In 1969, nearly half a million people gathered in Bethel, NY for a music festival that became a declaration of the power of peace, love, and unity. As a thirty-something living in tumultuous times, it’s hard for me to even envision such a thing, but Woodstock is a pretty powerful cultural event to analyze.
So when I realized we had to take a quick drive up to Sullivan County, NY (where Bethel, NY, home of Woodstock is) I checked out the destination and what the tourism scene was looking like. Obviously no more paradigm-shifting, generation-defining festivals are being held there, but the destination is still holding on tight to its notion of peace & love. They uses symbolism in the form of a dove to remind people throughout their journey of the peaceful mentality that their region has continuously fostered over the last 50+ years.
It made me realize how rare it is to see tourism & hospitality positioning themselves emotionally. So often when we come across a destination, property, or activity, it’s about what you’re going to DO there. But how often is the emphasis on what you’re going to FEEL?
Here’s the thing: this beautiful area isn’t all too different than the place I live. It’s only 2.5 hours up the Delaware river, and just like my home, it has great hiking, river tubing, good eats, breweries, entertainment, cute little shopping villages, etc. etc. etc… But experiences and destinations that are created from ideals promise so much more than a good time.
Case in point: A few years ago, my local tourism board blew their marketing dollars on advertising this region as a destination for ice cream. Yes, billboards on the way in and out of NYC & Philly, they were advertising ice cream trails. Sure, I like ice cream, who doesn’t? But there’s no emotion there. And also, you don’t need to leave the city for great ice cream.
Imagine if the creators of Woodstock had said: “We’re just going to throw together music festival. We don’t care about the impact.” This could have been just like any other concert, festival, what have you. But because the intention was there to bring peace into it, it became one of the greatest tableaus of 20th-century pop culture. And of course, signing CCR early on didn’t hurt.
The point is, if you’re focusing purely on the physical surface level aspects of something, it’s going to be really difficult to generate that buzzy positive energy that results in people eager to book. We always start with emotion and ideals when conceptualizing an experience. Always. Because that’s where the impact (and usually the differentiation) is.
Ask yourself: are you promoting ice cream, or peace?