In my last column, I wrote about using story-telling as a marketing technique. I surmised that the story you might tell about your business or to promote a trip or destination, is uniquely effective primarily because: #1 – it will be memorable and, #2 – It answers the ‘Why’ question. That is, “Why should you hire me as your travel professional?” Or “Why should you go on this trip or to this place?” Now, after a three-week trip in Central Europe, I’m even more convinced, and am anxious to try telling more stories.
As I travel home from Prague, I am reflecting on the many different tour guides we’ve had on this trip and how they introduced us to their cities and cultures. I’m not talking about the audio guides or those rote guides with memorized spiels speaking into a microphone for 50 people (although we did some of that too). Primarily I’m talking about the small group experiences that I arranged with guides. They had good information– history, dates, numbers and names. I will probably forget those in a few weeks’ time. What I won’t soon forget are the life experiences that they shared with us and the conversations we had about our respective countries. Several of the guides in Budapest, Prague and Germany described their lives before and after communism. One remembered she was 13 when the Iron Curtain fell and was just amazed at how many kinds of shampoo they suddenly could get at the store. Another man remembered there was a shortage of toilet paper during the communist years in Prague it was quite a dilemma for his family. In Germany there were many stories of treatment by the Nazis and in Amsterdam we met real people living in the historic canal houses who lovingly described the background of their home and family to us. These are the things that impressed me, stuck with me, pulled at my emotions. This is information that helps me to understand a country and its people, which is, by the way, the answer to the question: ‘Why should I go on this trip?’
During my travels, I attempted to keep a travel blog which is not always possible depending on available time and the speed of the internet connection. I managed to create about 5 complete posts and a few miscellaneous photos with no writing where I focused on stories. What I didn’t want to do was say: “Today I was in Amsterdam and I saw the Anne Frank House, the red light district and went on a canal tour…” Instead I wrote about the houses of Amsterdam. Describing the canal houses and their shapes, colors, and history of their owners was a way to paint a picture of the beautiful city and also enabled me to include some reflections on the Anne Frank House as a specific attraction. Of course there is more to Amsterdam, but by focusing on one thing, the houses, I was able to tell a story.
In other postings, I selected just one experience or topic in each city to highlight. For example, “The Steeples and Bells of Salzburg.” I wrote fun facts about the local food and beer in “A Taste of Bavaria.” You can read them here: Hallberg Travel Journal.
I think the blog is effective, and I plan to write more stories about the trip now that I’m back. There are more stories to tell and even the negative experiences can become a humorous tale now that I’m removed from it…getting drenched in a cloud burst and a flat tire while biking to a Czech castle. The blog could be a useful tool for clients thinking of traveling to a particular destination and also as a discussion starter as I begin to plan their trip. It would not be intended as a guidebook with a complete list of attractions or “must-sees”—that has been done hundreds of times by many people more capable than I.
Speaking of guidebooks, let me tell you the second important “take-away” for me from this trip. Put your clients in the hands of local guides instead of putting a guidebook in their hands. Everyone gets worn out with facts eventually. But people can listen to a good story forever.
So, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. What’s yours?
Pam Hallberg is a travel consultant who enjoys arranging food and wine themed tours and cruises. She owns her own home-based business, Hallberg Travel & Tours: Creating Tasteful Travel Experiences.