Creating Authentic Travel Experiences for Your Visitors

New trends in the tourism industry include traveling to experience seclusion, dark skies and even extreme heat. Tourists are asking themselves, “what do I want to do?” as opposed to “where do I want to go?” To create an authentic experience, destinations need to capitalize on what makes them truly unique. After all, you aren’t just a place, you are a collection of experiences.

Cultural destinations are on the top of tourists’ bucket lists. Cities that allow travelers to engage with the region’s history, art, architecture and music allow people to take away not only Instagram-worthy photos but also shared memories of unique experiences. For destinations, it encourages locals to embrace their culture and boost economic growth.

By figuring out who you are, using effective storytelling and having ambassadors for your brand, you can provide a truly authentic experience for your visitors.

Figure out who you are

What makes your destination unique? Is it food, art or maybe shopping? According to Travel + Leisure, cultural enrichment, shopping, culinary activities, live entertainment and festivals are the top five activities people have interest in while traveling. By focusing on what your city can offer, you will be able to decide which travelers to target. People are motivated by their personal passions while traveling.

Cultural tourists spend substantially more money during their stay than standard tourists do, resulting in far greater economic impact on a community. When cities focus on showcasing cultural assets, they create a brand for their destination that drives visitation in a key segment of the market. In the case of Charleston, SC, the city, in essence, has become the attraction.

In Charleston, the Convention and Visitors Bureau recognized Charleston’s rich cultural history and formed the Charleston Heritage Federation (CHF). CHF is made up of nine essential historic, architectural and cultural sites. The member organizations are devoted to the protection, preservation and professional stewardship of buildings, sites, objects and natural places/landscapes significant to the heritage and culture of Charleston and the South Carolina lowcountry. This partnership leverages one pass that allows access to all nine sites.

Authentic Paducah, Kentucky trips mean visiting the National Quilt Museum, home to the greatest quilts in the world. Paducah’s passion for fiber arts and their rich history helped earn them their designation as a UNESCO Creative City of Crafts & Folk Art. The city now hosts AQS QuiltWeek twice a year, during the spring and fall. Also, Paducah’s Fall Fiber Festival, exceptional art galleries and numerous fabric shops tell the tale of Paducah’s creativity.

Use effective storytelling

Leverage your uniqueness in every aspect of your storytelling. Storytelling is the core of effective public relations, as we seek to influence the public’s perception of cultural destination such as Paducah. Storytelling allows us to connect with our audiences and take them on a journey that excites readers about the unique people and places in our destinations.

Paducah’s 2013 UNESCO Creative City designation fit perfectly within the context of the larger story in establishing the city as a culturally vibrant and diverse town. The process started organically with the introduction of QuiltWeek more than three decades ago, transitioned to the success of the Lower Town Arts District redevelopment, and then to the 2008 National Quilt Museum designation. When any writer or influencer is visiting Paducah, we introduce them to the UNESCO Creative Cities network and show them how a small town like Paducah is part of a greater global community of like-minded and curious people.
In Charleston, the CHF tells the stories of Charleston’s historic families, plantation life and history through art. By offering the heritage passport, a pass to visit nine essential historical sites, the organizations capitalize on visitors interested in learning about Charleston’s history and culture.
By telling the stories of the unique people and places that make up your city, you can stimulate your audience’s feelings, ideas and attitudes to align with your marketing goals.

Have Ambassadors for your Brand

Encourage travelers to interact with a local, and in turn encourage locals to be a spokesperson for your destination. After all, most travelers are hoping to “live like a local” during their stay.

In Paducah, Kentucky, the Paducah Ambassadors are volunteers who give their time, energy, and knowledge in welcoming visitors and greeting guests at special events such as groundbreakings and ribbon cuttings. They also are known as the “Red Coats” due to their signature red jackets. Some of the responsibilities of the Red Coats include welcoming guests downtown, greeting visitors during AQS QuiltWeek and welcoming the public prior to City Commission meetings. The volunteer organization has stayed strong since its beginning in 1988 maintaining approximately 130 volunteers.  The Paducah Ambassadors volunteer more than 5,000 hours each year with more than 155,500 volunteer hours since the organization commenced.  Most of the Ambassadors have lived in Paducah for the majority of their lives and love to talk about their home.

By being part of the UNESCO organization, new doors have opened for Paducah, including exciting partnerships with like-minded organizations around the globe. Initiatives of the American Quilter’s Society, National Quilt Museum and other fiber art partners have supported the growth of the quilting tradition into a globally-recognized art form while the Paducah School of Art & Design and Paducah’s innovative artists and far-reaching attractions and events invite visitors to participate in the community’s authentic sense of place.

The Charleston Heritage Federation works to enhance communication and cooperation among its members, provide joint marketing opportunities and to educate the public concerning preservation and interpretation of historic places and museums.

Culture forms communities. From historic plantations, museums and art, seeing life through someone else’s eyes creates an understanding and global community of like-minded people. By promoting your city’s unique heritage and creativity, you can provide a truly authentic experience for your visitors. Just remember – don’t try to be something you’re not. Be what you are, own it, sell it, believe in it. You can’t be everything to everyone, but you can be a shining star in the night sky.