From sellers to storytellers
Letting go of old marketing habits to lure more tourists is easier said than done, as Rehab Saad
"Tourism fairs sell nothing," stated tourist marketing expert Eulogio Bordas, matter-of- factly. "Family trips, press trips, brochures and other tools, popular 25 years ago in tourist marketing, are now dead." Bordas' opinion surprised those attending a symposium organised last week by the Egyptian Tourism Federation under the title 'Tourism Marketing for Sector Leaders'. The marketing expert believes that traditional tourist marketing tools "only serve those who lack better ideas", especially that tourism marketers today need to be innovative in addressing the modern tourist. "Today, the benchmarks operate on emotional publicity, one-to-one marketing, high-tech marketing, maxi-marketing, e-commerce, e-business and by managing sophisticated trademark and branding systems," he asserted.
Today's "dream society", continued Bordas, is a result of economic affluence, technological and transportation development, which has a direct impact on international tourist movement. New tourist trends and marketing sectors other than the traditional 'sun, sand and sea' markets have emerged, such as adventure, sports, nature, wellness, hyper and other untraditional tourism. "People travel for the paintings of Picasso or to attend a Samba show or an opera performance," stated Bordas.
Applying this to Egypt, Bordas said that travel agents should start thinking about this dream society and look for emotions and experiences to offer new guests. "If your services are fine, then don't concentrate too much on improving them but try to develop better experiences," he advised. "Try to reduce the effort exerted by the tourist and check the discomforts and insecurities. This is the best way to transform activities into experiences."
For example, a tourist's experience at the Pyramids remains "mechanical, without any emotions", when visitors could have a very emotional experience that can bring them to tears. "There should be a way of recounting history in an emotional way, compatible to the new tourist trend," he argued. Bordas further added that marketing research shows that if a tourist is happy about his experience, he will advise at least 10 others to travel to the same destination.
Ahmed El-Khadem, head of the Egyptian Tourist Authority (ETA), said that some Egyptian travel agents are already utilising new marketing tools by trying to sell the experience to the traveller, and letting him become involved in society by visiting schools or charities. "The tourist is now looking for a total experience and this is what we are trying to do," declared El-Khadem. "Our new advertisement campaigns directed at foreign markets concentrate on that total experience -- a felucca on the Nile, a scent of a flower, a camel trekking the desert -- that's exactly our trend in promotion," he said.
But at the same time, Egypt cannot entirely depend on dream society tourism because it only targets the elite, according to the chief of ETA . "We still depend on mass tourism, those who still seek the sun, sand and sea," stressed El-Khadem. He also disagreed with ignoring tourist fairs as an effective marketing tool for Egypt. "Some ideas presented by Bordas apply to Egypt, while others don't," he told Al-Ahram Weekly. "Tourist fairs are essential for us." El-Khadem cited that travel agencies and hotels compete to join the Egypt booth at the ITB fair in Berlin because it is very rewarding.
In a nutshell, Egypt's tourist strategy focuses on improving its presence at tourism fairs, developing the country's tourist portal Egypt.travel, and advertising campaigns abroad. The strategy is to maintain traditional markets and strengthen connections with tour operators in important markets, since they are key in sending tourists to Egypt.
Bordas, on the other hand, feels that marketing tools need to evolve to focus more on the experience, rather than the product or activity. Information about the destination should be mixed with storytelling, since the dream society tourist cares about personal experiences. Hence, advertisements should address the feelings of the tourist and highlight the human dimension of the tourist experience, using emotive expressions.
According to Bordas' assistant Iris Brouwer, technology in the information society is changed into emotions in the dream society; services change into experiences and stories; physical comfort into spiritual comfort; and rational intelligence into emotional intelligence. "The bed sellers have become experience sellers, package creators have become story creators, the sellers have become the storytellers and the director of operations has become director of dreams and experiences," Brouwer added poetically.
For El-Khadem, however, crunching numbers and close cooperation between the public and private sectors are vital to Egypt's tourism industry. "There should be more funding from the private sector in tourist campaigns abroad, which so far are the sole duty of the government," he told the Weekly. Egypt spends $40 million annually on international tourist campaigns, television and newspaper advertising, as well as tourism fairs.
El-Khadem believes even more funds should be directed to tourism promotion because it is a profitable trade, and certain Egyptian provinces should be promoted individually such as is the case with Bavaria in Germany and Andalusia in Spain.
Bordas presented other ideas at the symposium, such as developing new products, a strong Internet strategy, as well as implementing rigorous systems of quality and product labels. In Mexico, for example, "happy tourists" selected by hotels and travel agencies are given a free postcard and stamp to send back home recounting their positive experience. "This marketing tool proved a big success in Mexico and increased tourists to the country significantly," revealed the tourism expert. Furthermore, research has proven that recommendations by tourists to their friends were more important and more sincere than recommendations of travel agencies to their clients.
At the same time, web technology has become part and parcel of the new marketing mechanism in tourism, but developing and updating a destination web page could be costly. Instead of developing its own web page, Mexico linked itself to ITS cover -- the most powerful website in Europe with 50 million visitors and one million hotel reservations. "That way Mexico benefited from that link without paying a lot of money, and it guaranteed the millions of visitors of ITS," explained Bordas.
A common mistake in tourist marketing is breaking up tourist campaigns into small entities, or "peanuts" as Bordas described it, such as brochures, workshops and family trips. "You have to develop a simple market with five or six strong items, such as on-line advertising, web page agreements and recommendations of friends," he proposed. "Then present your plan to some host partners in Europe to share expenses and effort to sell your product." Although profits are guaranteed, the plan is restrictive because the marketer cannot change the strategy presented to the partner.
Other recommendations by Bordas included selecting target markets that have direct regular or charter flights to your destination, and the colours and slogan of a tourism campaign should remain constant so as to resonate with tourist decision-makers. For example, Spain's tourism slogan lasted for 20 years, while France's red and blue colours were in place for 15 years.