Destination Promotion Is Often Propaganda

I once bought a very funny little guidebook to a fictitious destination called ‘Slaka’.

‘Why Come to Slaka’ by Malcolm Bradbury, was published in 1968. Everybody working in tourism or destination marketing should read it. If only because it is very recognizable.

It is written as an official guidebook to a mysterious country somewhere in ex-Soviet Union Eastern Europe. It includes the geography and history, tours, shopping and sight-seeing tips. The writer even made up a complete vocabulary with useful words and phrases for foreign visitors.

"Slaka!!! Where is the heart that does not high upleap at the very merest name of your immemorable city! Slaka!!! city of flours and gipsy musick, of great buildungs and fine arts, we toast you in your own brandy-spiritus!!"

Slaka is instantly recognizable to any destination marketeer. Everything about the destination is described as the most beautiful, the best and greatest in a funny badly translated and formatted English. The people are the kindest, the shops have ‘the best of everythings’. The guidebook to end – with any luck – all official guidebooks.

"Slaka! Land of lake and forest, of beetroot and tractor. Slaka! Land whose borders are sometimes here, often further north, and sometimes not at all. Land of cultural riches, of a language that is easy enough to learn if you speak Finnish, or perhaps a little Hittite."

Destination marketing messages look very much like old Soviet propaganda

Surely you have seen and still find such brochures at local visitor centers around the world today. Fast forward to today. Over 50 years later, the marketing messages of destination marketing organizations and tourism marketeers are not very much different from those in this book about Slaka. Issued according to the first page by the ‘Min’Stratii Kulturi Komit’etii and ‘State Publishing House V.I. Leninim’. Just replace those two phrases with ‘My Tourist Board’ or ‘My DMO’ and you catch my point.

Soviet-era propaganda pales if you look at some of the claims of today’s destinations. However,In one way or another marketeers still think they can get away with half-true, misleading messages about a destination. Nowadays called ‘stories’. Often rewriting the history of and stories about the destination or businesses in the destination. Hiding the often ugly truths. Hmm, where did we here and see that happen before?

Tourists and consumers have always been a captive audience for advertisers. If you wanted to watch television, you had to see the ads. And the newspapers were more than half-full with ads. At the destination the hotels, tourist offices with their glossy brochures were the only source of information for the visitor. Local tourism boards monopolized tourist information. Once in a while a bad review ‘escaped’ , but only by word-of-mouth.

In trying to get the tourists’ attention about the destination and its offerings of tourism providers, destination resort to all kinds of special promises. Which they cannot fulfill. And which with a simple search on Internet people can immediately test their credibility.

‘Storytelling’ is traditional advertising in a new dress

As we see every day, all destinations and tourism providers around the world continue with creating all kinds of unachievable promises. Everybody claims the same things. So destination marketeers come up with more and more extraordinary and outrageous expressions and claims. In other words: outright lies. Or do they call it ‘stories’ nowadays?

All Destination Marketers Are Liars and Tell Stories

But storytelling is northing more than a new form of advertising. Unfortunately it is even more annoying. Because you now have to spend more time listening to what effectively is a very long paid for ad dressed up like an authentic story.

Anyway, the only stories which are credible are authentic stories customers tell. You will find them in online reviews. Or hear them during family or friends’ parties.

‘Staggering’ landscapes turn out to be the same hills and forest you see in hundreds of other places. The ‘best nightlife’ consists of a few pubs allowed to stay open one hour longer. And the ‘friendliest’ residents look at you like you have just arrived from another planet. For the ‘superb viewpoints’ you need to hire an expensive helicopter.

Especially when destinations promote that ‘kids will love it’ or you can go there for ‘nice long walks or bike tours and enjoy the tranquil surroundings’ you know there is really not much (that is: nothing) to do. So bring your tablet so you can binge-watch your favourite Netflix series. Or buy 10 books since you will have enough time to read all of them.

As a result destination promotion – as still deployed today by most destinations and tourism providers – often looks like propaganda. The information provided is completely biased and misleading. And largely ineffective.

consumers have become immune to marketing messages

Consumers never liked the ads and have always been trying to find ways to avoid advertising. We have done that by getting more control of their content. By using the most significant communication platform in the history of the world: the Internet. And by writing and sharing reviews with each other we are now creating new and really meaningful content.

People have become immune to traditional advertising and therefore for traditional forms of destination marketing, branding and promotion.

That is why destination marketing needs to transform itself. And start focusing at the other ‘P’s’ in the marketing mix: like ‘product’ and ‘people’. And move away from promoting, branding and advertising.

And for next time you let yourself be seduced by their propaganda to visit a specific destination: ‘Bone vy’aggii!’ (have a good trip) as they say in Slava!!!

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