What’s emotional about Malta?

Padlocks in Veronia

 

A visit to Verona

If visiting Verona, a stop at the Casa Guiletta is a must. The 14th century house is one of the town’s main tourist attractions where tangibly all you can see is an open courtyard featuring a baroque stone balcony and a bronze statue of Juliet. Juliet of course is from Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet and the stone balcony is supposed to be the place where Juliet would wait to be serenaded by Romeo.

The funny thing about this attraction is that Shakespeare never visited Italy let alone Verona. But considering he chose to use Verona as the location of his world renowned love story, some people in Verona took the opportunity and converted the house to Juliet’s family residence and made the story theirs. Quite Machiavellian but then who cares. Did Shakespeare ask the permission of the Comune di Verona to use their town as the backdrop of his literary masterpiece?

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At the Casa Guiletta everybody wants to touch the breast of the bronze statue of Juliet as legend says that it gives you fortune in love. In the same courtyard there is a small souvenir shop which sells branded merchandise as well as padlocks and permanent markers. But what are you supposed to do with a padlock or a permanent marker? To write the names of yourself and your loved one of course on the padlock and lock it on the big gate which covers one of the walls of the courtyard.

Thanks to Shakespeare and the story of Romeo & Juliet, Verona has positioned itself as the Italian city of love. People specifically visit the town to see the Casa Guiletta. But another export that has developed throughout the years is the considerable number of bridal shops that have opened within the town, as well as the popular tradition of visiting Verona to propose for matrimony and even getting married.

Verona is a great example how the destination successfully created emotional assets which define itself. You don’t visit Verona because it is cheap and cheerful. You don’t visit the town because it is conveniently located between Milan and Venice. No, you visit Verona because you are in love and you want to make a statement to your loved one. You want to recreate the romance of Romeo and Juliet. You want to make your own romantic story. You want to be the main characters in Shakespeare’s next imaginary masterpiece.

Why do travellers choose a destination?

A common school of thought is that vacationers select a destination because it is cheap and easy to reach. Price is the main motivator as it is within their budget and will cost less than visiting somewhere else. True that in many instances this is the case, but do people visit Paris because it is cheap? Or the same could be said about Rome or London? Maybe an African safari too can be a cheap and affordable vacation option.

Sarcasm aside, people choose the examples above because they possess valuable emotional assets that one wants to see and experience at least once in a lifetime. Price is secondary as the emotional assets of these destinations become the main point of difference between other rival destinations. People choose such destinations because they are ‘must visit’ places in their holiday ambitions. Irrelevant of the cost, such travellers will make their best effort to make their dreams a reality.

Alaska B4UDIE

One destination marketing campaign to take note of is the one sponsored by the Alaska Travel Industry Association a few years back in 2005. Alaska is a particular place which is quite out of reach to typical Americans let alone for other citizens of this planet.

Notwithstanding the limited accessibility to the north western peninsula, Alaska is one of those places which Americans have an affinity to and wish to have the opportunity to visit at least once in a lifetime. Alaska has an abundance of scenery and wildlife. The state nicknamed as the last frontier is certainly not just renowned for Sarah Palin and her famous hockey moms!

Alaska B4UDIE

The campaign concept utilised a typical license plate as if it were issued by the state of Alaska. The license plate was personalised with a combination of letters and numbers “B4UDIE”. In other words the graphical concept communicated that one should ‘visit Alaska before you die’.

With a miser budget of $180,000 for billboards and a website, the campaign created a lot of interest and effectively connected with peoples’ emotions. The campaign set the tone that Alaska is a place to visit rather sooner than later. Alaska’s natural habitat and wildlife are its emotional assets which define the destination and inspires travellers to make that holiday of a lifetime.

Why do travellers choose Malta?

Getting down to our point, we regularly ask ourselves why travellers choose to visit Malta. Is it just because of the obvious sun and sea? Is it because fellow Europeans don’t need a travel visa and we are just a two to three hour flight away? Or is it because Malta is a low cost option where you can go on holiday with a few quid?

Unfortunately most travel operators are sucked into a silo by basing the unique selling proposition of their holiday package on price. True that market conditions are tough and price dictates where travellers choose their next destination. True that operators are constantly challenged to reach their sales targets. Price was, is, and will remain an important factor in choosing one’s next holiday destination. And true that several travellers are rational decision-makers motivated by price. But what happens when other destinations decide to take the aggressive route and lower their prices?

That is why a lot of work has been done by key stakeholders within the tourism industry in Malta to create and manage emotional assets which define Malta as a destination. A few examples are the renaissance of the Three Cities, Valletta as an upcoming European Capital of Culture, the annual Isle of MTV concert, and Malta being home of the Maltese tenor Joseph Calleja.

A lot still needs to be done to ensure more emotional assets are managed and stand out to further distinguish destination Malta. One can mention Fort Saint Angelo and Fort Saint Elmo as catalysts of the Great Siege of Malta. The Ggantija temple in Gozo is another example as one of the oldest free standing monuments in the world even older than Stonehenge and the Egyptian pyramids. Aren’t these sites a must visit in a lifetime once one understands their context to the history and heritage of our planet?

The current Malta Tourism Authority campaign ‘Malta is More’ is an effective attempt to support the idea that destination Malta is much more than sun and sea. In our small group of Mediterranean islands, one can enjoy and discover many emotional assets. These assets strengthen the brand Malta proposition and create that much needed point of difference from our competitors.

The Experience Economy

Travellers are more informed and knowledgeable than ever on the next potential destination they would like to visit. Their next holiday is not just a visit or stay. For travellers the next holiday is an investment to make a discovery. A discovery that leads to an emotional experience.

There a four type of pleasurable experiences. The first is a sensory or physical pleasure such as coming to Malta to scuba dive, learn English, or discover our Mediterranean kitchen. A second type of experience is by social pleasure through interaction with others such as the local village feast, going to an Isle of MTV concert, or going on a boat trip.

A third type of experience is through emotional pleasures borne out of feelings, ideas, or mental images. Having the opportunity to see Caravaggio’s beheading of St. John the Baptist is an example. A close encounter with our religious processions is another example where pageantry, passion, and intricate tradition are the norm.

A fourth and final type of experience is an intellectual pleasure by appreciating the complexities of a destination. Understanding Malta’s strategic significance during the Great Seige and World War II are a case in point. Knowing your history, a visit to the Upper Barrakka in Valletta is a sensation as you can easily imagine the initial orientation of the Grand Harbour during such defining moments in Malta’s history.

Pleasurable and social experiences mentioned above can easily be offered by any destination. It is through emotional and intellectual pleasures that a destination creates a competitive edge. This is how a destination positions itself as unique – that it is not substitutable. This can only be maintained through a consistent emphasis on the importance of emotional assets that add value to the visitor experience and brand proposition.

Quality, creativity and originality must work hand in hand to ensure Malta delivers a distinctive experience that visitors will never-endingly recount their holiday experience with their family, friends, and co-workers.