ASKING WHY HERE?
We’ll discuss the selection of the physical location later on in the experience development process. Before we get to that level of planning, we need to start by asking ourselves why our destination is right for the experience.
Adventure tourism is defined to include at least two of the following three elements: physical activity, natural environment, and cultural immersion13. The natural environment and culture components are defined at the destination level, requiring us to take a look at what makes our destination special when developing a new tour.
Going beyond slogans and physical infrastructure when defining a sense of place is still something fairly new for most destination organizations14. The good news is that there is no need to have a complete picture of the destination in order to get started. What we are looking for are areas where our purpose as an organization, the experience we are developing and our destination overlap.
A good starting point is to take a look at the pictures and stories that you and your guests are sharing. Rather than looking for what is unique to your destination, look for threads that connect special places, people and things together. The most challenging part is to take the time to look at our own backyard with fresh eyes.
Snow on evergreen trees and hoar frosted aspen trees are good examples of things that provide strong goosebump moments for our guests but that are overlooked when building new adventures. It may not be what they search for when planning their trip but it is a key element of the winter wonderland experience they seek.
We see this on a regular basis with guests on a winter tour to Crescent Falls. The beauty of the frozen double punch bowl waterfall is what inspired them to book the tour. On its own, this is an authentic experience: icefalls and frozen waterfalls are a large part of what makes David Thompson Country a special place to visit during the winter season. What creates the strongest emotional reaction once we get there is not the sight of the falls however. It is the sight of snow covered trees along the river combined with a silence only broken by the occasional squirrel and the sound of water.
This is the moment our guests talk about over hot chocolate later in the day, referring to it as their Hallmark moment, like being in a Christmas greeting card or as being magical. Those are moments that happen organically from being there. We need to cherish those, make sure we provide enough time for them and allow the moment to speak for itself. We need to be careful that we don’t lose this connection to the place when we build the itinerary.
The search for ice bubbles on Abraham Lake is another example of finding organic moments that are special to our region versus fabricating experiences. What makes the area special is the natural combination of clear ice, the abundance of ice bubbles and an amazing backdrop of mountains. None of these are unique on their own, it’s the connection between them that makes it special.
When we remove any of those elements we lose the sense of place, creating an experience that becomes disconnected with our region. If we were to use heavy equipment to clear a section of the lake to guarantee a patch of clear ice for our guests to enjoy an “Instagram moment”, this would become the same as what could be offered on Lake Minnewanka or the Spray Lakes. There would still be a mass tourism market for this, but it would no longer be an authentic Abraham Lake experience.
That’s why we choose to incorporate the snow into the adventure on days where a storm has left the ice covered. It becomes a search for ice that has already been cleared by the winds or using shovels and brooms we look for places to dig, discovering bubbles as we go. It brings a level of excitement to the adventure while still being authentic.
Finding the right balance between the activity, the natural beauty and the local culture is one of the most challenging aspects of building new adventures that create connections between the guests and the region16. Having a local musician play for our guests in the snow covered evergreen forest of Crescent Falls creates a powerful moment. This shifts the experience from one focused on the connection to nature to one based on the connection with the artist however.
Adding an element like a local artist to the experience can make it easier to justify a higher price17 for the adventure. The challenge is in finding the right balance. Adding too many elements or going too far in fabricating experiences quickly leads to something that could have been done anywhere, losing the connection with the place and authenticity in the process.
Deciding whether your destination is the right place for an experience is more of an art than a science. It’s about embracing and showcasing what is there, bringing to life those special connections between activities, the natural environment and the local culture. It’s also a matter of alignment. We don’t need to do an extensive inventory of all the elements that create a sense of our place in our destination, we only need to look for those that align with our organization’s purpose and the adventure we’re building.
Allow yourself to be amazed by the small things as you explore your own region looking for new adventures. Once you have an idea for a new tour, take the time to ask yourself whether the experience creates connections between your guests and the local environment or culture.
THE DESTINATION’S SENSE OF PLACE
The destination’s sense of place is more subjective. We don’t need to worry about everything it could be or what it means for others, but rather we need to focus on where it aligns with our purpose and what we love to share about it.
In our case, it’s about the natural beauty of the region, its history and the people making it a special place. It’s a different kind of Rockies experience where nightlife means campfires and starry skies.
Our best trails are often unmarked, sometimes even missing from the maps. Adventures off the beaten path take a little more effort, but the rewards are well worth it: stunning canyons, incredible peaks, glaciers, amazing rivers and the ice bubbles of Abraham Lake.
Our region is a little more rugged than the nearby National Parks to the west or Central Alberta to the east, but that’s part of the charm for those who love an adventure.
The question becomes simple: does the adventure represent the place?