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Thru a Different Lens

Thursday, December 18, 2014

It’s pretty amazing how crystal everything becomes when you view it through a completely different lens. In my case, that lens drove on the left side of the road and celebrated the first day of summer just days after Americans celebrated Thanksgiving. Being an American Destination Marketing consultant in Australia and New Zealand last month certainly filled my head with a number of swirling revelations.


To be sure, some were confirmations regarding beliefs I had going in. Some surprised me, as I’ve always had a sense that international DMOpros operated on a different plane of existence than their American peers. Not necessarily higher...just different.

First up...the wayfinding signage. Stellar. Perfectly positioned for both pedestrians and drivers. Easy to understand. Never, ever lost. So, why is it so hard for Americans to get this right? Oh yeah, because we design everything for ourselves without a thought to the visitor which, if you think about it, is just backwards. Signs are for visitors.

My favorite example was in the Sydney neighborhood known as the Rocks, frequented by tourists from around the world...many of whom drive on the right in their own country. Therefore, when crossing a street, their default is to look left first. Which, in Australia and New Zealand, is a sensationally dangerous idea. Painted on each curb were the simple words, “Look Right.” Which is pretty brilliant.

While there are some exceptional Visitor Information Centers in America, most don’t hold a candle to their international peers. Even in smaller communities such as Rotorua NZ, the VIC was the de facto hive of the downtown. It certainly appears as though the Visitor Information process is more of a Service + Design process than merely slapping up a few walls of brochure racks and finding a few blue hairs to staff the desk.

Then there was the surprise...that, in several cases, DMOs in the cities we visited have no more succeeded in figuring out how to successfully interpret their destination for a first time visitor than their American counterparts. 

It’s not like Terri and I are novice travelers. We know how to research a destination’s riches. And yet, time and again, we’d identify a cool experience a day (or a few hours) too late. And, each time, we could envision the page on the website that could have prevented such a miss.

A side concept to keep in mind if you’re headed down under: Don’t count on Yelp and TripAdvisor to find great restaurants like you do in America. The platforms are still sound...but the sophistication of a more international base of reviewers are completely suspect. Case in point: In one of our stops, the top 4 rated restaurants were Gelato stands.

At the end of the day, it still often comes down to the personal touch. And, that’s one of the toughest aspects for any DMO to control. As it was when our first cab driver gouged us on our transit from airport to hotel. While the fare seemed excessive, what are you going to do, 30 minutes in destination, with a cabbie that appears to know 6 words in English?

When I saw the look on the face of the front desk staff when I asked whether it should have cost $95 to get from the airport, I had my answer. "Welcome to friggin' Australia", indeed. While I’m a big boy and these things happen, I can’t say that it didn’t color my perception of the country for the next couple days. That’s just universal.

And, something that every DMOpro needs to consider about the welcome visitors receive in their destinations by front line personnel.

A new year is right around the corner. Maybe you should take a step back and look thru a new lens.

All the best for a healthy, happy and prosperous '15!


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