This week, Troy Thompson talks about The Destination Branding Gap in his blog. He makes some insightful points about the challenges of place branding – among them, the fact that destination marketing organizations are tasked with selling something they don’t actually own and don’t have control over.
One idea he presents, however, sent me down another thought path.
Thompson says, “Most destinations do not match the realizations that occur when the visitor sets off into the great unknown of their city.”
As travelers, we’ve all lived with the gritty reality of the roach in the bathtub; the restaurant server who is slightly surly; the seemingly endless line to get to the magic. Before user reviews and social media existed, travel “surprises” of the non-serendipitous kind happened more often. (A family trip I planned years ago at an historic Cape Cod inn comes to mind. Less pleasant is the memory of being awake much of the night, listening to 18-wheelers on the highway out front.)
But people who love travel, who are truly curious about the world around them, and who welcome the rich and varied experiences it offers, accept this bit of grit in their vacation meanderings.
We do so for a good reason: While sometimes a destination may disappoint us, each time we travel, there’s a chance we’ll get to experience pure joy. I don’t think I’m over the top in saying that. Whether it’s a perfect moment in nature; the opportunity to learn something completely new; a connection with other people and cultures; or a feeling of sharing with our own friends and family, these moments become transcendent for us.
For me, transcendent travel has happened a handful of times – standing atop a cliff on the Pacific Coast Highway in California, with a pounding, savage surf below me; riding horseback through wildflowers near Aspen, Colorado in June, with snow on the Maroon Bells above us and streams rushing by; sitting down to the Bahamian feast prepared for us by a Nassau family through the People-to-People Program; watching dolphins teach their baby how to catch fish while I kayaked with a friend on Anna Maria Island in Florida.
As destination marketers (and by this, I mean both DMOs and the agencies and publishers who serve them), we have many factors to consider when representing destination brands – among them, budgets; ensuring that our technology solutions are leading-edge; watching trends; and monitoring and measuring our programs to evolve them for greater results. Yet, in the middle of this, when I’m working on a creative concept or content strategy for a client, I like to come back to the essence of travel – the amazing experiences, people and places that create rich memories for visitors.
Now, as the days grow long and my two teenagers slog through the homestretch of their school year, novels and vocab lists and A.P. study guides litter our living room. The freedom of summer is almost palpably near. And with it, our family vacation, a chance to share something really special.