An intrepid traveller since I was a toddler, those who know me well will be familiar with my long-standing fascination with all things travel related. Thanks in part to my degree program, I spent the beginning part of my professional career getting intimately acquainted with the Tourism industry. And even though my professional pursuits have taken on a more Marketing-centric focus for some time now, nothing gives me more pleasure than when these two interests collide.
Over the years, I’ve been an avid monitor of advertising specific to the industry, and have commented on everything from airline safety videos to how CSR can be a great vehicle for evoking brand loyalty. And one particular source of guaranteed amusement has always been the various offerings from official Tourism authorities. While I can appreciate every Tourist Board has to work with what they’re given, for every noteworthy effort like The Best Job in the World, Hiroshima cat street view or Visit California, there’s a horde of tired clichés, nonsensical messaging and unimaginative visuals to poke fun at.
But I think we’re missing a trick here. Travel is an emotive experience. As ephemeral as the experience itself may be, what typically remains in the traveller’s psyche, is a collection of catalogued references long after you return home. All it takes is a conversation, a familiar smell, or a fleeting visual reminder to reminisce, creating the desire to be back in that very same place all over again. Yet very few attempt to capitalize on the emotive side of travel, and I’ve often lamented at the lack of innovation displayed in trying to create that pull effect. Then along comes an example that restores by faith in creative ingenuity.
Last month, the Swedish Tourism Association invited us all to ‘call a Swede’. Billed as an opportunity to ‘get connected to a random Swede, anywhere in Sweden and talk about anything you want’, it more than peaked my interest. So I gave it a shot. And ended up speaking with Åke, a marine sciences student from the University of Gothenburg. We compared notes on the best seafood restaurants on the river (his pick: Sjömagasinet), the kitschiness of Liseberg amusement park, midsummer celebrations and the inevitable discussion on Abba and the upcoming Eurovision Song Contest being held in Stockholm. As a lifelong fan, I even picked up some unknown Abba trivia; apparently the Swedish Royal Guard often play Abba’s Dancing Queen during the changing of the guard and opening of parliament ceremonies. Who said the Swedes lack a sense of humor?
Whether ‘call a Swede’ succeeds to create a huge surge in demand for holidays to Sweden is beside the point. The very definition of marketing is to create a path to purchase through establishing an emotional connection with the consumer. By injecting innovation and bold thinking into the old tourism promotion agenda, the Swedes have created a terrific example of how a simple campaign idea can achieve just that. And by enlisting an army of willing ambassadors along the way, they’ve transformed their advertising into a thoroughly human experience. One that captures the very essence of what makes travel so compelling for many of us: the opportunity to meet new people and encounter their way of life.