Tips for Planners to Design Memorable Tourism Experiences

Tourists' expectations when they travel are becoming increasingly sophisticated, seeking stimulating and meaningful experiences. The new book Gamification in Tourism shares how cities are designing memorable experiences.

Read Time: 3 minutes

October 12, 2015, 12:00 PM PDT

By Jennifer Evans… @EvansCowley

Fisherman's Wharf

Patara Limpanachaipornkul / Shutterstock

A recent book, Paul Bulencea and Roman Egger's Gamification in Tourism: Designing Memorable Experiences takes on the popularity of gaming in tourism. Back in July, I shared with Planetizen ways that cities are being turned into a treasure hunt.

As I read this book, I was struck by the challenges that face city planners. We all work to create excellent cities, and many of our communities express a desire to promote tourism. But what is it that makes a community desirable to tourists and how is that changing?

Think back on a favorite vacation. What was it that was so memorable about that vacation? I recently took a vacation to Dubai. The most memorable experience was a falconry lesson. So why was this experience so memorable? Bulencea and Egger list key properties that are critical to a memorable experience:

  • All senses are activated.
  • The process is unique for the individual, having intrinsic valuable that is irreversible.
  • Involves context with the real thing.

Eagle landing on an arm in a falconry experience

My falconry experience definitely followed these properties. I could smell the bird, hear it make noise, see it fly towards my arm. I worked directly with my guide, who gave me an individual experience teaching me how to get the eagle to land on my arm. It was certainly very real!

The experience economy is thriving. One key element of the experience economy is gaming experiences. Technology is being used to introduce gamification into the tourists experience in exploring the city they are visiting. A few examples from the book include:

  • WhaiWhai: This unconventional tour guide is like the create your own adventure books from your childhood. The iOS app allows users to go on adventure with the city as the setting.
  • Stray Boots: This mobile app transforms a walking tour into a scavenger hunt. It covers a wide variety of cities in the US such as Ashville, Cincinnati and Boise.
  • Sighter: This is a photography based urban treasure hunt. The user sees a picture and then is given clues for how to find the location.
  • Stockholm Sounds: This app, created by the Stockholm Visitors Board, that uses music and sounds as the key to introducing people to the city. All points of interest are connected to sound and music in Sweden.
  • The National Mall: This iOS app is for use in the National Mall and contains a series of musical scores that are tied to locations throughout the park. It’s a choose your own adventure based on music.
  • 5 Every Day: This app provides five things to do every day in Los Angeles, including art, city, food, music and a wildcard.

Cities have created little surprises that visitors can find during their visit. Warsaw, Poland has approximately 300 dwarf sculptures spread across the city. Each dwarf has a story. The result is that this is now rated as one of the top attractions on Tripadvisor. Visitors can visit a website that tells the story of every dwarf.

Dwarf statues in Warsaw, Poland

In Warsaw, Poland there are dwarf statues across the city with a special story behind each. This one called "Drinker and Boozer" The story reads "How surprising are the names these dwarves assumed. Probably in fear of the City Watch, to mislead them from what they are really doing in Św. Mikołaja Street. Paying no mind to bans and laws – they pour and swallow liquor out in the open!"

Gamification is entering all aspects of the travel experience. For example the airline KLM has introduced Meet and Seat. This allows passengers to select there seat based on who would be sitting next to them. Passengers can create a profile with their interests. This allows people to look forward to an interesting conversation on the plane ride.

Gamification in Tourism is worth the read and could give you creative ideas for how to create engaging experiences for visitors to your city. Do you have thoughts on how planners should be thinking about tourism? How should we be engaged in ensuring that we have successful experiences for our cities? Share your thoughts in the comments below. 

Jennifer Evans…

Jennifer Evans-Cowley, PhD, FAICP, is the Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs at th eUniversity of North Texas. Dr. Evans-Cowley regularly teaches courses to prepare candidates to take the AICP exam.


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