The changing face of tourism promotion

Have you ever watched Mamma Mia and felt a strong pull to holiday in the Greek Islands? Or perhaps you’ve seen somebody’s Gold Coast wedding on Facebook and booked your tickets?

Dr Alfio Leotta and Dr Diego Bonelli
Tourism is changing, and part of this is thanks to a diversification in visual promotion methods, says Dr Alfio Leotta and alumnus Dr Diego Bonelli from the Film programme at Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington.

“Over the last two decades, there has been growing interest in the relationship between tourism, media, and visual culture. But up until now, nobody has tried to pull all the various media strands together in a critical way,” says Dr Leotta.

Their new book Audiovisual Tourism Promotion: A Critical Overview identifies a new media field—called ‘audiovisual tourism promotion’—encompassing tourism films, amateur holiday films, digital videos for internet circulation, TV tourism ads, videogames, in-flight safety videos, VR tourism, and many other types of media.

“We aim to provide a theoretical and historical interdisciplinary framework to understand these diverse forms of promotion and their impact on modern tourism.

“For instance, VR tourism—visiting a place via a virtual reality headset, or game—is an interesting new form of tourism that has sprung up in the past few years. The tourism board of Faroe Islands has embraced this, giving you a ‘choose your own adventure’ style story with a guide, operating them almost as a first-person game while looking around the Islands,” says Dr Leotta.

He doesn’t think that VR will ever fully replace traditional tourism, as tourism practices and pleasures are “strongly associated with a full sensorial engagement with the destination”. But he says they certainly have a place as an effective tool to both promote and complement traditional tourism.

“All media is not equally powerful in promoting tourism. And often it’s the non-intentional promotion—the way a landscape is shown in a feature film, for instance—that is effective. For example, screening Roman Holiday at a tourism fair to promote Rome as a destination may be just as or even more impactful than a tourism commercial, because it can generate emotional responses in the viewers.

“The impact of The Lord of the Rings on tourism in New Zealand is another case in point.”

Dr Leotta started researching the relationship between film and tourism in New Zealand more than 15 years ago, publishing Touring the Screen: Tourism and New Zealand Film Geographies, based on his PhD research, in 2011. He has since published books of criticism on the cinema of Peter Jackson and John Milius. He supervised his co-editor Dr Bonelli’s PhD.

“It is important to look at tourism promotion in a more holistic way,” says Dr Leotta. “Amateur holiday films, tourism films, videogames—they all play a part in the modern tourism environment.”