Most tourism destinations are run like democracies. Many are either government run (National Tourism Organizations) or membership based organisations and reflect the relatively egalitarian needs and wants of the members or constituents. Unfortunately, this can also sometimes mean that the squeaky wheel gets the grease. Some vocal members can sway a strategy in their favour at the expense of the overall health of a destination. Worse, the democratic approach to marketing and advertising a destination that has so much to see and do, that it leaves the destination itself with no clear position in the competitive marketplace, no unique—‘available here and only here’ kind of position. Often, even if that destination does has unique experiences, the destination board or management don’t necessarily showcase the experiences in the interest of being perceived to be fair and un-biased.
And yet, destinations are simply a composite of the experiences, hotels and attractions that make up that destination which leverage these assets to their best ability to compete in this ferociously competitive business. While it’s a lovely sentiment to manage a destination like a democracy, the fact is that all experiences will thrive if a destination puts its best foot forward.
We call this Boulders, Rocks and Pebbles.
Boulders are the key attributes of a destination. Those that are unique, aligned with a destination’s brand, iconic, and differentiating. They may be the reason for the visit or the choice of a destination. Boulders can be physical assets such as a UNESCO World Heritage site and/or an emotionally-grounded authentic experience, such as the powerful feeling one gets viewing the Liwa desert for the first time.
Rocks are those complementary experiences. They play second fiddle to the Boulders but they round out an experience, enhance that experience or destination. While they may not be the reason for the destination choice, they may sway the vote in favour of that destination. Rocks are not necessarily unique or differentiating, however, they play an important role in destination choice.
Pebbles are an important part of the visitor experience. They play a supporting role. You’ll never likely find pebbles in tourism advertising. Most pebbles are available everywhere and some don’t even know they are in the tourism business, but play an important part of rounding out a visitor’s experience and in filling in the gaps between the visits to the boulders and rocks. Pebbles are particularly important as visitors increasingly seek authentic and local experiences when they visit a destination – think that café in an obscure side street in Barcelona with a mouth-watering croissant.
The challenge with some destinations is that the prioritisation of boulders, rocks and pebbles are mixed up or worse, all found on the same page.
Destinations need to effectively define their boulders, rocks and pebbles and importantly help their partners and industry understand the important role each plays in both positioning the destination for competitive advantage and in servicing that visitor when they do come.