100 Years of Advancing Destinations

The Art of Destination Storytelling

Author: Jim McCaul
Posted: June 09, 2014
Blog Topics Covered:
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Bryan Smith is an award winning filmmaker based out of Squamish, British Columbia. His first documentary, 49 Megawatts, received acclaim both for its amazing kayaking footage and insightful exploration of the controversy over British Columbia’s river based energy production. An online version went viral and led to two-feature length sea kayaking films. His work has appeared at numerous film festivals across the world including the prized Banff and Telluride Mountain Film Festivals. In the past few years Bryan has built on his adventure film roots and developed a strong reputation in both TV documentary and commercial cinematography. 

Bryan sat down with us to discuss the art of storytelling, and the importance of connecting visitors with local communities to create stories that are meaningful and lasting. You can hear from Bryan live in person during the Global All-Stars Marketing Insititue and DMAI's Annual Convention this July in Las, Vegas. Bryan will showcase storytelling techniques to inspire folks to come to your destination, experience it like a local and take a little bit of that unique spirit back home with them. 

You’ve said before that exploration is a part of a natural progression of human beings. From your own personal experiences and from what you’ve seen throughout your career, how has this affected the way that people travel and the types of experiences they seek?

Exploration is fundamental for humans.  When most people think of exploration, they think big and exotic.  But exploration can really be scaled to anyone.  One person's idea of exploration might be climbing a peak in Antarctica, while someone else may be exploring by simply turning left instead of right on their way home from work.  I think the key in the travel industry is understanding how to present any destination as a form of exploration.

How can destinations who are looking to inspire travelers to visit them tap into this basic sense of exploration?

Exploration is about uncovering something new, so a destination looking to appeal to the sense of exploration is simply looking at ways to creatively present the uniqueness of a place.  But the catch is that it has to be presented in a way that sparks curiosity.  I have travelled to many remote destinations around the world and what always sticks in my head are the metaphors that helped define the exploration.  The seemingly endless amount of Japanese glass floats in we found in Kamchatka, 24 hours of light in the Arctic Circle, ect... I think destinations need to be always looking at ways they can frame up what makes them unique through questions and metaphors.  Creating a sense of mystery so that the traveller feels like there is something to discover and explore.  Too often I think destinations just want to tell everyone what they are perfectly, but you have to remember that exploration is different for everyone.  People have to be lured into a place to feel a sense of exploration. If they think they know what it is all about then it does not feel exotic or new.

When you’re working in a destination that many people may have preconceived ideas of, how does that affect your storytelling process and how are you able to overcome those notions and showcase what is truly there?

Authenticity is something I always try to find when telling stories and every place has stories that have never been told. I think most of the time the preconceived ideas are typically a surface layer of a destination, but the challenge then becomes telling the real story in a way that overcomes the preconceived.  This to me is where character and voice become critical.  Visuals are important for sure, but if a story is character and narrative driven it has a better chance at striking an emotional chord with an audience.  If a destination can tell a story that resonates emotionally with an audience, they can overcome just about anything.

With the advent of social media and new developments in video equipment like GoPro, it seems everyone now has the ability to be a filmmaker. What is your take on the increase in user generated content and what are the major differences in what the average Joe creates versus someone like yourself?

User generated content is important, but there is a lot of it and most of it does not tell much of a story.  It can certainly engage and empower an audience if it is part of a campaign, but it can also hurt destinations as well.  The single biggest draw back to user generated content, is that it rarely tells a story.  So while everyone can go out and shoot video these days, there is still a pretty big leap to become a professional.  The creative involved in telling story, editing and creating truly stunning visuals requires more than just a Go Pro.

You said once that what you love about your work is it offers you the opportunity to intimately explore the places you visit, and that it’s different from a vacation and being a tourist because you have “real experiences.” But travelers continue to tell us that they, too, seek these types of authentic experiences. How can destinations help to facilitate these types of experiences and tell their stories in a way that is engaging and inspirational?

As a story teller I find myself deeply immersed in places which generates these "real experiences."  If destinations want people to feel the culture, place and soul of their location, they have to look at getting people immersed in the place.  If people stay in a hotel, eat in a hotel and walk out the door to the beach, they will never feel the authenticity of a place.  Not that there is anything wrong with a vacation like this, but if the goal is for the tourist to feel a connection to the destination, then they have to be engaged with the destination.  The most effective way for people to become immersed is by creating opportunities for interaction with culture and local communities.  This is almost always where I learn and open new doors when I visit places.  These people know there place better than anyone and they often can steer you in unique directions.