Every destination is unlike any other destination.
In this one particular place, specific people have created, been defined by, and collided with other people. The natural environment has helped shape a particular culture. The perfect mix of ingredients intersected in this singular, very particular destination. This is what makes a destination unique.
Yet, in an attempt to help destinations stand out and attract potential travelers, tourism professionals turn away from this reality. Instead, they present places through an outdated, often colonial-tinted lens and create content that could apply to any number of destinations. Leaning into common, predictable descriptions and stereotypical, “appealing” images, all of these unique destinations fade into a blur of homogeneity.
Each destination deserves so much more than the same treatment as every other destination. Embrace the power of storytelling to share a more accurate and interesting story while attracting travelers most aligned with a place’s one-of-a-kind personality.
1. Stop thinking of destinations as destinations.
As much as tourism professionals often say they’re packaging “experiences,” those experiences rarely mean anything without the places where they happen. There is a growing emphasis on why and how people travel, but destinations — where people go — are still very much at the heart of tourism.
The problem is that the tourism industry tends to market "destinations'' as if they are static beings. But places have character; they are shaped by the forces around them and encompass more than just a visual moment in time.
We seem to have forgotten that places — “destinations,” in tourism terminology — are living, breathing, evolving beings. Hold onto that mindset when sharing a destination’s story.
2. Avoid stereotypes and clichés, and get specific.
Reaching for stereotypes, clichés, buzzwords, and jargon is lazy and destructive. Words like “exotic” or “beautiful” are subjective. When used without context or as empty adjectives, they can reinforce dangerous stereotypes and misrepresent people, history, and culture. They also don’t actually provide any specific insight into a destination’s character.
Instead, get specific. Rely on the five senses to specifically describe a place. What tangible features make a destination “beautiful?” What does a piece of the locally grown fruit taste like? How does the dirt underfoot feel?
3. Ditch content for clicks.
Undoubtedly you’ve read and probably clicked on a “listicle” at some point in time. These are articles that note the “best” or “must see” sites. The photo-heavy version of this is known as the slideshow. These pieces of content are easy, quick, and inexpensive to create — and they attract viewers, which is every marker’s star of success.
While there’s nothing wrong with creating the occasional piece of content that drives traffic to your brand, it can lead to overcrowding, a lack of research and in-depth knowledge on behalf of travelers, and an echo chamber of sorts that leads to the creation of similar content. Plus, superlatives are subjective: Who decides what the “best” meal is or if something is a “must-see” attraction? And, how is this content really any different from the kind of content touting other destinations?
If you have the capacity, get creative with your content. Share behind-the-scenes action of activities in the area. Show a day in the life of a local artisan. And get small: Focus on an ingredient, a musical instrument, a word or phrase, a singular moment. These are the details that truly transport someone to a place.
4. Explore multimedia options.
Stories can be told in lots of different ways. Take advantage of this and experiment with a variety of media to showcase a destination’s dynamic character. Think beyond written content, video, and photography. How can you bring in visual art, virtual reality, oral storytelling, music, and other media to enhance your storytelling?
People consume content in different ways across different platforms. Use this to your advantage, and don’t feel pressured to surface brand-new stories for each space (though, of course you’ll want to adapt accordingly). Not only does this stretch your content further, but it also lets you focus on the specific details that are more suited to specific media. For example, sampling music might be better on a podcast or video whereas a piece of poetry could be written or shared audibly.
5. Include people.
Acknowledging that places are living, evolving beings means folding people into those stories. People are really at the heart of a destination. They are central to the history, food, art, music, festivals, and traditions that have shaped a place. Not only do people add an additional, complex, and interesting dimension to destination storytelling, but they’re also key to differentiating one place from another.
When seeking out people to enhance destination storytelling, don’t forget that people are people. They are not marketing props and should not be exploited for tourism purposes. Seek out diverse and unexpected viewpoints and perspectives. Respect their lived realities and time. And, be very mindful of power dynamics that could misrepresent or cause discomfort, especially for people who identify with marginalized communities.
6. Surprise people.
When you challenge common tropes, seek out new ways to tell known stories, feature unexpected storytellers, and find new stories to share about destinations, you weave in an element of surprise that is welcome in a sea of homogenous destination content.
Thinking beyond the “tourism” box into different industries and corners of a community can uncover a host of interesting stories you never even thought to share about a destination before. Not only does this wield new storytelling opportunities, but it also cross-pollinates tourism within communities, which supports wider sustainable development.
People don’t know what they don’t know. So, ask yourself: What don’t people know about this destination? Take that thread and run with it!
7. Don’t create for the average traveler persona.
All of that generic destination content will attract the generic traveler. Is that who you intend to attract? The content you put out into the world is the content that people consume, so ensure the stories you share match your intentions. This is the only way your destination will stand apart from other destinations while also appropriately attracting the attention of those travelers you hope will visit.
People are heart-centered. They are attracted to stories they can relate to, learn from, or reflect upon. If you share personal and real stories that aren’t a cookie-cutter version of what’s being shared from every other destination, you’re already one step ahead. Now, make sure those stories surface a sense of wonder, awe, and curiosity that you want your travelers to carry with them. Tell the right stories for the right people and they are more likely to visit.
8. Get feedback from someone else.
You are invested in the destination you’re promoting, so it can be hard to separate yourself from the content you create. It can be incredibly helpful to find someone who will offer honest feedback about the stories you want to put out in the world who is not invested in the destination or the piece of content’s success..
Run the “homogeneity” test and see if this person gets a sense of this place’s unique character and if the message you want to convey is communicated appropriately. Ask questions: How did this story make you feel? Why? What are you left wondering? What surprised you? What kind of person would enjoy this experience?
9. Back away if it’s not your story to tell.
If you’re unable to defeat destination homogeneity and you keep creating a story that looks like it could be any destination’s story, you probably aren’t the right person for the job. This can be a hard pill to swallow, but instead of seeing it as a roadblock, look at this as an invitation to invest time learning about and really getting to know a place before telling its story.
This happens more often than you might think. It is especially common for content creators who haven’t visited destinations or who lean heavily on desk research without ever truly digging into the details of a destination, the myriad of influences that shape it, and its vivid personality. This is one of the reasons why destinations that host content creators need to do a better job of moving beyond the pretty backdrops and encourage deeper, more meaningful storytelling.
It might take more work and effort to craft stories that truly define a destination. However, this effort benefits and more appropriately represents the people who live there, is more likely to attract the right travelers, and more accurately showcases a place that won’t be mistaken for any other destination.