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So exactly what does the customer want? Response from a literary/cultural tourist

Nigel Beale / January 18, 2013

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So exactly what does the customer want? Response from a literary/cultural tourist

Steven Thorne’s informative series of posts on ‘place based’ tourism, and his contention that there is a strong desire in many travelers to enrich themselves intellectually and emotionally, struck in me a particularly resonant chord.

I’m a literary tourist.  A member of that ‘band of enthusiasts’ Steven refers to. For the past 6-7 years I’ve had the good fortune of traveling around the world seeking out precisely those kind of enriching experiences mentioned in his posts.As a result of wanting to share these experiences with other book-loving travelers – to make it easier for them to enjoy the same – and to encourage cities to investigate, nurture and celebrate their literary heritage, I launched a website in 2010 at www.literarytourist.com

Here then, from the perspective of a passionate, peripatetic bibliophile – and more recently a literary tourism booster –  are responses to three important topics that stood out for me in Steven’s posts and resulting commentary:

1. “Focus on the Customer”  

Paul Nursey of the CTC suggests in his comment that strategic themes focusing on  “supply side verticals” – such as Cultural Tourists – have lost prevalence over the past decade, with tourism marketers now focusing much more intently on the customer  ( a strategy which, incidentally, has been employed par excellence by a company that could, perhaps more than any other, be blamed for eroding the unique character of communities across North America).  Amazon, and its CEO Jeff Bezos, has produced impressive results for shareholders during the past decade. Ironically, their success explains in part why so many locally owned brick and mortar bookshops have been closing their doors.

Tired of serving as show rooms for visitors who turn around and buy for less on-line, booksellers have, in number, been packing up their paperbacks and hard covers, escaping hefty rents, moving out of downtown, and setting up as Internet-only dealers. While it does little good to complain about Amazon’s successful new business model, it is worth taking a page from their book, and focusing, as Paul says, on the customer.

So, what does the the cultural/literary tourist want? Here’s what:

  • To browse well-stocked atmospheric used/antiquarian bookshops, and interact with knowledgeable owners and staff
  • To relax at independent ‘destination’ type new bookstores. To enjoy a book and a coffee
  • To attend stimulating author reading events; lectures, panel talks; writers and film festivals
  • To go to professional theatre productions
  • To visit authentic literary locales/library exhibitions/museums/spaces/landmarks. To learn from the experts, and from smart, enthusiastic, well-versed tour guides and docents.
  • To participate in writing or book arts workshops
  • To get out on literary walking tours 

…all this and more, over and above the need for good food, quiet hotel rooms, comfy beds and peaceful places in which to read, contemplate and cogitate.

By fostering, funding and encouraging these kind of experiences – and supporting local literary calendars and cultural magazines – cities will not only attract cultural/literary tourists, they’ll also make themselves more interesting to their own inhabitants.

2 ROI

Businesses should be concerned about ROI. Cities should be too. But their ultimate objective isn’t profit; it’s improvements to the quality of life for its citizens. What are cities here for? Ultimately, to help people lead happier more fulfilling lives, for, after the roads have been cleaned, the sewers inspected, the police and firemen equipped, isn’t it about enjoying yourself?

If this is the case, then shouldn’t it be about preserving that which has value – buildings, landmarks, neighbourhoods, evidence of accomplishments – and stimulating creative output and exchange in the present,  both for the enjoyment of tourists, and, as Louise Stevens points out, for the lasting benefit of our residents?

By incorporating, stimulating and celebrating ‘the imagination,’ cities, as they develop, will not only attract more visitors, they’ll also bring in creative, imaginative people who want to get involved in urban life – exactly the kind of people that Christopher Forbes, Vice Chairman of Forbes, Inc. is after:

“The success of my family’s business” says Forbes, “ depends on finding and cultivating a creative and innovative workforce. I have witnessed firsthand the power of the arts in building these business skills. When we participate personally in the arts, we strengthen our ‘creativity muscles,’ which makes us not just a better ceramicist or chorus member, but a more creative worker—better able to identify challenges and innovative business solutions. This is one reason why the arts remain an important part of my personal and corporate philanthropy.”

Local culture is not just about ROI, or attracting tourists or making money.  It’s about making places more interesting –  preserving and celebrating what has true value. The return is a richer more livable city.  While delivering exactly the kind of intellectual and emotional experiences that research identifies as being important to so many of us, exploring and sharing local culture helps us (at the fear of sounding a tad precious here) to discover who we are.

3 Authenticity

In all the articles on tourism marketing that I’ve read recently, ‘authentic’ is  the word that has appeared most often. There’s a reason for this. People – unless they’re going to Disney – don’t want fake, they want real. The real thing. The first edition, the original manuscript, the actual desk, the feather pen. Without these important source materials, we end up, as Michael Haywood puts it, “bastardizing and imposing culture that grates rather than soothes, debases rather than lifts us out of the mire of our daily lives.”

