Tourism Destination Sustainability Communications: 7 Common Mistakes to Avoid When Telling Your Stories


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December 09, 2014

Why Sustainability Communications for Tourism Destinations?

Sharing your destination's sustainability stories - about your passion for your destination, about the people who make your destination special, and about the sustainability practices you're committed to - is important not just because it supports your responsible tourism practices, but also because it makes good business sense: Many travelers nowadays are seeking local, active, and diverse travel experiences that are unique and are in line with their values.

"Sharing your destination's sustainability stories makes good business sense"
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Considering these new and emerging travel consumer trends, successfully engaging visitors in your destination's sustainability stories can mean significant short and long-term benefits for the destination.


How to Tell Your Destination's Sustainability Stories Effectively

Sustainability can be a vague concept and may be hard to grasp, but rather than focusing on the use of terms such as sustainability or sustainable tourism, effectively telling your destination's sustainability stories, in practical terms, is about common sense and good business practices.

Your sustainability communication strategies should promote your destination's sustainability stories focused on:

  • How tourism is a key part of the smart and sustainable growth of your destination.
  • How your destination works with local and regional stakeholders in an inclusive manner.
  • How you encourage opporunities through tourism that are economically viable for local businesses.
  • How your destination promotes tourism that cares for people and places.
  • How your destination creates travel experiences that are fun for hosts and for visitors.


How NOT to Tell Your Destination's Sustainability Stories

When it comes to sustainability communications, many destinations make assumptions based on common myths and misconceptions about what works, with whom and where to share stories, and how to reach and engage more travelers.

With a little soul-searching, fact-gathering, and updating of your current marketing approaches, your destination can avoid these mistakes and achieve more through your sustainability communication efforts.

Learning from best practices and implementing effective  approaches to sustainability communications, storytelling, and online marketing can help your destination achieve key marketing, communications and customer engagement goals, while keeping your stories real for both your destination and for your visitors.


Lessons Learned: Visit England Case Studies

Tourism Destinations Sustainability Communications Case Study

How can you promote your destination's sustainability stories to successfully engage more travelers, and at the same time "keep it real" for your community?

The December 8th, 2014 Tourism Training Live session, hosted in partnership with respondeco and Leeds Beckett University and presented by Dr. Davina Stanford, focused on practical examples of why effective sustainability communications can benefit tourism destinations, and how destinations can avoid common sustainability communication mistakes.

Based on the "Keep It Real for Destinations" toolkit developed by Visit England and Leeds Metropolitan University, the session offered several case studies and practical lessons from local and regional tourism destinations in the UK. The toolkit, published in 2014, is designed to help destination marketing organizations (DMOs) and others involved in promoting and managing destinations to effectively incorporate the "Wise Growth" principles in their communications with visitors, residents, and local businesses. Although the specific examples are drawn from destinations within the UK, their lessons offer useful insights for tourism destinations of various sizes and types around the world.


7 Common Mistakes & Key Lessons for Tourism Destinations

Based on the Tourism Training Live session on destination sustainability communications, here are key lessons ("7 common mistakes to avoid"), as well as best practice examples of those lessons in action by some of the UK destinations introduced during the session. You can watch the recording of the live session below for the full presentation.

*This Tourism Training Live session was recorded on December 8th, 2014. Visit our YouTube Channel to find more resources for tourism professionals.


#1: "It's marketing. We need catchy copy and cool photos."

Marketing your destination - and in particular using your sustainability stories for communicating to your audience about what makes your destination special - should not be limited to catchy copy and cool photos. Memorable copy and eye-catching visuals are, of course, an important part of any tourism destination's communication efforts, but you also need to tell your stories using various communication tools including text, photos, videos, and interactive web content.

Visit South West, for example, has effectively incorporated video content into their communications about a greener transportation option using the bus service. "The concept is about selling the journeys as an experience in their own right," says Neil Warren, Centre for Business and Climate Solutions, University of Exeter, "rather than trying to persuade people to switch from one mode of transport to another. The environmental goals of this initiative are never highlighted – it just happens that all the journeys involve some form of public transport."

