Thursday, May 3, 2012

Movement + Motion » Using an iconic transport mode to showcase your destination character

I’m sure you’ve noticed that there’s all too often a disconnect between what destination marketers promise in a destination brand, and what the on-the-ground experience is for visitors.   To put it politely, some of these promises can be more aspirational rather than deliverable!

But in my destination management experience, I’ve learnt a highly effective and visible way of showcasing your destination character on the ground.  The trick is to introduce (and if necessary, subsidise) an iconic transportation mode to the busiest part of your destination, e.g. along the mainstreet, the river, or the waterfront.  And when I say iconic, I mean it should be so distinctive that it distinguishes your destination from the next.  Of course, it also needs to be authentic to your destination brand.  The effect is this:

·        Transportation visually creates movement and movement – essential elements for bringing a place or a space to life
·        Your distinctive mode of transport (e.g. horse-and-carriage, tuk tuk, bumboat, trishaw or tram) can be a highly visual and colourful means of telling your destination story
·        The speed at which your transportation mode travels can be slightly disruptive to the surrounding flow of vehicular or pedestrian traffic – and this is a great thing if you want people to stop and pay attention!  Think of it as a moving billboard for your destination.  Or the equivalent of a theme park mascot.
·        Stimulates all the senses, creating more memorable experiences for locals and visitors.  A passing horse-and-carriage, for example, activates all your senses – sight, sound, and even smell!

Here’s a collection of places I’ve visited where the local transportation mode is etched in my memory as a colourful and inseparable part of the destination character.

Horse and carts on Gili Trawangan, Indonesia
destination character, movement + motion, destination design
The sound of hoofs in the sand is all you'll hear from this taxi

This tiny but popular resort island off Lombok has a charming laid-back character.  And although there are hundreds of laid-back island destinations in Indonesia, this one is popular with tourists looking to get off the beaten track because of its authentic character.   And as this picture shows, nothing says authentically laid-back like a horse and cart.  Especially when that's the only mode of transportation to get around the island.   

Golf buggies on Hamilton Island, Queensland, Australia
destination character, movement + motion, destination design

destination character, movement + motion, destination design
Oprah & Gayle commandeer a buggy

This is where I grew up - in the tourist area of the Whitsundays, famous for its 74 islands along the Great Barrier Reef.  And the most famous island is Hamilton Island where my parents owned a restaurant.  They also owned a golf buggy, because that's the main form of transport (coincidentally that's also how I first learnt to drive!).   The fleet of buggies zig-zagging across the island not only provide a fun mode of transportation, but from a destination management perspective, the buggies are also a key element in maintaining the resort character.  This is after all a small town in its own right - accommodating up to 5,000 guests and anywhere between 1,000 to 2,000 staff.
Several of the buggies are also themed - including a Batmobile and a limousine - injecting more fun into the destination character.  Even Oprah took a spin on a buggy when we invited her to Queensland, following our Tourism Queensland "Best Job In The World" campaign.  

Bumboats along the Singapore River
destination character, movement + motion, destination design
Traditional bumboats are an authentic link to Singapore's past

One of my first projects to revitalise the Singapore River & Marina Bay districts for the Singapore Tourism Board was to "bring life back to the river".  We did this by introducing bumboats to ply the waterways in an effort to visually draw attention to the river, adding colour and movement, and showcasing the rich local heritage.  

Horse-drawn carriages, Quebec, Canada
destination character, movement + motion, destination design

destination character, movement + motion, destination design
It's not just the memories that linger

Within Quebec’s Walled Fortress, you can still experience the sights, sounds and smells of the 1600’s.  Well, at new millennium prices.  The horse-drawn carriages add a romantic and multi-sensory charm to this heritage site, and are perfectly in character with the destination story.  Even my partner who wasn’t too chuffed with the smell (see picture above), fell in love with this city.

Tuk tuks in Phuket, Thailand
destination character, movement + motion, destination design

Part of the fun of Phuket is riding in one of the colourful tuk tuks at local prices.  Or at least trying to bargain for local prices.  These colourful cabs that line the streets are as much a part of the landscape as are floral-clad tourists haggling with stall owners for Red Bull t-shirts and wooden chopsticks.

New York City Yellow Taxis
destination character, movement + motion, destination design
The ubiquitous NY tourist photo with a line of yellow cabs

Yellow taxis are as quintessentially New York as the Empire State Building, hot dogs and pastrami on rye.   The fact that there are just so many of them makes these bright cabs stand out as a city icon.  The lesson for destination planners: pick a unique and highly visible design feature – the colour yellow in this case – and use it generously as part of a destination theme.

Disneyland, Anaheim, USA
destination character, movement + motion, destination design
Movement + Motion

Every world within the Disneyland theme park features at least one different mode of transport – and they’re all colourful and multi-sensory.  Apart from carrying guests around the park, or transporting the audience through a ride, these people-movers are an integral part of the park design to create movement and motion.   Even on a quiet day, if you stand still there appears to be so much activity around you.  This is because there’s always a train, a monorail, a horse and carriage, or a multitude of other modes of transportation meandering throughout the park in the background.

Trishaws in Singapore
destination character, movement + motion, destination design
Mark Webber tries to hitch a ride on a trishaw

If you’re walking through the crowded streets of Singapore’s ethnic quarters – Little India, Chinatown, Arab Street, or the Singapore River – you’ll more than likely hear the quaint (if not annoying) ringaling of bicycle bells as a fleet of trishaws comes forcing its way through the crowd.  These trishaw uncles are true destination characters, and an authentic part of the Singapore heritage landscape.

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