Getting to ‘authentic’ requires serious study of the past, intelligent acquisition and sympathetic  presentation.  Lawrence Lande, one of Canada’s all-time great book collectors,  in his Adventures in Collecting (a beautiful book designed by Robert R. Reid in 1975) writes about how important source materials are to the process of learning about and understanding Canadian history. Addressing a room full of McGill University professors, he said:

“ … I would try to harness as much of the source material that I could lay my hands on which McGill possesses in her libraries and museums. For example, I would attempt to set up a room with furnishings from the time of Confederation in Canada, including the pictures on the walls and the journals of the day on the table. I would involve my students with the poetry and the literature that was read at the time and the popular music of the day; the clothing that was worn; the medical and social practices and the problems of the day, including alcoholism; and even the methods of transportation and so on ….”

By stimulating creative output,  developing venues, and encouraging the collecting, curating and presenting of source documents, cities will not only evolve into better places, they’ll  ‘authentically’ transform the lives of those who visit and live in them.

5 responses to “So exactly what does the customer want? Response from a literary/cultural tourist”

  1. Debra says:

    The literary tourist would also like a good reading lamp in the hotel room, on both sides of the bed.

  2. Michael Haywood says:

    Nigel, I applaud you for your insightful references to “focus on the customer”, “ROI” and “authenticity”. 

    With reference to “focus on the customer”, personally I hope Paul Nursey’s comments on the declining prevalence of supply side verticals only reflect the tightening of tourism marketing budgets, not only of the Canadian Tourism Commission (CTC) but other destination marketing organizations.  Otherwise they are definately not paying attention to, or providing due diligence on, the growing diversity and depth of interests among travelers.  You can’t give credence to the visitor experience unless you plumb the depths of their interests, their pre- to post-purchase processes and experiences, and the growing  need for destinations to clearly differentiate their offerings. Mass appeal to mass markets through commoditized offerings, and lame and uninspiring brand identities and promises, is passé, or more precisely, extremely troubling.  

    Tourism will only excel in those communities that pay rapt attention to visitors’s nuanced requirements.  The markets of today are one-to-one.  Indeed, in our highly networked world, marketing is no longer simply based on the four Ps and what companies or communities say about their offerings, but what they do for customers in the changing context of their individual lives.  In other words, companies, communities, and their marketing have to be relevant in context, help people reach their personal objectives, and provide engaging, refreshing and compelling experiences.  Only when marketing facilitates interaction in innovative ways, addresses peoples` desires for identity, self-expression and membership, and elicts emotional connection that inspires action, does it become a welcome and rewarding presence…but not until then!

    The sad truth affecting literary travelers is that technological advances have totally disrupted the ability of small bookstores to survive.  And, Amazon`s business model has inadvertently altered the consumer experience.  But just as there has been a resurgence of independently-owned inns and B&Bs, bookstores, bookstores as bastions of the third place, can be be re-invented.  How? Beyond a focus on specialization, effective differentiation, and teaming up with anciIlary enterprises, I have not given it much thought. 

    Return on investment (ROI) is an essential financial outcome but, as you point out, its definition and measurement needs to be broadened and re-imagined.  As factors important to the quality-of-community-life, ROIs should be considered for the return-on-ingenuity, -ideas, -imagination, -innovation, and -involvement. Intriguingly, studies of enduring institutions reveal that their success comes from investing in the long-term future by being aware of the need to build people and society. Unfortunately far too many organizations fail to see and understand how they serve a purpose beyond their business portfolios, and seem perplexed as how to expand their investments to include employee empowerment, emotional engagement, value-based leadership, and related social contributions. They need the help of the communities and world in which they are based. 

    Your nod to “authenticity”, and inclusion of my quote, is appropos as one of its definitions hangs on the word “truthful”.  When communities, desperate to re-invent themselves (i.e. negate less-than-flattering images and perceptions), give untethered, creative licence to their branding efforts, they often find they have planted a minefield.  Superficially plausible truth has a way of detonating.  It would be far safer and more appropriate to create and communicate a coherent identity in which purpose and values guide people and organizations to serve society and create mutual and meaningful benefits.  Smart communities are those that encourage people to self-organize, to create networks that share information. 

    Just as your quest for authenticty as a literary traveler is legitimized through a highly clarified and diligent search, so it must be for communities.   Unless their tourism strategies truthfully reflect and build upon their merits, capabilities and desires to create compelling communities by going to extremes for their visitors (exceeding expectations, delivering inspired hospitality) they are bound to flounder.  No strategy can be considered great unless it produces great results.  

    • Steven Thorne says:

      Hello Nigel,

      I’m sorry I’m late in coming to the conversation following your insightful post.

      I’m pleased you’ve emphasized that, “local culture is not just about ROI, or attracting tourists or making money. It’s about making places more interesting – preserving and celebrating what has true value. The return is a richer more livable city.”

      I agree wholeheartedly. Sadly, my experience in municipal cultural development is that, for most mayors and councils, “local culture” is hardly a priority. In fact, as a concept, “culture” – whether local or otherwise – is rarely understood beyond line-item cultural facilities: the art gallery, the theatre, the library, the museum – and I’m speaking not only of the mayors and councils of small and medium-sized communities when I offer this observation.

