Early mornings along Abraham Lake
A package is a number of individual products that can be booked as one, an itinerary connects a number of products together while a destination experience is about all the interactions between the visitor and the destination.
Some days it seems that as an industry we need to find better words to define what we do. It’s not that there isn’t already a long list of options but rather that we keep reusing the same words to mean different things (here are some of the definitions we use), depending on our context and how we look at experience development.
The need to explain the difference between a travel package, an itinerary, a destination experience and a product experience is one that we come across often when working with others on new opportunities.
Destination or Product Experience?
Let’s start with the difference between a destination and a tour experience. This one comes up quite often when building something that involves a partnership between multiple operators or when working with a destination organization.
A product experience is a single activity or multiple activities delivered by one lead operator, sometimes with partners playing a supporting role. A guided hike, an evening snowshoe under the stars or when a bike shop works with a brewery to offer a bike and brewery tour are all examples of product experiences. They offer a unified guest experience.
A destination experience is multiple product experiences combined into an itinerary or package then built around a theme and delivered by multiple operators, with a looser partnership between those operators. These are sometimes coordinated by the operators themselves or by a destination organization.
The destination experience needs to account for the products that are included but also for the external factors that can turn an otherwise positive experience into a negative one. These are sometimes related to the infrastructure, like signage or public washrooms, and sometimes to interactions with tourism-related businesses like service stations.
Destination Experiences, Itineraries and Packages
As mentioned earlier, the destination experience includes all interactions between the visitors and the destination. We find that the easiest way to define it is by using a journey map, looking at all aspects of the visit. In most cases, neither the destination organization nor the operators have the control that would be required to manage the experience.
Itineraries help us define the destination experience, transforming the journey map into an adventure that can be offered as a whole to visitors or for them to use as a starting point to create something that meets their needs. For the destination organization and operators, the itinerary offers something more focused on the sections of the experience that they can control and manage.
Packages bring the bookable components of the itinerary into a single product that can be purchased by the visitors. These can include activities, meals and lodging, covering the entire itinerary or just some of the components. Offering packages requires strong coordination between operators, wholesale agreements and someone to take the lead in coordinating the interactions with the visitors.
Retail or Purpose-Based Approaches
Too often we see “experience” used to mean a product where experiential elements have been added. Unless we actually shift our approach from the traditional retail approach to a purpose-based approach, it becomes a distinction without a difference as far as the guests are concerned.
In the classic approach, a package as a product usually means a variety of individual products combined together and sold as a discount compared to the total price of each component of the package. These may have a theme but pricing is the main lever used to attract visitors.
A package as an experience in this paradigm is usually built around a theme and focuses on other manipulations, like behind the scene or exclusive access, to drive bookings. In this case, packages may be sold at a premium compared to the price of the individual component.
When we approach packaging from the purpose-based approach, we start by looking at the problems faced by the visitors. The package becomes about making it easier for them to experience their adventure. Manipulations based on prices and access become secondary to providing something that meets their needs and aligns with our purposes as destination organizations and operators.
These are the elements we bring together to create the adventure. This is our framework to determine which options will best work together.
The difference between the retail and purpose based approaches to experiences is one of mindset: a focus on the short versus the long term.
Authenticity, desirability, feasibility and viability need to be addressed at every step of the experience development process.
All of these activities have the power to transform participants. The difference is on what they aim to change.
A look at two different ways to craft experiences we often come across, each of them appealing to a different type of operators and guests.