Crescent Falls, David Thompson Country
There is a lot of information on the importance of experiences in tourism but not a lot on how to actually develop experiences for the outdoors or as an adventure travel operator. Most of the information we’ve found is either focused at the destination level, based on Pine & Gilmore’s retail perspective or designed for cultural and heritage attractions.
Over the years we’ve come up with a few different ways to build our tours, adapting the process as we go and finding new ways that ensure a great experience for the guests and staff. We wanted something that started with purpose to build experiences that are well aligned between our guests, our destinations and us as a company. We also needed something that helped ensure that the small details were taken care of.
A little background…
Before we go into the steps we follow, here’s what we mean by experiential travel, adventure travel, authenticity and crafting experiences with purpose.
Experiential travel is a collection of memorable activities that create connections with place and people. What is memorable and how connections are made are inherently personal concepts, meaning that we need to have a clear understanding of who we are building the experience for if we are to succeed in creating something that is relevant and engaging for our guests. Experiential travel has grown and moved beyond a niche market in the last 20 years but has been around for a long time. In many ways, it is the modern art of ancient travel.
Adventure travel is a type of experiential travel that combines nature, culture and activities with a sense of adventure. It often involves some physical or mental exertion and a willingness to step outside of one’s comfort zone. We see adventure as doing things that are new and different for each of us, doing things that can be a little scary but that also make us curious to explore further.
Authenticity on the other hand happens where the operators’ purposes, the guide’s motivations, the destination’s sense of place and sustainable practices intersect. It’s the answer to whether we should be the ones hosting the experience in this location. It’s possible to create a “feeling of authenticity” using the retail approach but the difference is immediately obvious to guests when they encounter a truly authentic experience.
Crafting experience with purpose is starting with why we exist as a company, what our destination stands for and what motivates our ideal guests. We then focus on our shared values and interests to create experiences that are relevant, engaging and authentic. Once we have this in place, we can put together the details of the adventure by setting a vision for the experience that is supported by:
- activities that offer the right challenge level;
- moments that are memorable and meaningful;
- stories that give moments meaning and create local connections; and
- the physical and emotional safety to be free to enjoy the moment.
All of this leads to a guest centered itinerary that provides an authentic experience.
From the tour: An Evening on the Farm
Hot chocolate on the ice bubbles
Icefalls on the Cline River Canyon
The Experience Development Process
The goal: Memorable activities that are authentic and create connections with place and people.
The Guests and the Adventure
The Building Blocks
The first step is to define what you and your destination stands for. This will define the type of experiences that will be authentic and aligned with who you are.
Once you have a good sense of who you are it’s time to look at who you are building the experience for, whether it’s your current market or a new market that shares your values and interests. Knowing your shared purpose with your guests will then allow you to set the vision and engagement level for the adventure.
Keeping in mind our shared purpose and vision for the adventure, it’s time to select the right activities and stories to share, identify ways to create a safe environment and to look at ways to exceed the guest’s expectations to create something magical.
It’s time to go through the finer details on how the experience will be delivered, building an authentic itinerary that allows for connections to happen between the guests, people and places.
Finally we look at pricing, guide training, pilot testing and the other steps needed to bring the new experience to market.
These are the elements we bring together to create the adventure. This is our framework to determine which options will best work together.
The difference between the retail and intentional approaches to experiences is one of mindset: a focus on the short versus the long term.
Authenticity, desirability, feasibility and viability need to be addressed at every step of the experience development process.
All of these activities have the power to transform participants. The difference is on what they aim to change.
The need to explain the difference between a travel package, an itinerary, a destination experience and a product experience is one that we come across often when working with others on new opportunities.
A look at two different ways to craft experiences we often come across, each of them appealing to a different type of operators and guests.