If you’re a communications professional in India, chances are you know what a typical Kerala Tourism ad campaign looks like. Supremely crafted, with raw natural beauty captured in breathtaking panoramas or striking close-ups. Usually celebrated for their sheer artistry and sometimes mocked for completely overlooking the authentic flavour of Kerala. But when #HumanbyNature, Kerala Tourism’s first global ad film in 9 years, was released barely a year after the floods that brought the state to its knees and its people standing shoulder to shoulder with each other, something was different.
The sweeping vistas and the faultless close-ups were all there. But this time, every beautiful frame was dominated not by the natural splendour of the landscape or the ubiquitous foreign face. Instead, the visual beauty merely served as a foil to highlight the locals, who live out their days in the spirit of generosity and acceptance. In one brilliant stroke of insight and craftsmanship, this brand had come to its own, celebrating the people that made the state such a unique destination.
Those in the tourism industry will agree that destination marketing is increasingly difficult when social media (and traditional media) is saturated with pretty locales that look just like each other. What’s more, the adjective-led, alliterative slogans that typify tourism advertising have hollowed out even the merest hint of meaning in those jaded words. And that’s why seasoned marketers are looking to the locals to tell the story of the destination.
The Swedish Tourism Board recognised the power of the local connection when they launched the www.theswedishnumber.com, inviting people all over the world to call in and talk to a random Swede about anything.
The campaign numbers spoke volumes about the power of a human connection and the benefits of empowering locals as brand ambassadors for a tourist destination.
Closer to home, Singapore Tourism Board has also recognised the value of local ambassadors. To promote the country as a place where passion is made possible, STB has put their “Passion Ambassadors” in the limelight, focusing on the stories and spaces that inspire them.
When locals are empowered to become the frontline of the tourism industry, the takeaway is a more authentic experience for the tourist and a chance for the destination’s homegrown identity to shine through. Besides that, there is the not-so-small matter of the huge contribution that tourist dollars bring to the domestic economy. Considering it from the other side of the equation, the tourist experience is enhanced by the local hospitality. Most importantly, the best experience any tourist can get is the hospitality they receive from the locals and the rise of Airbnb proves that travellers are increasingly recognising that. In response, marketers also need to leverage the power of the local over the locale.
For me, the most heartfelt example of local-led destination marketing was the campaign developed by Discover Los Angeles in 2017 in light of Trump’s travel ban. In a bid to encourage visitors and make them feel at ease in spite of the rhetoric, Discover Los Angeles created a human-powered billboard visible to incoming planes at Los Angeles International Airport that displayed the message “Welcome” in English, Spanish, Arabic and Mandarin.
Filmed and shared on social channels, the activation video went viral, generating more than 2.6 million views on Facebook and reaffirming the Angelenos’ pride in their warm, welcoming culture. This campaign is everything local-led tourism is about. It’s a stark reminder that people, not places, host the tourist. Tourists know that. It’s time tourism boards figured it out, too.