To promote tourism is a major objective of many politicians and bureaucrats at national and local levels. To understand what levers to use to attract new visitors is their greatest challenge. Choosing a place to visit is a voluntary act by the individual traveller who, faced with an incredible variety of offers, chooses one that nearly meets his budget and makes him feel that it can guarantee the well-being he seeks.
While competition and the offer of new places is increasing every day, it is increasingly important to identify market niches in which to place your territory. In this way you can get the advantage of concentrating efforts on achievable goals and having advance knowledge of the types of tourists who might choose your place for his trip.
Knowing the particular interests of your tourist, his hobbies and his interests, allows you to be able to more easily reach him through social networks which, by their nature, are structured around common interests. It also allows you to find ‘testimonials’ between bloggers and credible people in that specific sector and to organize attractive experiences with them.
Now let’s see how you can organize these actions into a strategy that allows you to achieve success without the need for large financial investments but rather through investing your energies intelligently. In a period of well-being it can be, of course, much easier. Just review the success of Dubai, that until thirty years ago was just a desert trading post, to understand the power of money in the tourism sector.
The solutions we propose, however, need something different to money: a strong will and determination that at times may seem like ‘manic obstinacy’. We have seen successful cases where these processes have been initiated by politicians but others in which the catalysts were citizens who became promoters of change by starting businesses that have involved and impressed the local population.
As for the logistics, we will not deal with projects involving major works but will assume that we have available a kit of basic infrastructure, i.e. connecting roads or trains and not too distant airports. We will not dwell on things that cannot be dealt with by local administrators but which need involvement of central governments.
At the outset, we note that even an isolated area can be attractive, and the smallest village can promote tourist activities, aiming to excite those people looking for ‘somewhere away from it all’.
1. Taking care of your place – with love
Love seems something obvious but it is not, yet it is something that is felt immediately by a visitor and puts him in a positive state in which small local faults are read benevolently. Every mishap can be approached with a laugh or a rage: the first diminishes the power of the mishap while the second increases its power, discourages other potential tourists and creates a negative reputation.
Let us illustrate by a very trivial example: the cleanliness of your place.
When a tourist arrives in a place and sees waste paper on the floor, he is not interested in knowing if that paper was to be collected by a civil servant or a private one, his conclusion is just that ‘no one has picked up the paper’. In this case there are hundreds of culprits: the first is the one who has thrown or dropped it on the ground (and we should apply penalties for this) but all the others are the ones who saw it and did nothing.
If my daughter comes home leaving a sock on the floor while I am preparing for guests, I do not expect them to have to pick it up. If I have someone who is helping me I can pick it up, otherwise I will pick it up directly while I order the house for guests. Then later in the evening I can ‘give a lecture’ and vent my anger. The same thing must occur for our cities. If we wait for and want tourists, who are our guests, our city must be neat and clean.
In a period of economic prosperity we could have teams of environmental professionals ready to ‘polish’ the city, but in lean times we must do it ourselves. We need to break the inertia and make ourselves change from being observers to actors, we need to break the subtle humiliation of cleaning up the ‘dirt of others’. But it is a difficult step to take. It takes a great inner strength to take care of the public areas and maybe feel proud to do so, to look people in the eyes while cleaning the street.
This emotional passage that we must make corresponds precisely to a different way to establish our relationship with ‘our town’. The place where we live, the spaces we share with others should not be felt as a ‘public responsibility’ but as a ‘common good’. If the city is also mine (‘my town’), in fact, I am no longer cleaning the street of another, but I’m ‘loving’ the place where I live.
It has been proved that where the sense of public places is a common good, the spirit of the whole area changes and this positive atmosphere is immediately perceived by those who are not locals, by tourists or occasional visitors. In reality it does not stop at just cleaning streets to attract and excite anyone, we need to pay attention to those thousand little details that are the personal contribution of the local citizens.
The love for the place where you live is perceived. It may be manifested with flowers, plants, colours, furnishings and small embellishments on the facades of the houses that create harmony and wellbeing. These are small details spread throughout your town that can never be programmed by one person, but come from the many individual efforts.
