{02/08/2012}   Marketing towns and resorts

I have just looked through pictures of Tbilisi, Georgia, which accompany a high end travel article about the city.  The pictures are stunning: architecture and lots of people having a fabulous time.  The photos I took of Tbilisi are very different and reflect what I saw and experienced.  The magazine pictures are of grand and beautiful buildings, rooms, cafes, restaurants and people enjoying idyllic outdoor pursuits looking very well dressed.  My photos are of a stunning yet crumbling city and any restaurant or café photos are more taverna and less white napkin.  Looking at resort pictures of late, it never ceases to amaze me the extent to which selective photography can completely alter a place and thus your impression of somewhere and whether you think you might like to go there.

I know it’s all about marketing and attracting a certain type of visitor and there’s nothing wrong or new about that.  It’s just that I find it fascinating yet bewildering.  I recently saw a leaflet for Folkestone, where I live, displayed in France.  It was dreadful.  I have since walked around Folkestone thinking about what I’d take photos of to encourage people to visit.  One thing that stands out is that I wouldn’t recommend or photograph the Bouverie Place Shopping Centre (ASDA, TK Maxx, mobile phone shops, Primark, a sports shop, Body Shop, a 99p shop, a newsagent and a few others).  It’s not so much the shops that don’t appeal, it’s just a relatively new, bland, could-be-anywhere-in-the-world shopping precinct.  It doesn’t photograph well, though I expect the shopping centre had something to do with the leaflet.  My shopping photograph would have been of the cobbled Old High Street with all its small quirky boutique type shops (ignoring the vacant premises).

However, it’s all about perception.  Some people do go to Tbilisi and live the high life, going to opulent restaurants and not wandering around beyond the centre, an area that has been and is being restored or redeveloped.  Maybe it’s the more wealthy who are likely to be lured there.  Likewise, maybe Folkestone will get more visitors if it appeals to people looking for a relatively cheap seaside town.

Review sites such as Trip Advisor are very useful, it’s good to read what supposedly independent visitors have to say about places you want to stay at/eat in, etc.  But it doesn’t really take into account that we are all different and while someone may enthuse about a holiday resort, how lovely it is, what nice people, etc.  Another may say they didn’t like it.  But one reviewer might have been there with a group of lads, met lots of girls, frequented a bar every night, caught happy hour at each one and spent the afternoon recuperating on the lovely beach and thus had a fantastic holiday.  Another review might have hated it because it was noisy, the bars and restaurants were catering more for the former holiday-maker, etc.  I guess you just have to use your best judgment.  But I think it’s a shame that I wouldn’t visit Folkestone if I had picked up that leaflet and I wouldn’t visit Tbilisi if I’d seen that article as neither appeal to me based on the selective information and pictures given.

All that, I guess, is why we should be careful about what we read and what we believe.  I think I’m usually quite careful and aware, particularly when reading marketing copy, but sometimes I just wish I’d ignore leaflets, articles and reviews and just go places with a completely open mind, not having read a guidebook even, and really truly make my own mind up.  That’s what travelling is about, discovery.  And it doesn’t matter that others have been before because it’s your first experience and only your reaction matters.  I wish I went more places with Christopher Columbus eyes.


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