March 18, 2012 Phil

2012 Online Revealed Tourism Conference takes on a Storytelling theme

This year’s Online Revealed Conference (ORC) in Toronto hosted over 500 Tourism Professionals from across Canada eager to learn about online tourism trends and hear all the industry success stories. I arrived at the conference armed with my iPad set to tweet my way to the top of the ORC Twitter contest (#orc2012) pounding out nuggets of insight at a lightning pace. The conference agenda was filled with interesting content and a few very high profile speakers so I was quite confident there would be lots of “tweetworthy” snippets. Like any conference I’ve ever attended, the real challenge lies in how you tie those snippets together to form a theme or a takeaway. My takeaway, although a bit of an underlying theme, was a very valuable reminder about the power of great storytellers.

The first day of the conference was interconnected with the Hotelier Association of Canada’s (HAC) annual event broadening speaker options and making it a challenge for me to decide where to go and who to see. It felt a bit like Podcamp, I started out in the ORC morning plenary where Steve Irvine from Facebook delivered a interesting piece on how the web is re-organizing itself into a “people-centric” model. Steve was followed by Nikki Germany from Google who spoke about the “Zero moment of Truth” and how mobile browsing is transforming the way people make their buying decisions. But, despite the gravity of these two heavyweights, I kept thinking David Suzuki is less than a 100 ft. away delivering what was likely an even more riveting presentation on his passion, the environment. I had to see Suzuki so I ducked out of ORC and snuck across the hall.

Suzuki did not disappoint. This man is a true Canadian icon. Watching him speak was like watching a good soap opera (fyi.. I’m a Coronation Street fan), there were moments when you grinned ear-to-ear and moments when you reach for the Kleenex to wipe away a tear. I kept thinking to myself, if only I could be so passionate and yet so smooth. This guy is an amazing storyteller, his presentation weaved a series of experiences into a lesson with a simple meaning, smarten up and start giving back to the environment OR ELSE! Suzuki’s appearance at the conference set an Ecotourism tone with a less than subtle reminder of how beautiful parts of country are being decimated by poorly managed, environmentally unfriendly Government policies.

I left Suzuki’s presentation feeling a bit depressed about the fact the world was in such a mess….according to David. As my mind raced through all the “Suzukisms” trying to figure out how I was going to become an environmentalist,  I realized the power of great storytellers and started to think about how important storytelling is to the the tourism business. Great storytellers connect with our emotions and take us on roller coaster rides from smiles to tears. Suzuki had done that for me. He connected, made me emotional and had me wanting to change my behaviour. It was as simple as picking the right word, pausing at the right moment or showing the right photo, but as complicated as building a 10,000 piece puzzle. Suzuki has  a very powerful gift.

The storytelling at ORC didn’t end with Suzuki. On the second day Jowi Taylor took the stage. I’d never heard of this guy, but apparently he’s been traveling the world for the past 7 years with a guitar built from parts of Canadian history. This incredible piece of craftsmanship contains over 100 fragments of Canadian heritage including gold from the first set of Stanley Cup rings commissioned by Maurice “The Rocket” Richard in 1955 to a piece of wood from a door frame in Canada’s House of Parliament. Each piece with its own story. Each story told by an incredible storyteller whose passion and talent ranks up there with the likes of Bob Dylan and Harry Chapin. I sat there glued to every word as Jowi took me on a completely unexpected, highly emotional journey that left me feeling proud to be a Canadian. At the end of his presentation he handed the guitar to a member of the audience who played two Canadian folk songs followed by a standing ovation.

Between the compelling, but sometimes horrifying Suzuki tales and Taylor’s patriotic yellow brick road, I realized my takeaway for ORC. It’s no secret. There was no epiphany, just a reminder that great storytelling can create a very powerful emotional connection with an audience. Telling compelling, authentic stories for your destination will generate an emotional connection that will create a desire. The desire to travel and experience the stories, to feel the emotions that the storyteller so carefully articulates and to be a part of something that will become a unforgettable part of your own history.

“We’re no longer hunters in online marketing, we’re farmers nurturing content and telling stories that engage, emote and enlighten.”

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