Tag Archives: tourism

The most amazing video you will ever see about Birmingham

This appears to have gone out on Sky 3, I’m not sure when, but is Pure Fried Comedy Gold.

Someone in my Twitterstream pointed it out a while ago but their video link seems to have been removed, so catch this one while you still can – it’s the only one I could find.


It features an amazing but quite scary cast of regulars of The Sportsman pub in Brum as they expound on their favourite pub subjects of cider, eating rabbits and lightbulbs, and falling off a bridge onto a railway and into the path of TWO trains.

You’ll have to watch it to get the visual punchline to the story.

Tourism slogan: “Visit Brum – if you think you’re hard enough.”



The poetry of Spaghetti Junction

Yesterday I went on my third monthly Birmingham Flickrmeet for a bit of socialising and a bit of snapping, but mainly because I’ve never been to the ‘notoriously confusing’ Spaghetti Junction as an end destination. Going in a group of about 15 seemed a safe way to venture into its scary underbelly.

And, y’know what, for all that it is an edgy urban concrete jungle, it’s certainly not the eyesore that people make it out to be. In fact, I found it to be quite a poetic place in the July sunshine.

Below is a favourite photo of mine from the day (there are lots more in the Birmingham Flickrmeet pool)…

Spaghetti Junction -62

(The full set of Spaghetti Junction photos are on the Flickr photo-sharing site or you can see them on this slideshow: Spaghetti Junction Flickrmeet.)

Underneath this early 1970s construction, renowned as the bane of those who must traverse it, I also found many treasures, delights and disturbing objects:

  • Teenagers fishing for perch
  • Artworks on the supporting pillars
  • A ‘typo’ underneath the Aston Expressway
  • Vivid yellow and black striped caterpillars
  • The gravestone of DC Michael Swindells who was stabbed on a canal towpath while making an arrest in 2004
  • Crackling pylons
  • A mother and two children out for a walk
  • Three police officers on dirt bikes
  • And, of course, the sweeping majesty of the roads above

There’s a travel metaphor here, I’m sure, regarding only seeing the surface and judging a book by its cover. If you can, it’s worth exploring maligned places like Spaghetti Junction more deeply. But safely.

And that’s why Birmingham Flickrmeets are so great and so useful – for when else would anyone dare wander there or, another example, the canals of Aston in the deserted industrial backend of Brum? Behind the headlines of gang warfare, you’ll find plenty of fascinating scenes of nature, urban artwork, barge life and the UK’s industrial heritage.

I’m starting to think of the Flickrmeets as an option for local adventure travel. What do you think? Underbelly tourism?

Personally I like the overview of Spaghetti Junction as well – not the M6 route so much, but the maze of dipping, curving through-roads. It’s kind of like driving your own car on a roller coaster and perhaps even it looks a little bit like a ricketty fairground ride in some of the photos – like this one from Pete Ashton:

Motorway Quadriptych

So, if you’re in Birmingham on (I think) the second Sunday of each month, bring your camera and join a Birmingham Flickmeet – or look for one in your own town – you never know what you might see.

But I think if you came to Birmingham and did this, it would signify a traveller rather a tourist moment – as Benedict Allen said in this earlier post:

“It is crucial to record. The difference between a traveller and a tourist is that a traveller simulates that experience (for others) and records it.”

The Other Birmingham

Homepage, The Other BirminghamIt’s been a bit quiet here of late – and that’s because there’s lots going up at my first Tourist Vs Traveller experimental microsite, which has an ever-changing name but is currently called The Other Birmingham.

What started out as a feature on ’24 Hours in Birmingham, Alabama’ (yawn, stretch, seen all that before), has become a twin city matching experiment, looking at what we – that’s Birmingham UK, my current hometown – have in common with our industrial namesakes in the US, how we might be doing things differently and maybe even using some of the matches for ideas and inspiration. I did all the big fancy thinking about it in an earlier post for the interested.

This time around, I just want to point out that there are a good few matches on there already and more to come. So far, I’ve twinned:

  • Bus stations
  • Roller derby
  • Problematic highway exchanges
  • Coworking spaces
  • Skylines
  • Iron statues

This is probably only of interest if you live in either city, but hey that’s what niche travel journalism experimentation is all about.

For Brummies, Bhammies and ‘none of the above’, it would be lovely if you could follow the Birmingham Match Tumblr for more posts as they come in – roughly one a week at present – add this link as an RSS feed in your reader, or ask me what you’d like to know about the ‘other’ Birmingham.

Thanks and ta ra a bit.

Birmingham, meet Birmingham!

