This post was originally published in 2016 and has been updated for relevance since.
We love stories. A good story can convey a message, entertain or ignite a fire within your audience. As a tourism professional, we create experiences, which in turn become stories.
“The world is shaped by two things — stories told and the memories they leave behind.”
― Vera Nazarian
Many people think that the art of storytelling is something difficult and complex, reserved only for certain skilled members of society. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. The skills necessary to tell a story can be acquired through practice and with the right toolkit, everyone can become a master storyteller.
Whether you are trying to attract new customers or engage your current ones, quality storytelling is the way to go. This goes beyond words, encompassing photographs and videos - the principles remain the same.
Your customers will share their stories of their experiences during your tours and activities. And, as much as you are a part of creating the tour experience, you should be the one to tell the story as well. It is your story, after all. Here's how.
1. Know your audience
This first step is crucial and will determine how long the story should be and what language you should be using. Before beginning your story, spend 5 minutes thinking about who you're targeting.
Who are you speaking to? How old are they? What do they care about? Are they looking for a luxe experience or a budget-friendly one? Do you need to come across more professional or will a friendly tone work better? Will it be published as a blog post, on Facebook, or another platform?
These are very important aspects to consider to help you set the right tone and achieve the best effects with your audience.
Read more: How to understand your customers by creating personas
2. Make them care
Whether emotionally, intellectually or aesthetically, you need to make your audience care. This is important in our world, where people tend to gloss over posts and skim through content.
Why should they be interested in the story? How is it relevant to your audience? Does your story touch on themes beyond travel such as sustainability, free speech, climate change? Make this clear in your mind when crafting the story, because if it isn’t clear to you, it will not be clear to the reader.
Tip: Write it on a post-it and stick it on your desk to remind yourself why this story matters.
Photo by Sandra Ahn Mode on Unsplash
3. Set the scene
We experience the world through our senses and so, if you want to fully capture your audience, you must engage their senses. Set the scene and provide your audience with context for the story.
Where did the story take place? What did the air smell like? Did it smell like pine cones at the edge of a forest? Or like the sea by the beach?
Where does the adventure begin?
By engaging the senses of your audience and setting the scene, you will achieve a more immersive experience for your readers.
4. Be creative with chronology
Sometimes you can choose to catapult the reader straight into the midst of all the action, or to the end of the story to catch their attention. It is also one of the easiest ways to arouse curiosity, suspense and tension in your story. Since your reader does not know what is happening, they will continue reading to solve the missing pieces of the puzzle.
However, keep in mind that people do not want to play Sherlock Holmes on their iPhone, so don’t make your story the new Rubik’s Cube.
5. Know your punchline
What is the purpose of telling the story? Do not forget that although you are doing this to eventually sell a product or service, it should not feel that way to the reader. The story can be funny, meaningful, emotional or a mixture of these, or something completely different. Be creative, but don’t forget to always make it relevant and interesting.
6. Engage your audience
Erase the boundary between your reader and your story. Engage them with a question (or two) and put them in the center of the story. This way, you create a first-hand experience of the narrative, igniting the desire for the reader to actually have that experience in real life.
7. Use tension
Ever read a book that was so intense you simply had to read until you finished, completely forgetting about time and space? This is what you are trying to achieve with your story. Be descriptive when telling about the climatic moments in your story.
If you're telling the story in person, perhaps when sharing your first whitewater rafting experience, be expressive and get excited about the story you're telling.
8. End with a grand finale
Unless the story is to continue and you are intentionally building up the suspense, there should be closure in the story. Whatever plot you've built should be finished and leave no questions hanging in the air.
Add magic to your story by leaving your audience with a sense of awe, the sort of feeling you get when you leave the cinema after a great film. You can do this by leaving them with a "big question" about humanity or something similar to ponder about as they make their way back to their hotel.
Photo by Bernie Almanzar on Unsplash
9. Don’t be limited by words
A picture is worth a thousand words and videos all the more. They can support your written stories and vice-versa. This is also to mean that you can create new words, provided that they make sense and their meaning is well explained to the reader.
Through this, you not only surprise and entertain your readers, but you can also build your brand by using cleverly coined words and phrases, even turning them into unique hashtags to promote your tourism business.
10. Enjoy the process
As much as you enjoy creating the experience, you should also enjoy reliving the experience in your stories. Think about it this way: the adventure you provide can live on forever and can be enjoyed vicariously by everyone who reads or hears it.
Photo by Brands&People on Unsplash
Level up your marketing and branding with storytelling
Storytelling can really set your brand apart from others. If you're able to create a story around why your company exists and what your company stands for, you have a better chance of connecting with the right audience and developing meaningful relationships with your customers.
A clear understanding of why you stand for what you stand for can also help deliver consistent marketing messages across all platforms - whether that's on social media, your website or on resellers sites. It can also become your company's north star, influencing decisions that you make from the partners you choose to work with to the activities you choose to offer.
But how can companies create compelling stories for their branding and marketing?
This article outlines a 3-step framework developed by Marshall Ganz, who teaches storytelling courses at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government:
1. Discover your values and the stories around them
Start by focusing on your self (or your founders). Think about specific events you (or they) experienced that led you (or them) to establish specific values that are later reflected in the company.
A good story is an authentic and genuine story. Don't be afraid to share personal experiences with your audience, but be mindful not to cross the line.
2. Create a community around your shared values
With your values and key events outlined, we need to connect your values to the broader values shared by your target customer segment. What do you care about that overlaps with what your audience cares about? Refer to your notes about "Knowing Your Audience" at the very start of this blog post.
This is an opportunity for you to create a common narrative for your audience, connecting with them before they even start booking with you. Intrepid Travel is a great example of a company that does this exceptionally well. They not only offer adventurous experiences, they offer it while being mindful of local communities and the environment.
Their tagline says it all, "Small group travel that makes a difference".
A good "us" narrative builds community around shared values and clearly articulates how those values came to be.
Watch now: Learn to use storytelling to strengthen your brand voice and content strategy
3. Let your community take action with you
Lastly, include a call-to-action (CTA). Tell your audience how they can join your community and put their values into practice. Great CTAs should excite your audience.
Intrepid Travel's "Be Intrepid" page does this really well. The page clearly outlines their values, highlights positive stories from the community, and finally, asks the reader "Where's your next big adventure?" with links to various tours below.
Read more: 9 effective marketing strategies for tour and activity operators
Whether you're working on a script for a new tour, writing a blog post to generate awareness, or sharing a video on social media, know that the stories you tell can be powerful.
Tell it right and watch your business thrive.
Want more insights into the tours and activities sector? Download a copy of our popular Travel Trends Report.
Header image by Darius Bashar on Unsplash