Stories, myths and legends can be true or false, they can be used for good or evil. In this age of social media and people skulking behind pseudonyms we have seen how dangerous a compelling story can be. Gossip was once spread at the village pump and over the garden fence, in pubs and the corner store. According to Winston Churchill, “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on”, and that was before the internet. Disintermediation and the growth of the web have amplified and sped the spread of gossip. Gossip which plays as fast and loose with the facts as it did in medieval times but arguably more difficult to counter in a world of competing and increasingly disrespected authorities.
We have seen the evil that stories peddled about minorities can do. Stories are powerful and can be used to spread falsehoods, to generate and maintain anger and hatred. QAnon conspiracy theories emerged in the United States and are gaining currency elsewhere. The good news is that according to research conducted by the Pew Research Center, 56% of those Americans who have heard of QAnon say that is a “very bad” thing for the country. Another 17% say it is “somewhat bad.” 20% say it is a somewhat or very good thing; that is one in five. We need equally compelling stories to counter the bad and evil ones.
Stories, particularly the stories we tell ourselves, are the way we understand the world, the way we make sense of what goes on around us. As the Harvard academics Gilmore and Pine have argued consumers – including holidaymakers and travellers – seek the real rather than the fake, authenticity is valued as much as—if not more than—price, quality, and availability. Authenticity, they argue, is a new and powerful “strain of consumer desire, holidaymakers seek out original, genuine, sincere and authentic experiences.
In 2017 Euromonitor reported “a fundamental shift in consumer values towards experiences over things that bring happiness and well-being, with spending on experiences like travel, leisure and food service to rise to US$8.0 trillion by 2030.” Authenticity, a sense of community and Brand Love are reported to be key elements of the trend, powered by technology which facilitates customisation and the sharing of their stories and images online with friends and family. Trophy “snaps” shared online and video calls on WhatsApp and Facebook engage travellers and holidaymakers and generate recommendations, referrals and repeats.
The personal and social value of the experience can rapidly turn negative if the activity is subsequently labelled irresponsible. As travellers and holidaymakers have engaged more closely with local communities, wildlife and the environment to generate the memories which are such an important part of the travel experience. For example, we have seen major brands cease selling swimming with dolphins and elephant back rides.
The stories we tell about travel and tourism are an important part of marketing, promotion and sales. Products are being redesigned to increase the experiential content and there is increasing focus on the customer journey, the consumer’s experience of the agent or operator as well as of the destination.
The narratives we tell about travel and holidaymaking can be good for business and for people and the planet. You can increase consumer loyalty to your brand by fostering a sense of community and enabling people to have better destination experiences and to feel good about their experience, themselves and your business as they tell their friends and relatives about their holiday. That is good business.
For WTM Virtual in November I interviewed JoAnna Haugen of Rooted about the ways in which narrative is essential in the storytelling process of any travel experience. The interview focuses on how this can make for better guest and host experiences, creating a better world of tourism for all.