Birmingham welcome sign at the Amtak stationThe great thing about not having a traditional print commission is that:

  • you can publish the end article in a format of your choice.
  • you can don’t have to write for a set demographic.
  • you can have an altruistic motive because, let’s face it, payment for travel features is so 2008.

So, last month I spent a day in Birmingham, Alabama. Being from Birmingham, West Midlands, I thought it would be a funny stop-off point and that Brummie folks back home might like to read about their namesake.

But the traditional print idea of ’24 hours in Birmingham, Alabama’ for a regional Midlands audience didn’t do it justice. And, for the three reasons above, my travel feature has transmuted into more connective material.

To answer the three bulletpoints above:

  • Chosen format: a theme blog
    I picked this because there were so many overlaps and connections, and fun stuff – from the entertainment districts of Five Points vs Five Ways, to Malfunction Junction vs Spaghetti Junction, to discussions over their version of Benny from Crossroads – that a single blog post wouldn’t have done the content justice. Similarly, a series of posts here would have been diluted by general musings on travel journalism. The end result is that a tale of two Birminghams is now a blog unto itself. Well, a Tumblr, because it was easier. It is currently named Birmingham, meet Birmingham – and I have around 32 connections just for starters.
  • Potential readership: Brummies and Bhammies
    So the potential audience is 1,250,000 – that’s the sum of two Birmingham populations, although the figure would be more like 5,000,000 if counting the Birmingham metropolitan area and Greater Birmingham, rather than just the cities themselves. The readership is not tied to a demographic but to a subject of interest – our two hometowns and how we benchmark with each other.
  • Altruistic aim: foster connections
    Travel journalism is a happy field. We present aspirational destinations and stories about those places that people want to travel to. At best, travel advertisers hope that readers will book their product off the back of reading a published feature. However, as I connected with Bham natives via the internet and then IRL, it seemed to me that there were more interesting outcomes than tourism. What if, for example, like an aunt at a singles party, I could introduce Birmingham to Birmingham? What if Alabama’s coworking space could connect with my local coworking space in Moseley, or Birmingham Museum of Art (AL) could talk with BMAG (UK) – could they share connections, swap ideas, learn from each other, have fun? Could businesses even start to trade, offering pathways into international expansion?

Ok, so the idea took off in my head and will probably have nothing to do with how users actually consume the content.

But at the same time, why the hell not? At the tweetup they held to welcome me to Birmingham Alabama, I discovered they’d heard of Birmingham: It’s Not Shit – one of the more well-known (and irreverent) guides to Birmingham UK. They also knew that Birmingham City Council had used the ‘other Birmingham’s’ skyline to illustrate a recycling leaflet. An easy mistake in some ways – after all, we get each other’s search results all the time. We had also nearly organised a Skype linkup last year as their BarCamp was on at the same time as ours.

So perhaps we could do something with this. Like the British Airways-sponsored MetroTwin, which connects places, sights and entertainments in London and New York, and also now London and Mumbai.

But the connections don’t just have to be limited to the touristic.

Why not ‘metrotwin’ Birmingham with Birmingham on many levels?

The information is out there on the Birmingham Match Tumblr, or will be by degrees. What people do with it is another matter.

10 New Year’s travel resolutions for 2010

Me in KeswickChris Guillebeau over at The Art of Non-Conformity blog says to think big – and that’s why he’s set himself the monumental and not inexpensive task to visit every country in the world by April 7, 2013 (122 out of 192 countries so far.) He reminds me of a crazy Swiss backpacker I met on my own travels whose concept was to hitchhike across every country in the world.

Then there was the lovely Twitchhiker who I interviewed earlier this year at SXSW in Austin. He’d decided to travel as far from his hometown in Newcastle upon Tyne as possible in 30 days (which turned out to be an island off New Zealand), relying only on the kindness and direction of Twitter users.

The trouble is, knowing my sticking power with New Year Resolutions, I don’t want to be massively ambitious here and fail before I’ve even started. But I would like to do >something<.

Looking through the #decadeinstats (tomorrow is New Year’s Day 2010), it seems not many people are marking their big moments in travel terms but in terms of hatches, matches, dispatches, number of degrees and hearts broken. (Click the pic to see a snapshot.)

Screengrab of #decadeinstats

But some ideas are bubbling up, such as Lloyd Davis’s Tuttle train trip
to SXSW Interactive in 2010. And my colleague Katy Molloy’s New Year career break to go help fight child prostitution in Cambodia.

