One of the primary motivations for a lake or river destination holiday is the need to get away from everyday life. Water based tourism and leisure also attract those concerned about the environment. The lecturers of the International Lake Tourism Conference in July 2003 in Savonlinna, Finland, reflect on the possibilities of lake destination marketing.
In order to market successfully, the tourism industry has to determine the push and pull factors of each destination, that is, what do people need when they take a holiday, and what can the destination in question provide them. Marketing should convince the visitors that the destination will fulfill at least some of their needs, claims conference’s keynote speaker, Professor Daniel L. Erkkila, the interim director of the University of Minnesota's Tourism Center.
Erkkila stresses the importance of developing the products and service that the tourists are seeking. In other words, the customer's needs should dictate what is provided and how the marketing is planned. Travelers have a right to expect good customer service, a good product for a good price. On the other hand, also the tourists have responsibilities: local residents have invited them to their home and expect to be treated with respect.
Minnesota is known as the 'land of ten thousand lakes'. Now the state has undergone a re-evaluation of its marketing position and image. The survey results show that people take holiday vacations because of a desire to escape their home environment and the stresses and strains of everyday life. The reason they are drawn to the lake country is the emotional connection of water and the relaxation associated with it.
The campaign connected the motivation to escape to the positive feelings that water raises in our minds. The campaign focused on the customer's need to relax in a safe environment and showed that the state can provide just that. The timing was perfect: the campaign happened right before and during the terrorist attacks at September 11th 2001. - Economic conditions are still pretty tough for tourism businesses because of SARS and the economic conditions of the airline industry, but I do believe that this particular marketing campaign will be very successful, says Erkkila.
- We have been selling our national romantic for hundred years. Maybe it's time to change, says Project manager of the Lake Tourism Project Anja Tuohino, who has investigated the image of Finnish lake areas represented in marketing photos.
Tuohino points out that most photos used in tourism marketing are still selling the typical Finnish landscape that consists merely of water and forest. No evidence of human life or culture can usually be found. These kinds of photos are leaving people outsiders instead of making them want to be a part of that landscape, says Tuohino. In her opinion Finns haven't realized what makes their country different from other countries. As a consequence of this, overseas visitors have difficulty locating the landscapes to Finland.
- We need to find what is special about this particular lake area and how to use that in marketing, says Tuohino. She strongly suggests that local people should get more involved in the marketing of the lake area, because they are the ones who know the area and its strengths best. In her experience the help of foreigners would also be valuable when choosing the photos. The photos used now do not always give foreigners the intended image: what for Finns is a beautiful midsummer tradition, can cause even fear in people with different cultural background.
- How people will perceive any destination is critical to how they finally choose their holiday, says Karen Gardiner from the Athlone Institute of Technology, Ireland. The image of Ireland has traditionally been rather male oriented - when foreigners think of Ireland, they often think also of pubs and beer, and this kind of image is not likely to appeal to most women or families, regrets Gardiner. On the other hand, certain places in Ireland have had great benefit from films or television series like the comedy series Ballykissangel, which was filmed in Avoca, near Dublin.
- What we are experiencing here in Ireland is that most of the six million tourists who come into Ireland annually go to three or four particular spots, Gardiner explains. Now Ireland is trying to lure tourists away from these honey pot areas and to the places that are not on the tourists' mental map. One way to spread the tourist masses evenly are joint marketing initiatives between regions. - Some places have actually demarketed their regions because of the pressure of visitors, says Gardiner.
The Irish Tourist Board is now more actively marketing rural places that so far have not been very well known among the tourists. One example of this is the 'unfulfilled lake lands' of the Midland area. Gardiner sees lake and river tourism as an opportunity for Ireland, because it appeals to those seeking individualized holidays and those concerned for the environment.
© Nettiradio Mikaeli / Minna Surakka 2003