The tourism and meeting/events industries have long lamented that they are misunderstood and under-appreciated, particularly when it comes to government policy matters.
So…why is that?
Some say it’s because locally, nationally and internationally we are hopelessly fragmented into a thousand different tribes and voices competing with each other for attention (and cash) from stakeholders. Lincoln’s “house divided” speech comes to mind. Fortunately the meeting/events industry in the US realizes this and is rallying to create a united voice.
Some say it’s because hospitality is in our DNA and we try to get things cleaned-up with a silk handkerchief instead of a chainsaw. Roger Dow, president and CEO of the US Travel Association, often sums it up by saying “The industry behaves like the glee club when it should behave more like the football team.”
Some say that in the big scheme of things the trials and tribulations of an industry that all-to-often allows itself to be embodied by international air carriers, cruise lines, lodging companies, celebrity chefs and red carpets, aren’t what’s keeping the world up at night.
It’s probably all of the above and more.
But boil it all down and you come to one simple insight: Our story sucks.
You know our core story: “We are a $multi-trillion global industry employing millions generating $billions in annual tax revenue so we deserve respect.”
Now, there is no doubt that this story is true and significant.
We also know that every other industry of significance uses the economic impact story-line. Its become table stakes to get into the advocacy game. But if everyone is using the same story-line, it’s no longer remarkable or memorable.
“Whoever tells the best story wins.” – John Quincy Adams
If we apply Simon Sinek’s wonderful Golden Circle model we quickly conclude that our current story is all about the WHAT and that truly inspirational leadership story-telling starts with the WHY…as in WHY SHOULD WE CARE? WHAT = Pragmatic. WHY = Emotional. Guess which approach best inspires action?
Here’s a thought: We need a story that gets more than just economists excited about us. One that doesn’t measure our worth by how much money we spend but by how much we change people’s lives.
And herein lies an opportunity for destination marketers to carve out some local emotional real estate and build some important grass-roots community cred: Find and share the local industry’s story of WHY.
As marketplace story-teller we’re in the business of creating great stories that inspire people to visit our destinations or select it as an event location. So how about applying those very same story-telling skills in our own communities to make them care about WHY an industry they often take for granted makes their lives better? DMOs are closer to the emotional experiences and realities of our industry WHY than anyone. And since all politics is local, starting with local hearts and minds will likely get better traction.
Let me share an example:
When I was in Toronto we were honored to host the 2006 International AIDS Conference. It was a huge conference with 26,000 attendees, keynotes by Bill and Melinda Gates and Bill Clinton, $25 million in local spending etc. Like most DMOs we touted the economic impact of 26,000 people on our taxis, restaurants, hotels, shops etc. It was a one-day story and was soon forgotten. The real story of that conference, the one that people cared enough about to share and remember, the one that the media covered endlessly, was how the conference brought together AIDS researchers and hospice workers from third world countries with their Toronto counterparts to learn from each other. The “best story” for our community was not about the economics, it was about how the shared learning from the conference would save lives. This was the WHY that people who mattered cared enough about to act on.
We got thank-you’s from local politicians, doctors and nurses because of that story. I can’t remember getting anything from the souvenir shop owners.
Business Events Sydney (the DMO) examined this at a more empirical level in its 2010 Scoping Study of Business Events: Beyond Tourism Benefits.
Destination marketers must play a pivotal industry and community leadership role by harvesting and sharing the best stories of WHY, not just WHAT. By expanding our story-telling focus beyond the marketplace to include the hearts and minds of our internal communities, the tourism and meeting/event industries will be better positioned for the inevitable policy challenges.
Because advocacy is no substitute for a story that sucks.