The smart traveler and the experience economy

In 1998, Pine II & Gilmore published a paper in the Harvard Business Review [1], describing for the first time the term Experience Economy, that would follow the services economy. According with the authors, an experience occurs “when a company intentionally uses services as the stage, and goods as props, to engage individual customers in a way that creates a memorable event” (p. 98). The function of this new economy is to stage instead of deliver, as it happened in the services economy. The offering is a personalised memorable experience that is revealed over a duration of time instead of delivered on demand and where the provider becomes a stager and the client becomes a guest.

In the last couple of years, we have been observing a change from services or products to experiences. In my research, I have been analysing successful historical-based digital products and noticed, in several cases, that what seems to be simply a product actually follows some of the design principles Pine II & Gilmore describe in their paper.

In videogames, like Assassins Creed or the more recent Kingdom Come: Deliverance, we can see a myriad of items like novels, soundtracks, movies, graphic novels, art books, that act to extend the game experience beyond the gaming itself, as well as items like action figures, replicas, special physical limited editions that act as a memory of the gaming experience. The case of Kingdom Come is particularly interesting because these items were sold before they were created. Warhorse Studios created a crowdfunding campaign with several tiers to backing up the project, where some of the highest ones were sold out. At the same time, the company was sharing making of videos and using social networks to engage the users. They were able to create and sell an experience even before finishing the game itself.

The importance of the experience can also be seen in museums’ visitors behaviour. Sometime ago, I stumbled upon a shared photograph on Facebook of Mona Lisa, similar to the one below, in which someone was criticising the fact that all the visitors were taking photographs, instead of appreciating the painting.

Photo by Kristian Cruz @kristian22 JiTT Award Winner
Photo by Kristian Cruz @kristian22
JiTT Award Winner

This observation is very common: now and then, someone notices that people are seeing our heritage through a camera’s hole or digital screens. While I agree with the critic, this made me think that even if one wanted to go to the Louvre to appreciate Mona Lisa, one couldn’t: you can’t get closer to the painting because you can’t pass the restricted area; you can’t choose the angle, because it’s always crowded. Actually, if you really want to fully appreciate Mona Lisa, probably the best option is to head to the Louvre website, where you can check all the details of the painting and get the context as well. Still, people go to the Louvre. Maybe not to really appreciate the painting, but to get the experience of seeing and being in the same room as the “real thing”, that beautiful masterpiece. This would explain the need to take photographs as a way of materialising the memory of that experience, in order to remember it and share it with other people afterwords. Up to a point where the experience can be more important, for a given person, than the work itself.

This is why today’s discussions about tourism must take into consideration the creation of experiences in the three phases of the tourist’s planning process.

In 2008, EPOCH, a Network of Excellence, published its Research Agenda for the Applications of ICT to Cultural Heritage [2]. One of its recommendations was that “ICT-based communication for promoting cultural tourism should concentrate on the experiential benefits” because “customers today want to have ‘success guaranteed’ before they actually buy a product or service. This is relatively easy with standardised and primarily functional products or services, but not with products and services that are marketed based on their experiential value” (p. 234). Living faster and faster, with so much to visit and see, the today’s tourist does not have time to get bad experiences.

Mobile apps to communicate experiential benefits and enhance the tourist’s experience

There is no shortage of mobile apps related with travel and tourism and some of them are a merely transposition of the paper travel or route guides, without exploring in full the capacities of the smartphones and other new devices. Those apps are still in a context of services economy.

Still, there is enough room for innovation too and we can see mobile apps that are created, taking the experience economy into consideration, by providing an immersive experience in the three phases of the tourist’s planning process.

For the first phase of the tourist’s planning process, there are apps that help to planning the trip, like TripAdvisor or Booking, that started as websites and heavily rely on other tourists feedback to help the user to decide. Feedback from other tourists is quite important, since it is the new electronic worth of mouth (eWOM). Many times, users describe situations that happened to them and how the hotel/flight company dealt with them, providing a personal and specific insight to the narrative. Minazzi [3] devotes an entire chapter to the analysis of eWOM in her book Social Media Marketing in Tourism and Hospitality, and results from the Google’s research study The 2014’s Traveler’s Road to Decision [4] show that more than 60% of the users “begin researching online before they decide where or how they want to travel(p.5). 

Tripit is another app that helps with all the reservations emails the user receives, which goal is to eliminate all the hassle the user has to deal with different printed reservations and tickets.