The surprising effect, then, is that the more we take care of a place and the more people behave well and feel uncomfortable to throw paper or butts on the floor, the more they help to not to pollute. The ‘outcasts’ become those with uncivilized behaviour and not those who are virtuous.
2. Find the magic and ‘spirit of the place’, the Genius Loci
Each place has its own peculiarities, and these can become attractions, but you have to find them. Certainly if you have the Colosseum or the Eiffel Tower everything seems easier and these two world symbols alone can move millions of tourists. UNESCO has drawn up a list of the places which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. But for these we are talking of mass tourism and to get to those big numbers needs large investment.
Yet everywhere in this world there are places that have managed to attract many visitors for their ‘stories’ and in Italy, ANCI-National Association of Italian has created a section and a website dedicated to Italian villages. We think of the places of religious or spiritual worship, not many of which seem to be rich in archaeological and historical beauties. We think of sports or musical gatherings, and we also think of the passions, hobbies, design and food.
Food deserves a separate discussion, because it alone is capable of moving thousands of people ‘pulling them by the belly’ and the many local fairs and festivals that focus on food peculiarities are a proof. But it is also an added value in all other situations in which you want to promote a territory for other attractions because, if a traveller decides to embark on a journey, he will certainly eat at the location and will taste local dishes. Of course, fast food and poor quality can have a negative effect on more than the stomach, they create bad memories.
Returning to the concept of the ‘spirit of the place’, the strength of simple ideas is amazing. Travelling between the small Italian towns and villages gives many surprises in the attractiveness of simple initiatives that have been able to change the local economies.
An example of this is the case of Candelara, a village near Pesaro, a small village enclosed by walls, in which a ‘Candlelight Festival’ has been held every December since 2004. For half an hour, at an agreed signal, the village is lit only by candles to the sound of classical music.
The number of tourists is so high now that the show was doubled during the early evening, then the numbers of days were increased, and finally they also started a summer edition at the seaside in Pesaro. Getting to Candelara during one of the festive days requires observing an incredible organizational machine that manages tens of thousands of people from different parts of Europe on local village roads and narrow streets of the town.
Other success stories involve many other events: exhibitions of antiques, vintage cars, sports events, walks, rallies around a particular subject, but also training events, fetes, historical and musical performances. Scrolling down the list of successful events we can appreciate how each situation represents a case to be individually analyzed but all have some aspects in common: the close connection between the territory and the theme of the event. There has to be a secret key in choosing an event that involves the essence of the place and becomes one of the symbols.
This evocative capacity is one that may also allow a negative symbol to become a positive element of territorial attraction. The secret of a territorial strategy is to be able to make a strong point out of what may have been a weakness.
If you are a commune, apparently unfortunately symbolic with pollution, and if you are taken as a negative example at national level, what can you do? You can become the ‘pollution capital’ and become a ‘virtuous commune’ – the place where people can experience all the innovative solutions and in which people are involved in dissemination events on the topic and in which experts get together to speak in public debates. Even waste can become exciting if you encourage small industries and artisans for ‘upcycling’ – furniture, fashions, jewellery.
3. How to Excite the tourist with live experiences
The power of small centres is incredible because only in these centres can identification occur between the place and an event that becomes part of its identity. Let us consider an example of the many thematic festivals that are organized in various Italian centres and in particular the example of a literature festival.
Reading is a passion for many people and it was natural that it would generate many events. The closure of many small bookshops has increased people’s needs for interaction and the desire to find oneself among people who share the same passion.
From this communal need have been born many successful festivals on specific topics, namely ones that revolve around particular subjects, plus some generic festivals such as exhibitions of a book or book festivals. Even reading the words ‘book festival’ my mind immediately connects with some events that are well known such as the Mantua Literature Festival. This is because this festival has achieved good success while its counterparts in Rome and in other major cities have not had the same fate. Why?
Mantua is one of the splendid Italian cities of art that twenty years ago opened this literary festival following the example of the small town of Hay on Wye in Wales. Today cities and festivals are closely linked and other festivals have begun with the same identity as the city of Mantova. The event has become an exciting experience and the whole city prepares itself to welcome visitors and to excite them in various ways.
