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How to tell better stories about your destination

Updated: Jun 15, 2023

Ways to capture your readers’ attention and showcase your destination’s challenges and successes

“A good destination stewardship story involves both narrative and exposition. Think of the narrative as the road and exposition as the features along the way,” says Jonathan Tourtellot, CEO of the Destination Stewardship Center.

We need stories. They help us to share information in a meaningful and memorable way and can create an emotional connection that other forms of communication cannot. The stories we tell shape how we view the world and what we believe. So, if we are to share the challenges and successes of destination management, inspire others, and ultimately change the narrative within the travel industry it’s important to tell the best story we can.

As part of the Future of Tourism’s storytelling initiative "The Future of Tourism is NOW", we offered signatories the opportunity to join the "How to tell better stories” webinar, organized by Green Destinations and Destination Stewardship Center. Jonathan B. Tourtellot, CEO of the Destination Stewardship Center, editor of the Destination Stewardship Report, and Senior Editor Emeritus of the National Geographic Traveler took participants on a whistlestop tour on how to best involve both narrative and exposition in a story, and effectively communicate sustainability efforts within tourism. Here are our key takeaways from the webinar:-

Three key questions to think about before starting

Before writing a story, answer these three questions, as they will help to guide the piece’s structure, narrative, and point.

  • Who’s the audience?

  • What’s the purpose?

  • What’s the headline?

Stories should have a framework

The basic structure of a story contains:

  • Headline (title) and subtitle

  • The lede (opener)

  • ‘Nut’ paragraph: what the story is about

  • Explanation of the problem, threat or opportunity

  • The core of the story: How did we deal with it?

  • Lessons learnt

  • The ender: concluding thoughts

Headlines are important

They should pique interest, create drama and make the reader want to find out more. However, they are not often that SEO-friendly, which is where the subtitle comes in. Use this to provide clear keywords that search engines will like!

Here’s an example.

Headline: “Mexico’s men in masks win UNESCO nod”

Subtitle: “How the parachicos of Chiapas won ‘intangible heritage’ listing.”

Bring the story to life using the lede (opener)

The lede should hook the reader into reading further. Set the scene with a word picture, someone doing something that illustrates the point of the story. Quotes are often good to use here, as are one of the five senses, something that encapsulates the spirit of a place, and also teasers, which make the reader want to read on to find out what happens next.

Example: “‘Welcome to our contamination zone,’” my hosts say, alluding to the jocular name for Serbian destinations swarming with tourists in the midst of the new coronavirus upsurge.”

It can help to write the the nutshell paragraph (or nut graf) first

The nut graf states the essential point or theme of the story and can be the most important part to start with when writing a story. Note down what the story is about. Then map out the challenge that the destination faces, the plan to deal with it, and any uncertainties surrounding the plan.

Example: “The natural beauty of the [Mersing] area is a double-edged sword. It attracts tourists like bees to honey, but unmanaged tourism development could spoil our much-loved, laid-back way of life, fragile ecosystems, and cultural assets. Herein lies the challenge of balancing the benefits of tourism with the need to protect these wonderful landscapes.”

Be specific

Within the core of the story, make sure the reader understands what happened, why it happened, and how it happened. Be specific about people, finances, activities, and use concrete examples that a reader can envision.

Go big to conclude

Wrap up a story by summing up the key points, perhaps zooming back out to show how the approach or project fits into the bigger picture. Consider tying the conclusion back to the lede for a tidy ending.

Quick tips for better writing

  • Use plain English. Leave academic language to academic papers. Avoid jargon.

  • Use shorter words and cut unnecessary words.

  • Break up long sentences.

  • Make the passive voice active e.g. ‘John hit Pierre’, not ‘Pierre was hit by John’

  • Avoid tourism cliches e.g. ‘melting pot’, hidden gem’, ‘land of contrasts’, ‘quaint’, ‘bustling’.

Review your initial aims

Go back to the initial questions; Who is this for? What is its purpose? What’s the headline? Ensure the piece answers these questions.

By following these key pointers, stories about a destination’s challenges and successes will contain both narrative (the path) and exposition (the features), and will come to life.

Share your story with us

Sharing stories is one of the most powerful ways to enact change within travel and tourism. If you haven’t already submitted a story to our Future of Tourism is NOW initiative there is no better time to do it. Your work is important and can catalyse others into action, providing examples of how to seize opportunities or tackle problems. We look forward to hearing more from you.

View Jonathan Tourtellot's accompanying slide deck here.

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