So here are my unthought-out ideas so far – see what you think:


1. Hometown tourism
I love travelling to other countries but by its nature this is often superficial – suppressed by time, lack of local knowledge and trying to do too much (or little). Sometimes the best stuff happens on your doorstep so I think it’s time to write up the stuff that makes my city special and fun for others to visit. Birmingham: It’s Not Shit, for example, is a rather ace Birmingham blog. The author Jon Bounds has just finished one project (11-11-11)  in which citizens board the 11 outer circle bus route for 11 hours on 11/11 each year. Next year he’s launching Dexy’s Midnight Run – a 5km run into town dressed as Dexy’s at midnight on June 21st.

2. Queen of the Bizarre
One of my travel editors once named me ‘Queen of the bizarre’ because of the less mainstream ideas I used to pitch to him. Maybe it’s time to return to that niche. Having recently come across the quirky calendar of eccentric English events for 2010, I’m tempted to either cover or perhaps even enter some of these. Think I’d be quite good at shin-kicking at Robert Dover’s Cotswold Olimpicks… It’s gonzo journalism and why not? If it’s good enough for Hunter S Thompson, it’s good enough for me.

3. More snow-shoeing
I really want to go show-shoeing! Someone please send me snow-shoeing! I did it in Slovenia for my 40th and it’s my favourite thing to have done outside of joining the opera this year. It’s great for the heart and aerobic fitness and it beats jogging round the block. How can I turn this into something a little more sexy though? Extreme show-shoeing? The New Year snow-shoe diet? Sponsored snow-shoe walk?

4. Transparent journalism
Journalists on press trips aggregate masses of information yet tend to generate only a few hundred words. I’m thinking ditch the polished prose (like there ever was polished prose) and blog what I’m going to pretentiously call the ‘vignettes of research’, from incidental little quotes and tips to insider trip photos that I collect along the way.

5. Blog my travel diaries
I have around 50 notebooks packed away in a trunk. I’m sure there’s some interesting highlights that can be edited out of there – with the power of hindsight etc. I also have some features that were commissioned and not published. I’m thinking I’ll publish them here under a creative commons licence. Hey, let’s play with copyright and see what happens.

6. Find the most boring holiday in the world
The problem with being a travel writer is that you can never switch off – there’s always something interesting to collect, note down, share, or someone to interview, or a new angle on a mass market place. My mission is to have a proper holiday in 2010 – and that means finding something/somewhere with zero write-up value. I suspect it’s impossible. Any ideas?

7. Career and holiday combined
My trip to SXSW Interactive in 2009 was a double work whammy of writing up tech stories and also producing a feature on Austin itself. I learned so much there and it has given me a whole lot of context for working on all the digital projects that came through my agency in 2009. This year I’m looking for a Content Strategy Conference holiday destination – presumably somewhere in the States but I’m open to suggestions. That’s right, I want to go on holiday to a conference.

8. Take more video (and find a media trainer)
I’ve started to take and edit video – here are my fledging attempts at World Travel Market 2009 – but ideally I’m looking for someone to do a skills swap with me, ie, help me learn best practice for producing multi-media content (especially mini interviews) and I’ll help you with anything from web writing/editing and spelling/punctuation to beginner’s guitar lessons. Maybe I’ll write your headlines for you or something. I like writing headlines.

9. Guest bloggers Q&A
I do like a good Q&A – or is it just me that gets sucked in by those pages in magazines that asks (the rich and famous usually) what have they learnt, what mottos do they live by, have they ever said ‘I love you and not meant it’, how would they like to be remembered, type thing. Maybe something like this would be good for travel, local knowledge, etc.

10. The big idea
I’m buying myself time with this one, but in the next 12 months I’m looking for a big ongoing travel project that I can document into something substantial. It might be photographic, it might be ultra-budget or first-class luxury, it might be historical, or it might be eccentric. This is probably the resolution I’m most likely to break but the idea of a sabbatical of some kind is on the agenda. I have the time if not the energy.

That’s it for now and for 2009. I’d love to hear your feedback or suggestions. Until then happy new year for 2010.

Around the world in 44 tourism slogans

Earlier I posted my bemusement about tourism taglines. There is probably some kind of data curve to measure the success of these. But after overdosing on one after the other at World Travel Market at London’s Excel recently, I have a few thoughts.

First of all, here’s the slideshow of WTM taglines: ‘Around the world in 44 marketing slogans’. UPDATE: I returned to WTM in November 2012 and collected 105 tourism slogans from around the world #WTM12 – though this post is probably a better read!

You can also see/download the individual pictures from my WTM Flickr set (non-commercial Creative Commons license).

And here’s my earlier post on tourism taglines being the emperor’s new clothes in a web 2.0 world.

If you can’t be bothered looking through the images, here’s the breakdown on the great and the good, the incomprehensible and the forgettable – the full list follows at the end.

