Why Malaysia Became Truly Asia

Paris is always a good idea” - Audrey Hepburn

It was Hepburn’s quote that got me agitated about the difference between what tourist destinations are, and what they are made out to be. “Paris isn’t a good idea for the bold and fun-loving”, I thought. Paris was quaint, and romantic, and idyllic. But why would Hepburn pick Paris, and I pick Rome? What would you prefer? Are the destinations you like sophisticated or are they exciting, are they intelligent or are they charming? Much as you and I (and Hepburn, for that matter) would like to believe the answer to be something deeply personal about ourselves, it more often merely reflects a booming industry capitalizing on something called destination personality, and creating a destination brand.

“Venice is like eating an entire box of chocolate liqueurs in one go.”- Truman Capote

A destination brand is the consequence of the media-driven hype around a location. Think relaxing backwaters for Kerala, rave parties for Goa, and royalty for Rajasthan. This is what is sold to you, this is who they say they are, and it is what you eventually sign up for. A destination brand is, very simply, a concept that is supposed to summarize what a place is. A destination personality, on the other hand, represents a more emotional, personal aspect of a tourist destination. It encapsulates the human characteristics associated with the brand and is a culmination of the thoughts and feelings a location is said to embody. A destination personality, thus, is what makes a destination brand.

“Travel is impossible, but daydreaming about travel is easy.” - B. J. Novak

A destination personality is what ‘hooks’ a traveller into selecting a location. Stripping traveling of its romanticism, travel is simply a consumer market. And like any consumer market, buyers turn to characteristics of goods to determine how useful they are. In this case, destination personality becomes especially indicative when it comes to tourism. Most often, one has never visited the intended destination earlier, and is suddenly confronted with a host of novel experiences – new tastes, people, languages, directions, thoughts and ideas; layers of complexity making up the location. A brand personality therefore becomes a translator of these layers.

Travel is very subjective. What one person loves, another loathes.” -Robin Leach

Destination personalities, by virtue of being a ‘personality’, do not have the same influence on each of us. The congruity between the tourist’s desires and the destination personality is what determines satisfaction with a trip. In other words, if you’re a Tokyo kind of person, the backwaters of Allepey might not cut it for you.

“Travel, in the younger sort, is a part of education; in the elder, a part of experience.” – Francis Bacon

Another factor influencing the affinity to a destination personality is the individual’s social group. Younger, international travellers navigate towards exotic locations, and place an emphasis on ‘experiencing’ locations. Preferring exciting or rugged options, this group is aptly named ‘Novel Travellers’ by a recent study. Older travellers who rely on clear-cut information from official sources are called ‘Escapers’, as they tended to frequent places that they had previously visited. A jolt back to earth at this point - for both groups of travellers, even if there was a match between the brand personality and their needs, the decision to visit depended on other resources – such as money, distance etc. Traveling, therefore, is not all desire and personality, but is equally determined by the financial capacity of the traveller/s.

“Never go on trips with anyone you do not love” - Ernest Hemingway

Next, the relationship you share with the people you are traveling affects how you feel towards a place. The greater the quality of intimacy with your partner, the more the destination is enjoyed. This also guides the way destination personality is marketed – some places are marketed to be more intimate, and thus attract those kinds of travellers, Paris being a prime example.

Every perfect traveler always creates the country where he travels.” - Nikos Kazantzakis

Finally, the way a destination personality is humanized is important, as destination personalities are very much a manmade concept. What creates a brand personality are 3 broad dimensions – sincerity (a place as being trustworthy and dependable), excitement (a place that evokes daring, spirit and is original) and conviviality (a place that is friendly, family-oriented and charming). With more places being ‘discovered’ and shown into the limelight, looking at how we create destination personalities is helpful in comprehending how we further the mass consumption of destinations.

“People don’t take trips . . . trips take people.” – John Steinbeck

If the boom of destination personalities has taught us anything, it is that tourist destinations ultimately have to sell an experience to the customer – travel has stopped being about ‘places and things’, and more about ‘who’ the place is. So, before you book your next tickets to ‘escape into undiscovered areas’, ask yourself what you really know of the place, without its personality.

Sneha Mani