A similar fate may not happen for the same festival in a big city like Rome, the identity of which is the importance of its history, past and present, and its monuments. You can meet authors in Rome during the year at various presentations and the excitement is given by the author and the book, but not the identification of the city with the event. Outside of the room in which a book is presented, for example, the citizens of Rome are not aware of what is happening and do not share the same emotions.
If the sharing of emotions and direct contact have an important value, then many municipalities and small towns can imagine how to tie their identity to some event strategically designed and started to attract visitors. There is work to do, but the opportunities are waiting.
Of course some people will bring up the ongoing economic crisis and lack of liquidity. The answer for them is that at times like this there is a great increase in the demand for information and community events. There are many examples of how some small activities, with strong local identities, have managed to revolutionize the socio-economic life of entire areas, such as the case of the Museum of Masks of Mamoiada in Sardinia.
So, on one hand there are disillusioned people who cease doing anything, while on the other there are people who want to look more deeply into issues in order to understand the meaning of what is happening and to rebuild their local society.
Edutainment and infotainment are the way to provide them with the answers they seek.
4. Organize the Business of ‘welcoming’ among the populace
Effective Edutainment and Infotainment requires preparation and an active involvement of the public. If a tourist comes to visit a great monument he often already know something of its story, but it is quite different in the case of a less famous center.
In the first case, the artwork to promote tourismhas been prepared by experts specifically for various visitor target groups: children, students, adults, enthusiasts, historians, etc. In general all the hospitality is handled by large organizations (such as at the Colosseum http: //www.il-colosseo.it), but the tourist will remember only the people with whom he interacted directly: the person at the ticket office, the bailiff, etc. The assessment of his visit will depend a lot on this interaction and from the order (or disorder) of the place.
In any new promotion (e.g. a museum) in a generic territory, in which you need to build the ‘Spirit of Place’ and expose the widespread feeling connected to this place, the promotional information is not encoded and also must be made available on the oral level via a number of local citizens or commercial operators. There probably will not be only one place to visit and a visitor can interact with the area in many different ways in search of his ‘personal experiences’.
For this we need a distributed information/training program shared by a large part of the citizens who have to experience first hand the spirit of place and become the promoters. ‘Public Relations’ with a visitor means making an intercultural communication exercise, it means having to establish connections with someone who came to your site full of expectations. Differences must be respected knowing that, in any case, tourists are looking for something different that does not frighten them too much.
If the visitors are international, then, your team to promote tourism must be familiar with at least one other language (an approach now taken by several international airlines). When Bilbao went from being a city in industrial decline to become one of Europe’s cultural centres with the Guggenheim Museum, its Urban Regeneration Plan included mandatory English language training for drivers and operators of businesses.
First of all, to communicate you must have a common language with which to exchange information and, considering that English is the second most spoken language in the world, it is essential to have basic English courses for many citizens.
This is just the first step to make citizens welcome travelers, by offering them the experiences they seek communicated in a language they understand. Other welcoming tools depend on the specific theme that represents the ‘spirit of the place’ and these should be deliberated on in an appropriate way and personalized.
5. Use the web, promote tourism on Social Media and by ‘word of mouth’
The web is the main way to get in touch with thousands of potential tourists and can be used in two ways: by promoting in a general area or dealing professionally with the interests the potential visitors have and want satisfied.
The web is divided into sites and portals, on the one part, and the social network for the other part. Both work when they are managed to be bi-directional, web 2.0 when information is not only a communication but becomes a shared resource where anyone can add something.
This, for example, is the secret of success of sites such as www.tripadvisor.com and www.booking.com in which part of the content is written by the visitors themselves who leave their impressions and opinions on the site.
But when you want to activate a process in a specific area you have to overcome the inertia and perhaps the prejudices that are layered. You must have a strategic plan that can slowly bring your views and interests of to the attention of travellers.
The web functions as word of mouth but every story must have a beginning and you have to monitor everything happening so you can take action on the weaknesses in your strategy and tactics. With a strategic plan with a clear vision of the goal to be achieved, you may be ready to contact your public starting right from those most interested in your ‘spirit of the place’.
In this way portals like www.energitismo.com Specialpeople Specialplaces, that tell stories about places and people, can be useful. They can help, in essence, to position and to build a reputation on what is your identity on and off the web, to promote tourism on the web and in the real world.