The ‘no idea what that tourism slogan means’ section

Certain countries were adept at being vague as a means to sell their destination:
Anguilla Feeling is Believing
Florida Keys Come As You Are
Hungary A Love for Life
Taiwan Touch Your Heart

My favourite though was ‘Indonesia: Admit It You Love It’. Luckily I do love Indonesia and happily admit it, but what does this mean? I quite liked its ‘Unity in Diversity’ slogan a couple of years back – which sums up Indonesia’s 17,000 islands but perhaps doesn’t sound particularly attractive to a tourist. As the Jakarta Post reports, it doesn’t have a great track record in coming up with the marketing goods. In 2008 it was also ridiculed for getting its grammatical knickers in a twist with ‘Celebrating 100 Years of Nation’s Awakening’. Still, don’t let the terrible taglines put you off – Indonesia is an amazing country to visit.

One-word wonders
These countires tried to encapsulate their country in a single word – or in Malaysia’s case, a number (one, obviously!):
Brazil Sensational!
Incredible India
Cool Japan
WOW Philippines
Uniquely Singapore
Amazing Thailand
1 Malaysia

My personal favourite in this section is: ‘El Salvador Impressive!’

El Salvador Impressive!

Double headers
With all the main superlatives gone, Italy and Germany both went for two-word slogans – neither particularly enticing, though affordable may successfully tap into the economic downturn affecting the travel industry:

Italy Much More
Germany Affordable Hospitality

Mother nature sells herself
The most successful slogans are often ones that evoke the place in some way. Countries blessed by mother nature seemed to have the easiest sell.
Montenegro Wild Beauty
New Zealand 100% Pure
Switzerland Get Natural
Belize Mother Nature’s Best Kept Secret

Come here!
Then there are the literal commands to visit – no inducement given:
Visit Florida
Discover Peru

Do these actually work? At least ‘discover’ hints at hidden depths, but ‘visit’, come on Florida, that’s just plain lazy.

Neighbouring factions
There seemed to be some competition between neighbouring countries also:

Albania A New Mediterranean
Croatia The Mediterranean As it Once Was

Namibia Land of Contrasts
Tanzania Land of Kilimanjaro Zanzibar and the Serengeti

Finding the pun within
Being a sub-editor, I respond to a good pun or wordplay – and successful slogans are often annoyingly memorable in this way. Personal favourites here included Jamaica’s mysterious rhyme of  ‘Once You Go, You Know’. Know what exactly? I don’t know but I’m fairly sure it’s hot, happy and hedonistic.

And full marks to Slovenia, for finding the love within and being the only one to evoke Donna Summer’s disco classic in ‘I feel sLOVEnia’. Surely there are more here: for the smut factor, have a play with Aruba, Virginia and Malaysia.

Slovenia I feel love

Tips for a good tourism slogan

In light of the amount for knocking that tourist boards get for their marketing slogan attempts, if you’re a destination marketer, then maybe check out this How Stuff Works post on How ad slogans work before you shell out a fortune on rebranding.

The full list
Here’s the full list – of the slogans I managed to snap anyway (feel free to add more in the comments). And if it all gets too much to bear, I promise a very enticing tourism slogan awaits right at the bottom:

Albania A New Mediterranean
Anguilla Feeling is Believing
Aruba One Happy Island
Belize Mother Nature’s Best Kept Secret
Brazil Sensational!
California Find Yourself Here
Canada Keep Exploring
Croatia The Mediterranean As it Once Was
Ecuador Life at its Purest
Viva Cuba
Egypt Where It All Begins
El Salvador Impressive!
Visit Finland Breathe
Visit Florida
Florida Keys Come As You Are
France Rendez-Vouse En France
Germany Affordable Hospitality
Grenada Rhythms of Spice
Hong Kong Best Place Best Taste
Hungary A Love for Life
I heart New York
Incredible India
Indonesia Admit It You Love It
Italy Much More
Jamaica Once You Go, You Know
Cool Japan
See the world. Visit London
1 Malaysia
Maldives Sunny Side of Life
Montenegro Wild Beauty
Namibia Land of Contrasts
New Zealand 100% Pure
Romania Land of Choice
Discover Peru
WOW Philippines
Uniquely Singapore
Slovakia Little Big Country
Slovenia I Feel Love
Smile! You are in Spain
Switzerland Get Natural
Taiwan Touch Your Heart
Tanzania Land of Kilimanjaro Zanzibar and the Serengeti
Texas (visual representation of ‘Everything’s bigger in Texas’ – I think)
Amazing Thailand

And the funniest tourism-related ad slogan I came across in the course of this research? Here it is courtesy of St Johns Hotel in Solihull…

St Johns Hotel: sleep with us – you won’t regret it!