Sounds good until you think

Posted on November 14, 2007
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             Politicians and bureaucrats like to promote the idea of speaking with one voice. When you say it fast, and don’t think about it, it makes great sense. Let’s stay on message and not confuse potential visitors with a fog of different messages.

              It has been especially popular in the field of tourism. Is there anyone who doesn’t know that “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas”?

            Unfortunately, when you do think about it, it has all the flaws of communism or dictatorship.

            Even for a very focused product such as Las Vegas offers, it is dangerous. The idea that what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas must make every spouse whose partner goes to a convention or trade show wonder just what stayed there. And it did inspire Jay Leno to muse that clamydia may happen in Las Vegas but it certainly doesn’t stay there.

            For products with a variety of types of attractions to offer, it is even more dangerous.

            Prince Edward Island has beaches, Anne of Green Gables, amusement parks, golf, seafood, music and plain, old fashioned peace and quiet.

             A few years ago, PEI decided to bet the farm on golf courses. The province invested heavily in top notch courses with the expectation that people would flock to PEI for golf the way they flock to Vegas for gambling and sex. The province promoted its courses by sponsoring skins tournaments featuring senior golf legends like Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus.

            The province wound up with great courses but without enough of a base of local membership to support them. They were, and are, very dependent on tourists to survive.

            They’re not surviving.

            In New Brunswick, the Department of Tourism applied the favoured bureaucratic “I’m here to help you” technique to take control of the tourism message.

            They awarded the contract for the official, glossy, tourism guide to Hawk Communications and gave tourist service and facility operators a 50% subsidy to advertise in that guide. They even use local tourist association executive and provincial tourism department staff to promote, even sell, advertising in the guide.

            That guide, of course, is delivered to all the provincial visitor information centres at government expense. At one time, they were blocking other tourism information products from even being displayed in visitor information centres much less delivered to them free.

            The government thus takes total control of the message delivered to tourists. No private publisher can compete with that deal.

            So what’s the problem? Shouldn’t the government encourage the tourism industry as it does other industries?

            Maybe so, but it should not take control of the industry’s marketing.

            For one thing, governments can’t perform any business function well. The tourism guide is such a hodgepodge of design-dominated content that you can’t tell ads from editorial. That makes it hard when you are looking for anything.

            For another thing, it guarantees that the editorial product is going to be fluffy propaganda. It will never contain any, juice, wit, criticism or any real opinion.

            Neither is it a good or proper idea for a government to be, in effect, practicing censorship and competing, very unfairly, with private business.

            Finally, if we learn anything from dictatorships and totalitarian communist governments it is that speaking with one voice is the road to destruction.

            As a young man, I was afraid of communism. The idea of being a programmed, controlled, member of a hive made me ill. I was afraid that communism might win because the state could pick a direction and make everything focus on that as they did to put Sputnik into space or to amass piles of Olympic medals.

            A magazine publisher, who had been a salesman, where I worked at Southam Business Publications Ltd. told me communism would never work. He pointed out that, when everyone is going in the same direction, the odds are high it is the wrong direction.

            In a free society, where government cannot control people, they all go in their own directions and one or more of them are bound to be right.

            Tourists aren’t all interested in the same voice any more than you and I are all interested in the same jobs, hobbies, music, foods, beverages, pets or politics. Many of the top tourist destinations attract people by simply being themselves. Louisiana and France and New Zealand invite you to come and do what they do. I believe that the Maritimes does best when it concentrates on being itself.

            “The Picture Province” was, and could be again, a great slogan and marketing focus for New Brunswick. It includes everything from an Acadian festival to a lobster feed to a harness race to a day at the beach, “The Picture Province” represents whatever is in the tourist’s mind’s eye.

            I read an article about Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina.” The writer said Tolstoy was brilliant to describe her simply as having green eyes and being the most brilliant woman in the world. That left the image of her to each reader’s imagination. She would look different to each of us.

            Beware of one voice.



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