It’s About the Story You Tell

When I was a boy, I visited Jerusalem. Standing outside the Dome of the Rock, a local boy about my age approached me, trying to sell me a guided tour. He promised to tell me all the Dome’s secrets ~ ones hidden from all the other tour guides. As an example of his exclusive knowledge, he had me place my hand inside a crevice in the Dome’s exterior. When I extracted it, it smelled of perfume. I was astonished.

“You see!” the boy exclaimed, “I know the secrets of the holy shrine, and I can show you many more! Just give me five dollars, and the secrets will be yours.”

Alas, I had no money, so his secrets remained hidden from me, but I would have gladly paid if I could have, as I was enchanted. I now realize that the perfume was a cheap parlor trick designed to seperate a fool from his money, but that’s beside the point. The boy had crafted a fanciful story, probably a mix of truth and outright lies, which is the makeup of most good stories. Since that day outside the Dome, I have travelled around the world, and while the technology that makes storytelling possible has changed dramatically, it is the stories themselves that make travel endessly fascinating.

Consider the Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain ~ the location of a UNESCO world heritage site. According to legend (remember that phrase!), the headless body of the Apostle James arrived in a miraculous stone ship, after which his Christian pallbearers did battle with a fierce dragon sent by a cruel pagan Queen. What a great story! More importantly, the story is a principle reason millions of pilgrims visit the Santiago de Compostela every year, and have for centuries, bringing spiritual satisfaction to the visitor and economic vitality to the visited.

As Plato allegedly said, “Those who tell the stories, rule the world.” When building a smartphone tour, it is easy to become enamored with the cool technology and allow it to carry the story. But you must fight that tendency! Do not fall prey to shiny metal fever, or else find yourself in the bad company of those movie producers who expect a weak story to be carried by stunning special effects. Those movies are, as the old saying goes, “sweet in the mouth but bitter in the stomach.” In other words, they have no lasting value. The movies we treasure, the classics, are the ones that tell the best story.

I love mobile technology ~ I have since first learning about it in the late 1990’s as a Global Solutions Manager for IBM. But I recognize that mobile technology evolves at a blistering pace. In this blog I will write plenty about such technology, but I am well aware that before the ink is dry on my posts (a laughable thought since I write on a computer), the technology I write about will be obsolete. So it goes.

What lasts? Your story about your place. So make it a good one.

According to legend.

Those are the magic words. They bring us back to childhood, that time of wonder, when the equally magical phrase “Once upon a time” teleported us from reality to the world of fantasy. “According to legend” has the same effect. It alerts your audience that they are about to hear a good story ~ maybe even a whopper ~ about stone ships and dragons, knights and patriots, villains, castles, and epic battles. And that’s OK. Sure ~ tourists want facts and figures, like knowing Abraham Lincoln’s memorial statue in Washington DC weighs 175 tons ~ a fact I mention in my smartphone tour of the DC memorials. But more importantly, I also mention that Lincoln was “a failure in business and henpecked by his wife.” Why? It’s his story ~ the human interest element that transcends time and technology.

Americans are great storytellers, but I sense we have yet to connect the dots between the stories of our places and economic vitality, that is, our fair share of the $6 Trillion tourism industry. My own city, Richmond, Virginia, is chock full of great stories, many of them untold or under-told. Far too often, to us an old civil war cannonball is just a cannonball. But “according to legend…” Let the magic begin. You are not lieing. You are telling a story, and your audience is smart enough to know the difference. Shine a light on just about anything and tell its story, and you will have a tourist attraction.

Which brings me to my final story in this post. Last year I took my 86 year old mother to Norway. She wanted to see the fjords. Our excellent cruise line, Hurtigruten, took us off-ship for a day trip through some small Norwegian towns, including a town that had one, and only one, tourist attraction ~ a six foot statue of the maiden of the sea. I can still recall how the tour bus leaned to one side as every passenger clamored for a picture of this statue ~ one we Americans would ignore if it were in our town. But the Norwegians, like many Europeans, have a tourist mentality. They know the two secrets of tourism success:
Shine a light on just about anything, sprinkle it with perfume if you must, but tell its story and tell it well.

  1. Make that story easily accessible, through professional tour guides, the web, smartphone tours, printed material, any channel your visitor might want to use.
  2. Then you will be in your way to building a comprehensive and enduring tourist economy

So before we get into the technnical mechanics of building a smartphone tour for your location, let’s agree to keep first things first. When building a modern, technology based tourist infrastructure, it is critically important to keep this perspective: technology will come and go, but a good story will last forever.

One thought on “It’s About the Story You Tell

  1. […] Wouldn’t they? They may already have. What you need to do is ensure your content, the story you have to tell, gets picked up and goes along for the […]

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