Tourism is an Experience Industry, So Deliver Experiences
By Travel & Tourism Technology Trends
Tuesday, 9th June 2009
One of my favorite things about speaking at conferences and seminars around the World is what I learn while I'm there,I often find that I learn just as much being at these confernences as the attendees learn from me.

One such experience was at the Creative Lapland Seminar in Rovaniemi, Finland. The theme of the seminar this year was "The Best Show Cases in the Experience Economy Focused on Tourism". My contribution was to talk about the philosophies behind the creation of Rezgo.com and to share some of my experiences working with small tourism businesses around the World.

What I found most interesting about presenting in Finland, a country I had never been to, was just how similar my experiences were to theirs in terms of working with small tourism businesses.

The internal & industry research that we gathered during our beta development was almost identical to the research that the LEO group and the academics in the Lapland had gathered. It seems that the same SME tour operator anatomy exists all over the World:
  • The majority of SME tour operator businesses are single owner/operators.
  • Most of the owner/operators come from a guiding or experience background. They love the outdoors or they are passionate about their chosen are of expertise (i.e. kayaking, river rafting, skiing, etc.)
  • The operators don't have a formal business background and so they tend to lack the underlying foundational business knowledge and concepts.
  • Most of the businesses lack formalized best practices or documented business processes.
  • The businesses generally have little or no access to capital for technology.
It may seem odd to invite a technologist to speak when the theme is about the experience economy, but actually, it makes a lot of sense. I believe the reason for having me participate was to demonstrate how small tourism businesses can use leading edge web technologies and on-line tour operator software to sell their experiences around the World.

How else is that snowmobile tour operator going to attract the customers they need to make their business viable for the long term. Well, traditionally, they would have relied on the efforts of the local destination marketing organization to help drive visitors to the region. With the increased potential of what I like to refer to as "Supplier Generated Content", there is immense opportunities for DMOs and other marketers to aggregate, repurpose, and reuse the text, photo, video, geotag, pricing, and availability data that is being created by tour operators for their own marketing purposes in order to drive more visitors and customers.

What is Supplier Generated Content? Quite simply it is all the content created by tour operators that they control in their various content management systems. In the case of Rezgo, this content includes rich text descriptions, itineraries, experience photos, videos, geotags, pricing, and even real-time availability.

Other supplier generated content may include blog posts, marketing collateral, reviews, presentations, or other materials specifically created by the tour operator. The key is that the content is created by the provider of the service rather than an intermediary. The biggest challenge with supplier generated content, however, is that the quality of the content can vary from supplier to supplier. In my opinion, DMOs and intermediaries need to be focusing on ensuring that, as an experience industry, we encourage and develop the skills required to relay and describe those experiences with the authenticity that can only come from the tour operator who ultimately delivers the experience.

One of the presenters, Pl K. Medhus, is a small tour operator from Norway. He changed his whole business after implementing the Experience Pyramid, a framework for analyzing, understanding, and enhancing experience based products.

His company, Hve Sttt, has seen tremendous growth and is now considered one of the leading tour operators in Geilo, Norway. Pl attributes this growth to the shift away from a service or product model and to an experience model, like the one developed in part by LEO. If you are interested, you can see the Experience Pyramid on the LEO (English) website, and also read a description of the Elements of a Meaningful Experience. Both are worthwhile and certainly could have a profound effect on how a tour operator envisions their product offering.

In conclusion, I feel strongly that, as an industry, tourism needs to stop focusing so much on the commoditisation of travel and put more focus on developing and delivering superior experiences to visitors. Before we can do that, we need to educate operators in the development of experiences and in the documenting of those of experiences for the purposes of marketing them to visitors. Ultimately, the flight, the hotel stay, and the car rental are only small parts of the overall visitor experience and yet they are the three most readily marketed and purchased travel commodities.

By shifting the model and engaging suppliers in the creation of Supplier generated content, destinations can focus on marketing and delivering experiences that are unique to them and desirable to visitors while ensuring that local tour operators are generating the revenue they need to remain viable for the long term.

* Photo Credit: Iisakki Hrm, www.iisakki.com

Stephen A. Joyce has been working as a travel & tourism technology consultant since 1995. In 2005 Stephen and his company, Sentias Software Corp., began development on Rezgo.com, a next generation Web 2.0 tour and activity booking engine for SME travel suppliers and tour operators. In June of 2007, Rezgo.com was officially released and now boasts a user base of 650+ companies.

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