Sunday, September 19, 2010

Storytellers making their mark for New Zealand Tourism

New Zealand iconic entertainer and storyteller Andrew Lumsden, known to most as comedian, experimental gardener and alternative historian “Te Radar” sat in on my presentation last week at the NZ i-Site Conference.  At the end of the conference we were treated to Radar’s unique and hilarious storytelling of forgotten New Zealand history covering topics like the Taranaki Highwayman, a forgotten submarine in Dunedin and an acrobatic balloonist who in 1899 was last seen floating out to sea off the coast of Christchurch when a stunt went horribly wrong.

What Te Radar did so masterfully was reinforce a core theme of the conference, that we as New Zealanders have great stories to tell, and we need to be better at telling them.

Through the ages storytelling has been the most effective and engaging form of entertainment, promotion and marketing. Though communications technology has improved significantly and reaching further than we would have thought possible it is still only as good as the content it carries. The better the story the bigger the impact it makes.

This idea was supported and endorsed through an announcement by Patrick Verryt, the Online Manager from
Tourism New Zealand that their online marketing portal is to become an open content platform. This means a move away from a traditional single source content management structure to an open publishing forum managed by the wider community. This is a bold move but by no means new, the now famous and proven Wikipedia uses a similar open source publishing format to great success. The greatest advantage is that the right people with the expert knowledge can take ownership of a subject of their choice. When people challenge their ideas or want more information they can engage quickly, in real time and directly with the content source creator. Of course we have to also acknowledge this is not without its risks as with any form or human interaction.

Over the past two weeks I have been immersed in New Zealand Tourism communities and this has reinforced to me the absolute wealth of passion and commitment we have available in our people and communities. I have had such an amazing time presenting to, and meeting with people responsible for the promotion and delivery of New Zealand Tourism activity. I have travelled literally the length of our country from the beautiful Northland to the stunning Southland and at every stop heard new and interesting stories that have inspired me.

Some of the events I have been guest speaker at on the subject of online Community engagement (Social Media) included the
E-Tourism Conference in Auckland, the Destination Northland Tourism Conference, the i-Site Conference in Napier and the Venture Southland Tourism Workshops in Invercargill.

During this time I was fortunate to meet so many people, obviously too many to mention individually but I will reference a few. Despite my own experience as a professional networker I am still amazed at how evolving methods of communication can advance this important social and business opportunity to expand networks and form meaningful business relationships.

Thanks to the power of Social Media there were people I had not physically met before yet I had a sense of rapport with them from the outset having a good understanding of their thinking by previously reading their blogs and seeing their random thoughts via twitter. This included
Michelle Ackers from Adept Marketing and author of the insightful New Zealand Tourism Industry Blog, spending time with Simon McManus, active PR and eMarketing expert with a self-titled agency called McManus. Other inspirational individuals included @HippyKate, @WildfireNZ, @HotShotsIntl and @RocktheBoatNZ. I also had the pleasure of co-presenting with Jim Brody, International Sales Manager of and Chris Larcombe, National Account Manager of Trade Me’s new travel marketing channel and booking engine.

As much as I am an advocate of the use of Social Media there can and should never be a replacement for the face to face engagement. If this was the case we would watch travel videos and never need to experience the real thing ourselves. This was validated by the very last evening of my two week tour by a meeting with Peter Ridsdale. This larger than life Executive Manager of the
Ascot Park Hotel in Invercargill where my presentation to Venture Southland was hosted is a natural storyteller, not of the tall variety but of the salt of the earth real New Zealand adventure kind.

During my presentation at his hotel Peter heard me reference a recent 
hunting trip to Stewart Island so asked if I would like to try a new venison recipe he was experimenting with. While I listened over dinner to his stories that connected his love of the land with people he cared about I felt like a tourist in my own country. I was impressed by Peters passion about sharing the value New Zealand offers as a destination, especially his Southland region, and its intrinsic link with its people and diverse history.

All the people I have met recently have one thing in common; they have great stories to tell. It is through the power of stories we can inspire the imagination of others and motivate people to seek out new horizons and try new adventures so they too can have better stories to tell. Our challenge is to have the confidence to speak up and to share this wealth with the rest of the world.