How can we apply Hollywood narrative techniques to tourism marketing?

[Summary based on Lund, N. (2012). The application of the Hollywood storytelling formula to destination marketing.]

Hollywood movies have a long track record of being exceptionally successful. This is in large part because they found how to tell a story in a compelling way. These movies are in fact  the epitome of narrative techniques that manage to capture the attention of the viewer and bind the viewer emotionally to the story. It is this high viewer involvement that steers these films to success. But what are these Hollywood narrative techniques, how do they work, can they achieve success for tourism marketing and how can we apply them to tourism marketing?

from hollywood to content marketing

The tourism industry and Hollywood filmmaking share similiarities.These similarities thus do allow for a transfer of Hollywood narrative techniques to the tourism industry. They both try to sell stories in the form of an experience. Tourism marketing can transfer these techniques to their marketing by integrating the various tourism products of a destination into one engaging story, thus strenghtening the marketing and specifically the product mix and the brand.

A first important factor is to analyse the elements that make up for the specific narrative techniques in Hollywood films. A Hollywood film always applies one of the following four plots: Either it uses a ‘journey and return’ -, a ‘from rags to riches’ -, a ‘rebirth’ - or a ‘quest plot. Each of these plots contains a desired outcome. Nevertheless, the plot alone does not make up for the story and experience they are trying to sell. Each story is a monomyth: It is the journey of a hero that faces a considerable challenge with a possibility of failure. It acts as an essential stumbling block, without which the story would seem meaningless and unfulfilling to the audience. This challenge, together with the hero the audience identifies with, binds the audience to the story.

It is this story that is important for the brand because it gives a brand personality and human traits and creates an emotional bond. These stories are essentially emotional experiences, which tourists consume. These stories essentially create tourist sites, tourists become immersed in these stories and tourists identify with the protagonist of this story. Nevertheless, to translate scriptwriting content into marketing content, changes have to be made in every step of the process as shown in the overview below, which we will briefly explain below.


Step 1: setting goals

For the first step, Tomaric (2011, p. 9) suggests the importance of writer familiarity with what he writes about in order to fully develop an idea. Furthermore, he suggests that some objectives for the development of the tourism destination should be set. Finally the writer should define the target audience before writing (Friedmann, 2006), which in marketing terms is essentially defining the target market.

Step 2: choose the right movie genres

For the second step, in scriptwriting and marketing terms, the genres respectively the product categories are selected, which should be limited to two or three to prevent blurring of the message (Tomaric, 2011). These genres can be action, comedy, drama, romance, etc. In tourism terms, these two or three themes or genres can represent the destination. In a marketing respect, this is defining the product lines as part of the product mix.

Step 3: the plot is the backbone

In the third step, the purpose of the plot is to describe how the story is told and the plot (for examples cf. supra) functions as the backbone of the story (Tomaric, 2011).. Applying one of these plots to the destination is essential. For example, for people who visit Vilnius, it could be the Lituanians’ struggle for freedom, which the tourist can identify with.

Step 4: a slogan that will stick

As a fourth step, the title respectively the slogan of a destination has to be decided on, which represents the themes or values of the story. The title should represent the two or three chosen genres. Subsequently, the message and the moral should be supported by every action in the story. For Vilnius, this moral and/or message could be ‘never give up, you will get there’.

Step 5 a destination or storyline

For the story structure (fifth step), the three acts (purpose acts cf. supra) can be utilized in two ways. Either the acts tell the story of the destination with an introduction of the main attractions and their role in history or they give a storyline for the tourist’s holiday.In the sixth step, the characters of the story are categorized in three groups: protagonist, antagonist and supporting characters. It is important that these characters become realistic by describing their traits and habits rather than focussing the story on uncommon elements such as car chases and explosions. In tourism, the tourist takes the role of the protagonist.

Step 6: realistic characters

Lastly, the dialogue is the narrative of the destination in marketing terms and consists of the attractions, the hotels, transportation and the people with their stories. All these steps combined lead up to the creation of a brand and help foster a touristic marketing campaign.


Friedmann, A. (2010). Writing for visual media. Burlington: Elsevier ltd.

Tomaric, J. J. (2011). Filmmaking. Burlington: Elsevier ltd.