      It’s 2013, but Canada remains a pioneer society. Witness Mayor Ford’s ill-informed comments concerning the arts, and concerning the cultural community of Toronto – which, no doubt, played well with “Ford Nation”.

      I have learned from my work in the trenches – as an arts manager for both Kelowna, BC, and Greater Victoria, BC – that demonstrating the economic utility of culture is often the only way to elevate culture above dog catching as a civic priority.

      Of course, cultural tourism demonstrates culture’s economic utility in spades – assuming anybody is listening, or reading. For example, Industry Canada’s 2009 publication, “The Economic Value of Cultural and Sport Tourism in Canada”, estimates the value of cultural tourism to our domestic tourism economy at $8.03 billion. Meanwhile, the value of sport tourism is pegged at $2.05 billion. And yet, sport tourism officers are found in many Canadian DMO’s – mostly, chasing tournaments for the home town to host – whereas cultural tourism specialists are as rare as hens’ teeth.

      But to return to your comment about how culture should, first and foremost, be about “preserving and celebrating what has true value”, it is for this very reason that I champion place-based cultural tourism.

      Place-based cultural tourism is designed, in part, to identify, celebrate, and preserve the very cultural assets – and this is where “authentic” enters the picture – that a
      community most values. Thus, we kill two birds with one stone. We build the economy through cultural tourism, while, at the same time, we build more livable and authentic communities. Dan Shilling has written eloquently on this topic is his 2007 book, “Civic Tourism: The Poetry and Politics of Place”. Indeed, Dan’s writing has
      inspired many of the ideas and planning methodologies that underpin my work in
      place-based cultural tourism.

      Finally, in response to your post, Michael Haywood has tossed a gentle dart at the CTC vis-à-vis Paul Nursey’s response to my own post, “How America’s cultural tourism industry has left Canada behind.” I agree with Michael: If we want to focus on customers, we must first understand customers (in this case, cultural tourists) and then cater to their needs. To quote Michael, we must “plumb the depths of their interests, their pre-to-post-purchase processes and experiences.”

      Michael is correct: “Tourism will only excel in those communities that pay rapt
      attention to visitors’ nuanced requirements.”

      Cheers,

      Steven Thorne

  3. Steven_Thorne says:

    I’m sorry I’m late in coming to the conversation following your insightful post.

    I’m pleased you’ve emphasized that, “local culture is not just about ROI, or attracting tourists or making money. It’s about making places more interesting – preserving and celebrating what has true value. The return is a richer more livable city.”

    I agree wholeheartedly. Sadly, my experience in municipal cultural development is that, for most mayors and councils, “local culture” is hardly a priority. In fact, as a concept, “culture” – whether local or otherwise – is rarely understood beyond line-item cultural facilities: the art gallery, the theatre, the library, the museum – and I’m speaking not only of the mayors and councils of small and medium-sized communities when I offer this observation.

    It’s 2013, but Canada remains a pioneer society. Witness Mayor Ford’s ill-informed comments concerning the arts, and concerning the cultural community of Toronto – which, no doubt, played well with “Ford Nation”.

    I have learned from my work in the trenches – as an arts manager for both Kelowna, BC, and Greater Victoria, BC – that demonstrating the economic utility of culture is often the only way to elevate culture above dog catching as a civic priority.

    Of course, cultural tourism demonstrates culture’s economic utility in spades – assuming anybody is listening, or reading. For example, Industry Canada’s 2009 publication, “The Economic Value of Cultural and Sport Tourism in Canada”, estimates the value of cultural tourism to our domestic tourism economy at $8.03 billion. Meanwhile, the value of sport tourism is pegged at $2.05 billion. And yet, sport tourism officers are found in many Canadian DMO’s – mostly, chasing tournaments for the home town to host – whereas cultural tourism specialists are as rare as hens’ teeth.

    But to return to your comment about how culture should, first and foremost, be about “preserving and celebrating what has true value”, it is for this very reason that I champion place-based cultural tourism.

    Place-based cultural tourism is designed, in part, to identify, celebrate, and preserve the very cultural assets – and this is where “authentic” enters the picture – that a
    community most values. Thus, we kill two birds with one stone. We build the economy through cultural tourism, while, at the same time, we build more livable and authentic communities. Dan Shilling has written eloquently on this topic is his 2007 book, “Civic Tourism: The Poetry and Politics of Place”. Indeed, Dan’s writing has inspired many of the ideas and planning methodologies that underpin my work in place-based cultural tourism.

    Finally, in response to your post, Michael Haywood has tossed a gentle dart at the CTC vis-à-vis Paul Nursey’s response to my own post, “How America’s cultural tourism industry has left Canada behind.” I agree with Michael: If we want to focus on customers, we must first understand customers (in this case, cultural tourists) and then cater to their needs. To quote Michael, we must “plumb the depths of their interests, their pre-to-post-purchase processes and experiences.”

    Michael is correct: “Tourism will only excel in those communities that pay rapt
    attention to visitors’ nuanced requirements.”

    Cheers,

    Steven Thorne