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Already as early as in the 1960s, the topic of tourist experiences has received attention from researchers and ever since, has continued to expand further and further. Present society has embraced technology as part of daily life and it is difficult to imagine a world without all technologies we know today. This is no different in the field of tourism, and more specifically tourist experiences. But how will the present and future technology-enhanced tourism look like and what is meant by smart tourism (destination)? Read on to learn more!

Interconnectivity and smart tourism

Through Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) people have become more interconnected than ever before. For tourism managers, it is for this reason interesting to understand the potential of tourism in relation to the interconnectivity between people and destinations. The question is how a destination can become truly ‘smart’ and can offer experiences that are highly personalised, co-created and memorable and also adjusted to the tech world in which we live. Aristotle famously said

The whole is greater than the sum of the parts’ –

in the context of smart tourism, this is true. Through smart systems, dynamic collaboration between various tourism stakeholders (tourists, local governments, cities, local institutions, tour operators) could be achieved.

If we are talking about smart tourism, where does the term eTourism fit in? The difference between eTourism and smart tourism lies in the fact that eTourism focuses more on Web 2.0 and the digital space. Just as a refresher – Web 2.0 is the internet as we have known it for the last decade: an online space where user-generated content can be created and shared on various platforms. Many of which you may use on a daily bases including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Reddit, TikTok, Wikipedia and so on. Smart tourism, on the other hand, takes the focus of eTourism to the next step – it connects the online world to the offline, physical world. Public and private consumer collaboration could be encouraged through the Internet of Things (IoT) (e.g. think about the interconnectivity of your smartwatch to your smartphone). In addition, smart tourism evolves quickly along with technological progress in society and is very innovative in nature. Examples include gamification, wearable devices, AI, installed sensors and so on. Important to mention is that tourists use their own sources or ‘devices’ to create their tourist experience in the smart tourism destination. Therefore, if we talk about tourist experiences in a smart tourism context, the following aspects should be recognised:

    1. ICTs are the glue for interconnected smart tourism destinations
    2. Smart tourism is a varied and complex phenomenon
    3. The tourist experience and value co-creation for all tourists and stakeholders is at the core of the smart tourism destination

The tourist experience and value co-creation in a smart tourism destination

The impact of technology on the tourist experience has been researched over the last years. Neuhofer et al. (2014) identified that the tourist experience can be impacted by

i) the extent of technology integration during the experience

ii) to what extent value co-creation between tourists and tourism providers takes place.

Value co-creation, simply put, explains that value is created by an exchange process of multiple parties. In this case, these are the tourist and the tourism provider (e.g. the tour operator, the destination, etc). Throughout the consumption process, value is co-created as the tourist is offered a memorable experience by the tourism provider and on the other side, the tourism provider learns more about their consumers and can adjust their offer based on their learnings. The knife cuts on both sides if we talk about value co-creation.

Moving back to the combination of value co-creation and the technology intensity provided for during a tourist experience, Neuhofer et al. (2014) created four types of technology-enhanced tourist experiences in relation to these two factors:

    1. Conventional offline experiences (low technology, low co-creation)
    2. Technology-assisted experiences (high technology, limited co-creation)
    3. Technology-enhanced experiences (high technology, some co-creation)
    4. Technology-empowered experiences (high technology, high co-creation)

This means that the potential of the smart destination will only be fulfilled if there is both high technology offer and high co-creation opportunity for the tourist and tourism provider. In addtion, important to note is that value can also be co-destroyed (negative) or co-recovered (from a negative experience to a positive one) if stakeholders do not adjust their services and expectations to one another. This brings us to the importance of human-centredness in creating (smart) tourism experiences.

Human-centred experience design

The customer as the main focus in service and product offers has become increasingly important in the present experience and transformation economy. On a digital level, this emphasis has created the term User-Experience design (UX). From a technological perspective, UX ensures that human-computer interaction goes smoothly in that users flow easily through online processes. Imagine booking a flight, in just a few steps and less than five minutes, you can book tomorrow’s flight to a destination of your choice. Perhaps you would like to add another service such as a car rental, or accommodation – everything is taken into account in the booking process. It is exactly this flow and ease of booking without having to turn to a physical tour operator, that online UX is intended for.

