Helicopter View

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13.5.2016 Attractions V Activities for tourism: Weekender Column 106

I am currently returning from a (non-Council funded) couple of days in Kuala Lumpur where I had the chance to speak at a global conference on Tourism. I had the chance to speak to the people attending about Evocities and creating events to drive tourism but it was also fascinating listening to other presenters at the conference. One item that struck me as I sat back and listened at the conference was the difference between attractions and activities. Many people across the world talk about the attractions that their location offers but I think they may be confusing the two words.

Take the Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur for example. I was told by everyone in KL that I must go up these. They are the number one ‘attraction’ in KL. Wanting to take the advice of the locals, when the conference finished I jumped on a train and indeed visited the twin towers. From 1998 to 2004 these were the tallest buildings in the world (they are now back to number nine) but they are still the tallest twin towers and at 451.9m they are still tall enough that Superman has to put in an effort to leap this one in a single bound.

Walking across the Skybridge that joins the two buildings and visiting the observation deck there is no doubt that they are tall. Then again, I find Sydney Tower (at only 309m) tall and I wouldn’t want to fall off either. I have visited many tall buildings across the world and quite frankly, I find that once you have been up one you have been up them all.

So, in my books, a tall building is not an attraction but an activity. I would not travel to a location just to visit a tall building but, once I was in that location, I would probably go up that building. It is an activity to undertake rather than a specific reason to visit. And that is the real challenge from a tourist perspective – attractions are different to activities and need to be marketed so.

When I researched further what I should do in KL, and after asking the advice of my taxi driver from the airport, I concluded that all of the major attractions in Kuala Lumpur were in fact activities. After the Twin Towers, I was told to visit the One Utama Shopping Mall – the sixth largest shopping mall on the planet. Then there was the Menara Tower, a restaurant and a museum. Maybe it is because I have three girls and a wife that I definitely don’t see a shopping mall as an attraction. Having said that, a shopping mall has shops and a big shopping mall has lots of shops. I wouldn’t travel a long way just to see shops.

As I listened further at the conference, the words authentic and unique kept popping up. Tourists are after authentic experiences that help them to feel they have been a part of the location they have visited. I also had to chuckle at the use of the word unique. I find many people use this word incorrectly – unique is a binary word. Something is either unique or it isn’t. There are no levels of uniqueness. Many people talk about an item that is “pretty unique” or “largely unique” or even “very unique”. Speakers at this conference were guilty of the same mistake but the point they were trying to make is that the aim is to have something different.

I love our Zoo in Dubbo and it has been a part of our fabric since its opening in 1977. When you look at Dubbo’s tourist appeal, it has one large attraction and many activities. There is no doubt that people do travel from far and wide to visit the Taronga Western Plains Zoo and it is the primary motivator for a quarter of our tourists. To further pick up on a point of the conference, the Zoo is authentic. In effect, the zoo is actually a world-renowned centre for its breeding and conservation programs and education facilities – but also happens to allow visitors in to look at the 1,000+ animals that live there. The Council-owned Old Dubbo Gaol is a great facility in Dubbo but I would put it more in the activity category as people tend to visit the Gaol when they are here rather than travel specifically for that. Not to say that is a bad thing. It is still important to have activities for tourists and one of our objectives is to keep tourists in Dubbo longer once they are here so activities are important.

The most important aspect that I derived from listening to the experts at this conference was to fully understand if you have an attraction or an activity and then market it accordingly. Spending limited dollars on a targeted marketing will deliver much better results.

Tell me about the tourist facilities we have in the region and whether they are attractions or activities at md@mathewdickerson.com.