As shown in this example, showing can often be much more powerful than telling.


#2: "Destination marketing is the job of the DMO."

DMOs are leading forces of effective tourism destination marketing and communications. But tourism stakeholders involved in developing, managing and promoting destinations can think creatively and find opportunities to collaborate with each other - through working relationships, consultation and cooperation - to craft effective and inclusive sustainability communications approaches for the destination.

Forest of Bowland (an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty)'s Sense of Place Toolkit is a great example of working in partnerships with local stakeholders for effective destination communications, engaging local residents to share their stories about their favourite places and personal memories.


#3: "We need to communicate only to our visitors."

Local business and residents are not only the "characters" that make your destination's sustainability stories special; they should also be engaged in your communications efforts, so they share your vision and can spread your message.

Newcastle Gateshead in Northeast England, for example, through its "My Kind of Toon" series, makes local residents part of the destination's stories, working with locals and visitors to share their stories about what makes the destination special.


#4: "Our iconic attractions speak for themselves."

While your destination may be blessed with iconic sites and famous brand ambassadors whose popularity alone can both market your destination and attract visitors. Instead of relying only on the existing reputation of your iconic attractions, however, you can enhance your destination's image and attract a wider audience by strengthening your messages with key elements of pursuasive communications, such as: social proof, sense of urgency, celebrity endorsement and seals of approval (e.g. certification).

Visit Cornwall's "Winter Fuel" video, for example, works with celebrity chef Rick Stein to highlight local culinary experiences that visitors can enjoy in the winter time.


#5: "We have 1000s of brochures printed for trade shows!"

In addition to the conventional marketing channels (which tend to be one-way), take advantage of online channels - such as email, blog and social media - which offer the opportunity for your destination to promote your content in a more targeted and flexible manner, taking into account the context of how travelers are interacting with your content.

One of the examples of destinations effectively incorporating blogging and social media approaches, which we introduced in the "Keep It Real" session, was Cumbria Tourism's GoLakes Travel Initiative. With the motto "Drive Less, See More", the initiative encourages visitors to explore the destination using sustainable transport options. Combining a mobile app, blogs, and social media networks, the DMO promotes local travel experiences while at the same time raising awareness of the sustainability practices that visitors can be part of.


#6: "It's best to focus on what has worked in the past."

It's of course important to take advantage of and learn from what has worked for your destination in terms of your marketing and communications efforts. But don't stop there: don't be afraid of thinking outside the box and branching out to spread your sustainability messages in new ways. This may mean exploring new platforms on which to share your stories in addition to your website and other marketing channels you're familiar with. Or, it may mean redefining your brand identity by exploring different ways of telling your stories in ways that resonate with your target audience.

Visit Suffolk's marketing campaign (including the hashtag #TheOtherSide used on social media platforms such as Twitter and Instagram, and the "Take Me To Suffolk" website with an interactive map of unique, unusual and fun travel ideas), as introduced in the live session, shows how a destination can take advantage of multiple channels to share local stories, to highlight unique visitor experiences, and to engage travelers in new ways.


#7: "We just need to target those who are considering to book."

Marketing and sustainability communications should happen throughout the traveler's customer journey (the paths visitors take from becoming aware of your destination to booking a trip, to visiting your destination, as well as hopefully going home with great memories and becoming repeat visitors), and storytelling can be an effective way to engage travelers at a much earlier stage of their journey as well as after they've visited your destination.

Sustainability communications can be an effective part of your efforts to engage travelers at all stages of the customer journey - for example, to attract attention of prospective visitors with unique stories, to help travelers plan their visits to your destination in a responsible manner, to assist visitors with practical information during their stay, and to continue engaging them after their stay in the ongoing efforts to protect and maintain the great experiences that your destination offers. 


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TrainingAid is an international tourism e-learning company offering online training courses and skills development opportunities for tourism professionals.