In fact, UX has laid the groundwork for human-centredness, which is an element that is strongly connected to the field of experience design (EXD). Experience design stands for ‘intentionality’. This means that human experiences do not happen by chance, but are intentionally designed to achieve a (positive) desired outcome. Examples of these outcomes may involve new insights, positive emotions, memories or transformations. In the case of tourist experiences, for example, the tourism providers would like the tourists to have positive memories when thinking back on their holidays.

The potential of experience design is huge. However, especially the ‘design’ part is what some practitioners underestimate. According to Tussyadiah (2014), three fundamentals should be taken into account when designing experiences. The first one, we already discussed: human-centredness. This is all about understanding the needs, desires and expectations of your customers. Second, experience design is an iterative or repetitive process. This means that you constantly have to prototype and test your products and services so it suits your customers all the better. Thirdly, you have to be able to see the bigger picture, zoom out and make sure to link the experience to all touchpoints between the service (provider) and the customer. By designing holistically and attending to all details in your design, the value of your experience increases.

In addition, as mentioned before, tourist experiences are meant to trigger positive emotions. This can be linked to positive psychology theory and a well-known model called PERMA created by psychologist Martin Seligman. Each of the letters stands for a design dimension that helps to trigger positive emotions:

    1. P: design for positive emotions (e.g. emotions, surprises, excitement, appreciation)
    2. E: design for engagement (e.g. interactions, encounters, communitas)
    3. R: design for relations (e.g. encounters, reconnecting with others and the self)
    4. M: design for meaning (e.g. anticipation, self-expression, sense of unity)
    5. A: design for accomplishment (e.g. self-actualization, self-discovery, fulfilment, memory)
    6. (L): design for ‘liminality(e.g. escapism, ambience, senses, aesthetics, storytelling)

Liminality’ is an extension to the PERMA model based on the importance of designing for ‘time and space’. Mentally, tourists step into another world, another reality when they are on holiday. They ‘escape’ their daily life and become a new version of themselves: the tourist. This sense of being in another life or ‘liminal space’, encourages memorable experiences and potential transformations. Therefore, this dimension should also receive attention in the experience design process.

Design smart tourist experiences

With the understanding of smart tourism and the importance of designing experiences, designing a smart tourism destination for tourists includes three main steps: the intentional experience design process; the smart tourists or smart human; and the smart tourism destination environment. Each step will be explained below:

Intentional experience design

When it comes to the design of a smart tourism destination scenario, important to note is that you are not designing for technology. It is not about the technological hardware or software, but about the end-user. Design should be intentional, focused on the tourist and also dynamic in nature to adjust to the needs of the customer.

Smart tourist

To understand the smart tourist is to become the smart tourist. By putting yourself in the shoes of the smart tourist: What are their expectations and goals? What do they desire? In what state do they arrive at the destination? With the answers to these questions, tourism providers can start to question which technological applications they may need to fulfil the needs of the tourist. In this process, the design should also consider the layers of the PERMA(L) model, which is built on positive psychology and helps to guide the design of the experiences.

Smart tourism destination environment

The last step takes a look at the bigger picture and zooms out from the perspective of the human-centredness on the smart tourist. While zooming out, the interests of and potential of value co-creation among all stakeholders involved (such as the local population) is assessed. As Tussyadiah (2014) argues, connecting the touch points and designing for experiences holistically is a key element in designing experiences. In the smart tourism context, this key element is enriched by assessing adequate technological assistance along the tourist experience. As Sheldon (2020) put it correctly: “Designing tourist experiences for smart tourism destinations means not only focusing on experiential aspects but focusing on collective happiness and well-being of the ecosystem in the long term”.

So, which smart tourism destination is next on your bucket list? Explore. Experience. Enjoy!

Cite as:

Neuhofer, B. and Buhalis, D. (2021) Experience Design in the Smart Tourism Destination. In: Sharpley, R. (Ed.) Handbook of the Tourist Experience, Routledge, pp. 616-629.

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