s) story is the best art form for something you have to say.

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