Regenerative Travel - Purpose from a Marketer's Perspective

Elke starts her talk by describing what it means to be a marketer. She's had a lot of success and a lot of recognition.

She has been able to boast year on year record growth, something to be really proud of. The only exception to this was the year of the terror attacks in Brussels.

But something didn't feel right. To quote Steve Jobs "marketing is about values".

Elke starts her talk by describing what it means to be a marketer. She's had a lot of success, a lot of recognition and she has been able to boast year on year record growth, something to be really proud of. The only exception to this was the year of the terror attacks in Brussels.

But something didn't feel right. To quote Steve Jobs "marketing is about values".

Passiondale: for Elke, this represents a place which is very transformative. For Canadians, who have families there, it creates more value than it perhaps does for other people. The same sense can be considered when we think about people in poverty and what travel can do for them. How can we help people in need and ensure that travel gives something back to them, not in pricing or enabling, but really by giving more attention to the customer and the social wellbeing created through travel?

Have we done enough? No. Tourism has the benefit of making places more beautiful. We call this 'gentrification', so is this a good thing? In the case of LA, an example where Elke shows the rejection of gentrification, we can see that the impact of tourism isn't always a good thing for the people who live there.

We find ourselves as an industry with some really big existential questions.

Travel should be something so beautiful and beneficial to so many people. Values today are so fundamentally changing and what we are starting to see in cities is that behaviour is changing so fast that we need to realign our thinking. We've seen citizens pushing back on tourists, rejecting visitors who inadvertently cause strain on the housing market. We see changing values not only on push back in this respect but on people's preferences, such as eating less meat. We are seeing a rejection of the progress we have created.

So this is challenging - but can it be seen as an opportunity? Can marketers be the ones who drive change? If we're seeing such a huge realignment of values, how can we navigate the storm that has been brewing?

Elke talks about five fundamental shifts that she chooses to share, both reflecting on the past but especially looking to the future. Starting with 'the new world view'.

If we look at cruise ships, we can see that it's not easy to ship a lot of people into a city and we must be aware of the negative effect that this causes. What do we do? We try to compensate for the effect, a little bit of good for the people, a little bit of spending here and there, but ultimately we have to ask the question, is 'sustainability' being used as an excuse to drive further profits?

Elke talks about the basis of today's Tourism Flanders strategy, which is about moving from a dying tourism industry into a regenerative economy. Instead of 'disempowering' local communities, we want to empower them. We have business as usual, and then we have the ability to take into account the capacity of every place, take into consideration the limits and make sure that what we are doing is good. She talks about 'resetting our current purpose' and set a 'higher purpose.

Visit Flanders exists to make communities flourish

This is a shift from looking at the end goal (the number of visitors) to flourishing, not more but better. This is the purpose and with it an entirely new set of measurement metrics, by different people not only the economy, the citizens and the entrepreneurs. It all comes down to finding the balance between the interest of different partners specific to each place, recognising that it is different in every place. It's a recognition that partners are central and to achieve this successfully is no only about collaborating, with your own objectives, but co-creating, with an equal set of objectives.

As an industry, we need to change the way we look at our product. We shouldn't just sell a place that people live in, we need to co-create to drive that change and ensure that places are attractive and visible both between the visitors and residents. Some might call it placemaking, but it is definitely co-creation. Elke invites everyone to co-create, citizens and residents of course but why not also the competitors to create something where value is at heart.

Elke describes the story of a nunnery who saw potential in tourism but the conditions didn't work in accordance with their organisational priorities. So they looked at this situation differently, they changed their criteria and they considered how they could look aside from the numbers and create a visitor experience through co-creation, where visitors experience something unique and the nuns can continue living there thanks to the income generated through visitor income. As a result, both groups exchange a common set of shared experiences.

So instead of asking what a customer wants to buy, Elke proposes we shift away from that and look at what our communities have and what they want to share.

Elke prompts a thought which is perhaps controversial.

The customer is not always right

A responsible marketer also thinks about taking care of the responsibility of our visitors.

Visit Flanders was one of the last destinations to shift from destination marketing to destination management. They see now, that it is actually really different to make communities flourish. This means a shifting view of their role in making people flourish. This brings us to the role of the research department, who can play a critical role in understanding what's going on, the marketing role who can bring things to life and make it happen and translate ideas and messaging and even your product team who can create and make things actually happen.

So reflecting on what this means to be a regenerative marketer, we need to be focused on what comes tomorrow, not only what's happening today.

Now more than ever we need to re-align our values and consider how we can also create a sense of purpose through marketing.

Key Takeaways

1. Remember the 5 fundamental shifts that will allow us to work for a better future, starting with a new view of the world.

2. A responsible marketer has to take the burden of the responsibility of our visitors on themselves.

3. The research department can play a critical role in understanding what is happening in the market.

4. Marketers can bring things to life translating ideas and messaging.

5. The product team who can design experiences and bring destination values to life.

6. Learn to re-align the destination and organisation values and consider how you can create a sense of purpose through marketing.

Published on:
November 2020
About the contributor

Elke Dens

In 2004, Elke started out in the national tourism agency VISITFLANDERS, working on marketing activities to stimulate the domestic market. In 2008, she internally switched position towards online marketing.