3. The Building Blocks

The curved mountains surrounding Abraham Lake.

The Activity

The activities chosen for the tour must have the right challenge level for the guests. If it’s too easy it will lead to boredom, too hard and it will lead to frustration.

This brings its own challenge when developing a new experience: how do we know the right challenge level? We can determine that by looking at our ideal guest. Do they have prior experience with the activity or are they looking to learn something new? Of course our real guests might not always be as we expected, that’s why our guides need to be able to adapt the activity as they go to ensure a great time for the guests.

Another consideration is that the reward must match the challenge level. A steep uphill hike to a forested summit without a view hardly seems worth the effort but a short hike to a viewpoint overlooking a waterfall almost always create a stronger memory than if you had been able to drive to that same viewpoint.

Finally, the activities can take all kind of form as long as it helps to create the memories we’re creating for the guests. It could be hiking, snowshoeing, painting or enjoying a great meal. A common misconception is that experience means the activity has to be “hands-on” in the literal sense. Experiential travel is about the memories we create, not the actual doing.

The Stories

We look for facts and stories that appeal to our guests while giving a sense of the past, present and future as we explore the region.

One of the best resources on using stories and the hero’s journey as a way to engage the guests is Resonate by Nancy Duarte. It is a book about designing better presentations but offers some great advice that can be applied to weaving stories into a tour. A few key things we look for when sharing stories include:

  • Make sure that the stories are aligned with the purpose, motivations and destination’s sense of place so that they are authentic.
  • Keep it simple with each segment lasting 2-3 minutes. Only use props as needed, too many diminishes human connection.
  • Identify key stories that must be shared and optional ones for the guides to choose from.
  • Maximize the emotional impact of facts. Emotional impact matters more than facts but must be grounded in facts.
  • End on an inspirational note, not a call to action.


Edgar Farm

Learning about local food at Edgar Farms

Safety and Risk Management

Guests need to feel safe both physically and emotionally to be able to engage fully in the experience. This doesn’t mean that we have to eliminate all risks but rather that we make sure that the guests understand the risks and that we demonstrate to the guests that we take their safety seriously.

Safety requirements include things like permits, licenses, logs and a risk management plan. These are not the most exciting part of dreaming up a new experience but it is critical to consider them in the process. They do put contraints around what kind of experiences you can build in the short term and in some cases make experiences not financially viable. It’s better to find those roadblocks early in the process rather than after spending resources building a new tour.

One area that often complicates things and is usually overlooked is including alcohol or food on a tour. Something as simple as including a picnic lunch on a tour may require you to obtain a food handling permit from Alberta Health Services to ensure that the food is stored and transported in a safe manner before you offer it to your guests. We found out earlier that including any alcohol, even samples at a brewery tour, would have resulted in our insurance coverage being cancelled. Working with our insurance broker we were able to find coverage to include alcohol in certain tours, like our Raft + Craft Beer adventure. Making those changes often takes time, and can delay new experiences by a year in some cases.

Establishing a risk management plan is a requirement under OH&S regulations and is usually required by insurance companies and public land administrators. Engaging the guides in the development of the safety programs helps create a safer environment for all and will make it easier to identify new risks when developing experiences.

The Guest Experience

Think about the small details that bring the experience together for your guests. These are the things you want to keep consistent across all your experiences, bringing your guiding principles to life.

Take the time to connect with the guests on a personal level. We use first names, take the time to get to know the guests and create moments, often over hot chocolate, that allows for reflection on their adventure. This gives us an opportunity to reinforce memories without having to use swag or other items as souvenirs.

We look for experiences that have an active component and that can engage the senses without fabricating a hands-on moment.

Another important aspect of the guest experience is incorporating food into the adventure. It’s a great way to showcase regional ingredients and to create connection through food. It allows guests to slow down the pace and engage in conversations, putting them in the right mindset to fully take part in the experience. As a bonus, in helps ensure that you don’t have any hangry guest on the tour.

A nature walk with an interpreter at the Kerry Wood Nature Centre

A nature walk with an interpreter at the Kerry Wood Nature Centre.

Putting This Into Practice

Keeping authenticity, our ideal guests and the vision for the tour in mind, the building blocks give us the key elements we need to consider to put together a great experience.

The next step is to put together the itinerary that will bring all of this together into a cohesive adventure.

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