For years I have heard it said: “we are a country that could only survive through tourism and yet you go abroad and pay to see a ‘rock’ while in Italy we have a thousand masterpieces to view and we do not value them”.
Why? What’s wrong? What is our problem in Italy?
The promotion of ‘good’ is for tourism, so the promotion of goods to attract people to come and visit those goods and maybe to stay in that particular place for a few days, means to stir something with such force as to push people to move (How to promote tourism in 5 strategic Steps).
In Latin, the etymology of the word emotion comes from e-moveo, that is, something that pushes people to move. It is an internal force capable of breaking the inertia of a comfort-zone in which we feel protected. The catalyst for this situation is certainly curiosity and the dream of doing something positive and unforgettable.
There is the possibility to emulate the stories lived by others to become the main characters of the same adventure. You could also experience sensations and new relationships within oneself, with other people or with nature.
You can relive great love in many ways – by going to see the (fake) balcony of Romeo and Juliet in Verona, by putting a lock in memory of your love on a bridge in Rome or Paris, through enjoying a special aphrodisiac dinner, or spending a weekend in a romantic spa or even by being central characters of a serenade. Yet, you can also have a dinner at home cooked by a great chef or become immersed in art in a museum gallery for just one night.
You can be champions cyclists, following the same stages of the Tour de France or the Giro d’Italia or making the descent of last world ski cup. But you can also arrive by helicopter on the top of a mountain for an off-piste run or go with snowshoes or Nordic skiing at night in the woods. At the end of the effort, there may be a sip of a special grappa or a taste of a particular polenta.
There are thousands of ways to decline an experience and just as many ways to live it in a unique and original way. Experiential tourism. The password to enter is therefore ‘to excite’, but how do we excite?
When you have only one ‘good’ to promote, it is easier, and you can find the different angles from which to look at that good, to tell about the different interactions that you can experience. But when you have many assets, the question becomes very complex and requires storytellers who are also experts in strategy and tactics.
Emotion with Story Telling
Whenever I think of this situation, I remember a parallel from a black and white Billy Wilder film I had seen as a child and which had impressed me with its cynicism.
The film was titled “The Ace in the Hole” and had Kirk Douglas as the hero in the guise of a journalist, a heavy drinker and a womanizer who is fired for his behavior. He arrives in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and here he happens to witness a disaster: a landslide had trapped a man who was trying to plunder an Indian tomb. His first sentence to one of his accomplices was: “thank goodness it’s only one person so we can build a story about this affair and feed on it for many days becoming famous!”.
And this is leads us to the Italian situation: we have too many items of beauty and distinction for which we cannot evoke new emotions. We risk being boring in the list of goods and of not reaching people’s hearts. As Stalin said: “One million deaths is statistics, one death is a tragedy”.
So how do we make sure that the million items of cultural heritage, of tangible and intangible Italian heritage are effectively communicated to the world? I mean effective in the sense of being able to attract tourists who want to ‘get in touch’ with that good and that work for maybe more than a few days?
First step: telling a single story and choosing an identity
The first step is to select one of the assets of the town as the one on which to build the main story. There are no hierarchies to make this choice and the choice can belong to both intangible and tangible assets.
For example, Siena is globally recognized for the Palio (horse race in the square) which takes place twice a year and all its artistic heritage is then related to the Palio in some way. Gubbio is adopting a similar approach with the Festival of the Middle Ages which incorporates the famous Corsa dei Ceri which is even recognised in the flag of the Umbria region. The Ceri race takes place once a year, the festival and events on the Middle Ages last all year.
Pisa has chosen the Leaning Tower as its emblem and all its communication revolves around the tower. Once having caught the attention of the traveler, Pisa then unfolds all its incredible beauty and attractiveness. A city with some of the most important Italian universities certainly has much more to offer than just the tower, but even these remain in the imaginary against the background of the tower from which they receive positive emotional reflections.
If we think of Salento, instead, we think of music, Pizzica and Taranta. An intangible heritage that has transformed the international perception of an entire area. Puglia obviously offers much but if we think of the Baroque of Lecce we can excite a few experts while if we think of folk music near a baroque square tasting a Primitivo wine and tasting the orecchiette then practically we reach the hearts of everybody. We are already dancing!
Most Italian municipalities make the mistake of wanting to give a value judgment to the choice and lose the tourism significance of the choice. One must take what is most communicable, the one thing that has less ‘competition’ with other towns, the one thing around which there are more local stories.
One of the Italian problems was that of ‘taking oneself seriously’ and thinking only in terms of art historians or architecture of the period, neglecting other aspects of joy. I was doing a little ‘tour of the web’ to make a comparison between communication styles and how they were presented in some particular locations.
When the presentation is researched by experts, the very beginning of the ‘tale’ should create emotions and then we move on to the historical-architectural value that adds quality to those emotions. When the presentation is made by historians then they start with the value of the work and then move on to the emotions.
But in a world where the threshold of attention to ‘trap’ the reader or viewer has become a few minutes if not seconds (and on the web is being reduced more and more), if we do not get immediately to the heart of the potential tourist we will have lost that person forever.
Each municipality should have its own guide that, if well studied, is like a strategic plan with artwork already researched to be in the best form to be communicated to potential experiential tourists.
The artwork choice that we have made in our Tourist Guides of the Villages of Italy (Special Guides) reflects these awareness: quality of the paper and glossy covers to create a positive emotion on touch, beautiful photographs to intercept the channel of visual communication and descriptions with stories. More than just the architecture of a church we tell the story of the saint or some episode during its construction or remodelling.
We have faced the identity problem on the cover where we have to put the images of that which the emotion of a town revolves. The choice is simple in Pisa with the Tower (as in Rome with the Colosseum) but it is complex in a small town not yet well known that has many small things and has not defined its identity.
In this case we choose to put 3 images that hit ‘heart, head and stomach’ to get to transmit the local Italian lifestyle and quality of life that can be experienced. In any case, we must present many stories inside the guide, especially among the category of Special Experiences, in order to be able to arouse that emotion capable of making the reader become a tourist to the town.
The first step is therefore to choose an identity and to start building stories around this identity by connecting all the other opportunities and experiences that deal with a certain place. And for those who work with the web this means to write many different stories, each with its own SEO, in order to go to target the many different types of tourists, each of whom seeks different experiences related to their passion.
We must not forget that starting a ‘tourism industry’ means transforming the lives of the residents and the economy of local families. And to do this it takes strategy and tactics. Stories must be chosen on the basis of a short, medium and long-term programme.