Defining a tourist experience
What exactly is a “tourist experience”? The concept is both vast and abstract. Does it refer to that special something that travellers talk about upon returning home? Is it what makes people select your destination above others in a very competitive market? We need to establish just what it is that makes our product stand out.
A mix of many things
Much has been written about the concept of experience: definitions, models, aspects, characteristics, experiential grids, methods, etc. Webster's Dictionary defines an experience as “something personally encountered, undergone, or lived through,” but experience also means engaging the senses and creating long-lasting memories.
Pine and Gilmore have written a book on the subject entitled The Experience Economy. According to these authors, creating an “experience” means making one's service or product more theatrical, so that employees become actors, customers are guests and the site becomes a stage. Hoteliers, tour operators and attraction managers trade in their roles as service providers and become artistic directors. Disney applies this model to its theme parks. A true tourist experience must amaze and astonish:
- it must create a lasting memory
- it must differentiate one's product from the competition
- it must involve innovation
- it must be highly unique
According to the London School of Business, “In today's environment of ever more sophisticated consumers, those who deliver memorable customer experiences consistently create superior value and competitive advantage.”
The product of many ideas
Today's travellers want to learn, discover and undergo unique experiences. They are looking for something interactive. They want to know how other people live, go behind the scenes and visit places that tourists do not usually see. An experience can be triggered by anything from one small detail to an overall concept:
- In a restaurant, for example, it could be the package of cookies provided at the end of a quick pre-theatre dinner, the disposable camera for snapping pictures of a birthday celebration or a scarf for a customer who is cold.
- In an aquarium, it could be the touching pool that enables visitors to handle marine life and the staff biologist who explains the life cycle of the species present.
- In the case of a travel group attending a play, it could be a post-performance meet-and-greet with the actors.
- For a tour of an historic site, it could be getting visitors actively involved; to experiencethe everyday life of past generations, visitors could wear their clothes, engage in their activities and eat like they did.
The sum of many details
To provide a true experience, one must not improvise. Extensive planning and effort are required. One must:
- have a good deal of energy and creativity, know how to innovate and think of things to amaze and surprise,
- carefully orchestrate every step of the experience, from the visitor's initial contact (advertising, telephone service, Website, etc.) to when the visitor goes home and even beyond (post-visit thank-you or souvenir, a certificate of participation, a CD-ROM of slides, etc.),
- develop outstanding service; this is always a key to success, and
- pay special attention to small details which guarantee a smooth-running, successful experience ? a smile, a smell, a little something extra, an element of surprise, the atmosphere (lighting, music, décor, personal appearance and dress, etc.), or a well-written e-mail.
The source of many memories
Many suppliers have their own way of promising a unique experience:
- Singapore Airlines is very popular among travellers and has accumulated an impressive list of awards to prove it.
- An entire family gets caught up when planning a trip to a Disney park.
- The expression “à la Montréal” suggests urban wonders at the lively rhythm of the Montréal lifestyle.
Cirque du Soleil does not have a monopoly on the ability to amaze and astound. Budding artistic directors, try boosting your creative genius with the following exercise: Ask yourself “What aspects of my product could make people sit up and say 'Wow!'?”
“You can't expect to see different results by doing the same things.
You have to challenge yourself to do things differently.”
Graham MacNeil, Maritime Inns & Resorts
– Canadian Tourism Commission. “Defining Tomorrow's Tourism Product: Packaging Experiences,” June 2004, 43 p.
– Chair in Tourism. “L'expérience: concepts et évaluations,” Research report prepared exclusively for Tourism Montréal and the Canadian Tourism Commission, April 2004, 36 p.
– Nova Scotia Tourism Partnership Council. “2005 Nova Scotia Tourism Plan – Deliver the Experience,” 2005, 27 p.
– Paquin, Benoit and Normand Turgeon. “La clientèle et le facteur 'WOW!',” Téoros, Summer 2004, p. 27-33.
– Pine II, B. Joseph and James H. Gilmore. “The Experience Economy,” Harvard Business School Press, 1999.
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