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General Research

The power of storytelling

Like most people, for as far back as I can remember, I have loved stories. I loved reading them, hearing about them, seeing them on film or TV, even reliving them with my own, imaginary-world twist. (My siblings – who shall remain nameless to protect my reputation – have way too many embarrassing ‘stories’ about my great adventures with imaginary friends).  

I think my clearest, early memory of my own involvement in storytelling goes way back to grade four – Ms. Weeks’ class. It was speech writing time in the Western Quebec public school curriculum in the 1970s, and my classmates and I had to write and present on our chosen topics. Something about vampire bats had recently captured my attention (probably some Dracula movie that I watched and kept me up at night thereafter). I researched, wrote, re-wrote, edited, rehearsed, rehearsed and rehearsed. Going from classroom to gymnasium to the local United Church in Wakefield for the annual dinner and speeches competition, I found myself in front of groups of people, nervously reciting from memory my story. Parents and neighbours patiently endured speech after speech about topics I don’t recall. (But I do remember the lemon meringue pie being exceptionally good at the Church dinner while also coming second to a girl whose last name was Lemon.) 

Fast forward a bunch of years to having my own children. The power of stories became even more apparent to me, particularly through my oldest child. For Sophie, the risk of losing nighttime stories was the best (or worst as far as she was concerned) incentive for cleaning a room, finishing food on a plate or changing her mood. No other incentive or threat of punishment had the same behaviour-altering impact as did the power of story time.  (Just to be clear, I rarely used this strategy. Story time was a favourite activity for me as well.)

Fast forward again to present day. I have now spent many years studying, teaching and working in the field of communications, social marketing (using communications strategies to effect behaviour change) and marketing. During this time, I have marveled at the simplicity and strength of storytelling as an effective communication tool.  

Nowhere has this been more apparent to me than with my work in tourism. It seems to me that the business of tourism (or at least a good chunk of it) is all about stories. It’s about tourists or visitors learning  the stories of the places they visit and, perhaps more importantly, acquiring their own stories that they can then share with others.  

The lifecycle of a tourist’s experience at a particular destination offers numerous opportunities for leveraging storytelling, from the creative use of stories in the marketing campaigns to engage and attract the prospective tourist, to enriching the experience through stories of the destination’s unique points of interest, to the provision of opportunities and tools to help the tourist create and share the story of their experience (ideally in a way that serves as a marketing tool to engage and attract the next prospective tourist). 

Fortunately, destination managers and operators of tourism sites are increasingly leveraging powerful tools (including video, social media and digital apps) to engage tourists wherever they are on their experience lifecycle. However, as we work towards rebuilding the tourism industry in a post-COVID world, more Canadian destinations will need to capitalize on the opportunities to combine the power of storytelling with the power of the modern technology.  

(An interesting article on storytelling for destination marketing organizations was prepared by Skift and Brand USA: Destination Storytelling 2020: A Guide to Telling Great Stories – https://skift.com/destination2020/)