It’s the height of delegation, but who better to promote your destination than the people who often take it for granted…the locals.
I was recently reminded how powerful this destination marketing approach is when the Swedes encouraged me to pick up the phone and enjoy a casual chat with one of their locals. Who better to tell you how to make Swedish meatballs, where you can drink your weight in Absolut and whether it’s the done thing to sing ABBA in the streets?
Trust the Scandinavians to launch a hotline called ‘Phone a Random Swede’ which invites people all over the world to call a random number and be connected with one of several thousand volunteers who are prepared to field calls at all hours of the day and night. The Swedes who take the calls have volunteered by downloading an app. But they are not vetted or given any instructions about what to say.
The idea is to spark people's curiosity about Sweden - the culture, nature and mindset, and to help Sweden do this, the tourist association figures the country’s own people are the best brand ambassadors. “It’s like when Swedes travel the world. You don’t know who they’re going to talk to and what they’re going to say,” Magnus Ling, the head of the Swedish Tourist Association said.
According to the volunteers who signed up to be a ‘random Swede’, people ask the most arbitrary questions. Some people ask about the toilets in Sweden, whilst others want to know more about the school system. I’d like to know when they’re going to open an Ikea in South Africa, but I’m unlikely to trouble a random Swede with that one…
Quirky this new initiative may be, but crowdsourcing in destination marketing is not new and tourism boards around the world have been embracing it for several years. In a world where travellers increasingly seek authenticity and personal experiences, it makes sense to deliver a marketing message about a destination originating from the people who live there.
An example of this is using social networking campaigns to market a destination. DMOs allow residents to share the word on their best-kept local secrets by letting them film, post, tweet and blog about what they love about their home turf.
An example of this was Louisiana Travel which asked its locals to become “festival fanatics” and support their state in claiming the title of “Festival Capital of the World”. They wanted people who loved festival life, already had a strong presence on social media and wanted to make some extra cash in their spare time. The participants used social media to talk about the festival a week prior to the event, blogged about it and engaged with people about why the wealth of culture Louisiana had to offer – all on social media!
But by opening the gates and allowing ‘real’ people to share information about their hometown, destinations have to ditch their security blankets and give up full control of their marketing message.
Traditional campaigns that focus on the food, the landscapes and the attractions, showcase the beautiful side of a destination but one that is certainly less believable to a target market than that showcased by its peers.
There’s no guarantee that ‘real’ people will be as generous as someone paid or incentivised to promote a destination, but their honest, positive feedback will mean far more to a prospective traveller than the opinion of a DMO or a journalist who has been hosted to right ‘nice things’ about a destination.
I wonder what callers would most like to know about South Africa if we were to encourage them to phone a random ‘Saffa’? Do lions roam the streets? Is it safe to travel at night? And what on earth is a koeksuster?
Step aside TripAdvisor, it’s time to start cultivating the people of South Africa as tourism ambassadors. It starts at home. What can you do?