Selling Scunthorpe. The secrets of great travel writing.
Updated: Apr 19
We’ve been rewriting the content for a luxury travel company. So we’ve been thinking about what makes engaging holiday copy.
Sometimes thinking about things out of context can help. So I imagined a brief to advertise Scunthorpe as a hot new holiday destination. Why Scunthorpe? Because it’s got a weird name and, because, why not? Here’s how it went.
How would typical travel copy describe Scunthorpe?
Lots of holidays are advertised with bad, generic copy. That’s where I started. Scunthorpe is one of the world’s best-kept secrets. A hidden gem in the picturesque English county of Lincolnshire, it’s a historical location reminiscent of a bygone age. Yet there’s a hip, modern side to the quaint industrial town and it’s become a cultural melting pot thanks to the diverse mix of cultures drawn to the buzzing cafés and world-class entertainment facilities. This could be almost any town or city in the world. Like other bad travel writing, the text is full of travel clichés, it doesn’t give a real sense of the actual holiday, it doesn’t have any real examples, it’s not written for any particular audience, and there’s no personality. Let’s address these issues one at a time.
1. Avoid clichés
Your reader has heard them a million times and they’ve lost all meaning. You don’t have to avoid all clichés like the plague. Just make sure you’ve got a solid reason to use one. Think about the classic travel writing “treasure trove”? It’s too forced in most contexts: Scunthorpe is a treasure trove of high street stores. Visit your favourites at North Lincolnshire Shopping Centre, home of renowned British chain, Debenhams. But in a hilarious pirate-themed pun it takes on a whole new life and is absolutely fine: Scunthorpe is surrounded by a treasure trove of fun activities. Visit the Pirates’ Paradise pool at Woodford Leisure Centre, only 19 miles away. Explore the shipwreck and fire water cannons at the landlubbers.
2. Help people picture real situations
Our brains are wired to remember stories. Try to make readers imagine themselves on holiday – instead of saying “the awe-inspiring steelworks”, paint a picture of what a visit would be like: For over 1000 years, Scunthorpe has been the centre of British metal production expertise. Put on your hard hat and become one of a handful of visitors to explore the renowned steelworks. Watch the thousands of skilled workers transform huge chunks of raw iron into perfect portions of gleaming steel, destined to become that new sports car you’ve been dreaming of.
3. Be specific
“World-class entertainment venues” doesn’t mean anything. But details will give your reader a real sense of why they should visit. How about: Comedy fans will love Scunthorpe’s Plowright Theatre. With just 354 seats, our favourite venue will give you an intimate view of the country’s best stand up talent, like Jason Manford and Russell Kane. Don’t forget to try the Farmhouse ice cream – we’re a little bit addicted to the uber-indulgent sticky toffee fudge flavour.
a. But not too specific
Too much detail can be dull. Remember, you’re trying to encourage people to visit. Boring doesn’t sell: The Plowright Theatre, originally Scunthorpe Civic Theatre, on Laneham Street, adjacent to the National Probation Service (and easily accessible by train, only 2 hours 6 minutes from London), was commissioned by Scunthorpe Borough Council in 1958 and renamed Plowright Threatre after local actress Joan Plowright, whose father staged the first performance in the venue.
4. Remember your target audience
You lived in a cave in Cambodia during your gap yah and it was, like, sooo enlightening. Good for you. But a luxury travel piece isn’t the place to praise budget options: Visiting Scunthorpe? At Mrs Miggins’ Bog Standard B&B, the charming chintz curtains will make you feel snugger than the resident bug in the Persian rug. Mysterious stains provide hours of entertainment. Is that coffee? Or something more sinister? Throw out your dirty flip-flops and put yourself in the reader’s designer shoes. Then ask yourself what would convince you to visit: Aurelius Golf Club & Spa Resort is Scunthorpe’s first seven star hotel. The Super Extra Double Emperor size beds are so comfortable you’ll be planning your next stay the second you lie down. And the all-inclusive Michelin-starred room service gives you the perfect excuse to hit the hay early.
5. Add personality
I have absolutely no evidence, but I’m going to put it out there anyway. Personality could be the biggest single factor in great travel copy. People trust other people. So make it individual. Add a quirky phrase here, a bit of humour there. Make your words sound like you’re having a friendly conversation and your reader will believe it when you say: Scunthorpe is livelier than a chipmunk on crack. Ok, maybe not that far. But if you were selling Scunthorpe, you’d probably try anything.