Beach view at sunset with people in water with boats

By Lorraine Thomson, Business Engagement Manager (Highlands and Islands), Interface

Photo by Suzy Powell

It’s getting to a point where it’s almost impossible to imagine life pre-coronavirus, especially for food & drink and tourism business which were hit the soonest, and hit hard.

I thought back to attending my most recent tourism event, in late February, where we heard of our buoyant Scottish tourism industry and wondered if it could have any relevance now, whatsoever.

Actually, I think it could. The excellent Food Tourism workshop in Inverness at the end of February, hosted by Scotland Food and Drink, Connect Local and supported by us in Interface covered great examples of companies that have grown their income by storytelling and building on peoples’ motivators to visit and their emotional drivers. It was driving visitors in their direction and that’s when we had all the world to visit, whenever we chose. 

Now we can’t visit anywhere. Yet these motivators and emotional drivers still exist and made even more acute by the fact they must be suppressed – for now.

Tourism theory will tell you that the anticipation of a holiday is the first part of it – when I studied for a postgrad. tourism diploma many years ago at the University of Strathclyde (one of the few tourism courses at the time), I was particularly struck by that fact. The looking forward, the getting excited, the planning. But we’ve become accustomed to the “cash-rich, time-poor” ethos i.e. we’re just so caught up in our busy lives that the holiday starts when you’re in the car, or on the plane and then you think more about it; we book time off and our holiday starts when we leave the house.  

Anticipation is now the most important part. We’ll have heard recently the positive tourism news that the Scottish Highlands tops a 'lust list' of UK destinations that Britons want to visit post-coronavirus crisis. The research was carried out by holiday rental marketplace Snaptrip.com, which looked at its internal data to reveal the top search results for UK holiday destinations in the last month as Britons plan future holidays while in lockdown.

So, with the continued lockdown, and heartened by the motivation and emotional factors becoming even more pronounced as life is stifled, we can add much to the pre-holiday anticipation.

If visitors are already inclined to visit and frustrated that they must delay that holiday gratification, we can feed that interest which will, because of the delay, become a bigger part of the experience. Some destination websites are doing that already, for example Orkney.com showcase pictures and videos of the destination, but individual businesses and organisations can also “tell” when they can’t “sell” their own story. In buoyant times, “tell not sell” was the subtlety of attracting visitors when visitors were aplenty, now telling is a more powerful tool when visitors exist in theory, not practice.   

With the anticipation stage being abnormally lengthened, there is time to influence that in a positive way. More time planning will mean more investigation and commitment to the plans. More time to scrutinise where to go, what to see, what to do.

A number of tourism organisations that Interface has helped in the past, by matching them with a Scottish university to deliver new products and services, such as the Tomintoul and Glenlivet Development Trust, Carloway Community Association and The Highlanders’ Museum at Fort George, decided to undertake a project on Augmented/Virtual Reality (AR/VR) to make their experience come to life virtually when the visitors are on site or, to some extent, pre-sell on their website. Organisations now promoting their destinations virtually are able to give a tantalising taste of what’s on offer. AR/VR, viewed as a largely added-value part of the visitor experience onsite, can now stand alone as an influential driver of visitors when promoted online. But we don’t have to have AR/VR to sell ahead of time. We can use photos, testimonials, virtual tours, scenic pictures and engaging stories. Social media has never been so well-used and never has there been more options to self-teach. Indeed, has the story been thought out yet? Is there groundwork to do just now while we may have the chance to think and reflect on what makes us stand out? 

Some links to storytelling ideas are listed here for inspiration and encouragement;

https://www.ardrossfarm.co.uk/ and https://glenegedalehouse.co.uk/food/ - each supplier they work with needs to have a “story” to tell. Ghillie Basan’s podcast series aimed at telling Scotland’s food and drink stories.

Post-coronavirus, with visitor inclination buoyed up by compelling stories, visitors may well commit to stay longer and spend more if their original timescales have been delayed or frustrated. The “Once in a Lifetime” trip will be more vital than ever having been delayed (58% of visitors say they have always wanted to visit Scotland). The repeat visitor (36% of visitors) hasn’t wanted to wait so long to come back. The big tour may well focus more on priority areas, not the nice-to-dos. 87% of visitors to Scotland come for the scenery and landscape, and that’s going nowhere.

We can be heartened that if we tell, many are listening, ready to commit to the sell, when they can.

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How can we help enhance your story? Find out more about how Interface can help your business by matching you with academic expertise.  

To keep connected to the great work of tourism’s trade body, the Scottish Tourism Alliance, whose CEO, Marc Crothall sits on Interface’s Strategic Board, in representing tourism’s interests, sign up for its STA Covid-19 updates.    

15 April 2020