The second phase, the trip itself, is the one where there is more attention from the mobile apps developers.

Streetmuseum, created through a partnership between the Museum of London and the company Brothers & Sisters, was the first and more successful augmented reality mobile app to take the museum to the streets of London. Others followed by applying a similar idea to other cities and places, like Zeitfenster or HistoryPin, that started with a website, adding after some time a mobile app that allows the greater interactivity from the user previously present in the website.

Just in Time Tourist App
Just in Time Tourist App

By offering a new concept of tourist guide that takes into account the time and the location of the user to design a personalised route, Just in Time Tourist (JiTT) reaches not only the leisure travellers, but also the business travellers that have a couple of free hours between meetings or flights and otherwise would not experience the cultural and heritage places around them. Additionally, the fact the guide can be followed through audio and the content is carefully created and curated by historians and specialists in cultural areas distinguishes JiTT from the other city guides. One of the first travel apps on the Apple Watch, JiTT is always updated to give the most innovative and enhanced experience to the user. The traveler can control the app from the wearable, making him free to discover and engage with the city, in a more easier and natural way.

Some cultural heritage institutions are creating several mobile apps to specific exhibitions or themes in order to enhance the experience of the visitors, instead of having only one general app for the institution. Tate is one of these examples with an impressive 24 apps, that range CoachMuseumfrom multimedia guides to a specific exhibition – like the Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs exhibition, that was on from April to September in 2014 -, to guides that take the user outside the institution to a visit through the places in a city related with a given artist – like the William Blake’s London – or to a gamification of the visit – like the game Tate Trumps App.

There are many examples of touristic mobile apps that rely on gamification to engage the visitor and to provide knowledge at the same time. Exciting Space created an app for the National Coach Museum of Portugal that asks questions to the visitor through animations and quizzes that can be answered by observing the coaches’ exhibition. In the end, if the visitor completes all the questions he can get a small gift at the museum’s shop.

Rijksmuseum includes a family quest in its mobile app, but also enriches it with guided tours that include the context and commentary by specialists about a given work, hinting at the third phase of the tourist planning process by allowing to save works to the Rijksstudio, to share it in the social networks or to allow users to make remixes from the digital reproductions. “The Rijksmuseum app includes 3D-audio compositions, offering the experience of navigating through 3D space. The soundscapes sweep you along in the atmosphere of each tour. And every tour offers the option to collect a digital souvenir, which you can save on your smartphone or share by e-mail.

In the last years, there has been an extensive research and promotion of new tools and resources to enhance new experiences. Europeana makes available APIs, client libraries and open source tools, as well as events like hackathons to promote the reuse of their content in new apps and websites, being the newest example, their partnership with FieldTrip from Google.

The third phase of the tourist’s planning process, the after the trip phase, is the less represented one, although many companies and institutions are acknowledging the importance of giving tourists tools that go beyond the feedback or rating of the practical aspects of the trip, like hotels and flight ratings. According to  Minazzi [4], “during their travel experience tourists hear and create their own stories that then, in turn, can be told to (shared with) others as memories” (p. 60). The Museo del Prado app, Second Canvas not only allows the user to share the work or details of the works to the social networks, but also includes social timelines in the app itself, through hashtags, giving the user an easier way to enter the conversation about a given work of art, even after the visit. Another example is Google Plus and its feature called Stories, that are created automatically from the pictures the traveler took during the trip and which he can edit by adding or removing photos, as well as by writing down a text for each image, after returning home.

Click to see an example of a story

Experiences can be created in any of the phases of the tourist’s planning process and it’s important that companies and institutions that focus more on the first or second phase don’t forget the after trip because the experience economy is all about selling memories.

Bibliography

[1] Pine, B. Joseph, James H. Gilmore, and others. 1998. “Welcome to the Experience Economy.” Harvard Business Review 76: 97–105. https://hbr.org/1998/07/welcome-to-the-experience-economy.

[2] Arnold, Davis, and Guntram Geser. 2008. EPOCH Research Agenda for the Applications of ICT to Cultural Heritage. EPOCH European Network of Excellence in Open Cultural Heritage. http://epoch-net.org/site/publications/research-agenda/

[3] Minazzi, Roberta. 2014. Social Media Marketing in Tourism and Hospitality. 2015 edition. New York: Springer.

[4] The 2014 Traveler’s Road to Decision. 2014. Think with Google. http://storage.googleapis.com/think/docs/2014-travelers-road-to-decision_research_studies.pdf.

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