Ice walk on Abraham Lake
Remember, our role is not to be the heroes or stars in the stories we share. The heroes are our guests, the star is our amazing destination. Our role is to inspire our guests to play outside and help them experience their adventure so that they can discover the food, people and natural beauty of the region.
This is especially important to remember as we work through the building blocks of the adventure. As guides, these are the areas we’re experts in. We need to resist the temptation of making the adventure about us.
That doesn’t mean that we can’t showcase team members or show off our skills from time to time. It just means that we need to frame it about how this helps our guests achieve their adventure.
In This Section
This is part of the guidelines we follow when developing new experiences, our way of making sure that they are uniquely ours. Find out more and view the full document here.
Mount William Booth
Reflections on the Kootenay Plains
Wildflowers along the trail
Activity and Setting
One of the advantages we have in adventure tourism is that we get to choose both the activity and the setting for the experience. Unlike attractions, we’re not limited to a single physical location. This gives us the freedom to choose the options that will create the best experience for our guests.
We currently offer hiking, snowshoeing, ice walks, sightseeing, river floats and food tours. We may offer other activities in the future, but for now, we find that these provide a good mix, allowing us to find the right activity for each adventure.
Adding a new activity needs to be done in a thoughtful manner, taking into consideration how it stands against the constraints and the larger investment usually associated with training, permits, equipment and insurance.
The setting is all about finding the right location at the right time. We look for locations that can be used in as natural a state as possible, avoiding the use of staging or props whenever feasible.
The best locations offer basic infrastructure, are suitable for the activities and increase both in challenge level and scenic value as we explore them.
The time of day can transform a location. The way the light plays with the area can make take a pretty location from average to magical. Tours often need to be adapted based on when they are offered, throughout the day and the season. Photos we share need to represent when the tours are offered to set the right expectations.
Timing also plays a role in minimizing our impacts on the location, avoiding times that are overcrowded whenever possible.
Partnerships and The Visitor Economy
Working with others is what creates the best experience for our guests. That doesn’t mean creating partnerships for their own sake but that we need to consider the best option for our guests. There are three types of partnerships we usually do. The first one is with suppliers or marketing partners. These are usually operators offering their own experience we can resell, package with our products, or work with to promote various itineraries. It’s a similar relationship with destination management organizations where we can collaborate with their campaigns.
The second type is the “guest star” partner. This may be a supplier offering a customized tour as part of one of our adventures. It may also be a guest guide, like an artist, chef or other local storyteller joining us for a special tour. These types of partnerships work best for special events and one-off tours.
Finally, in some cases, we may co-create and/or co-deliver a tour with another provider. Partnerships like these require a lot more work to plan and on an ongoing basis to maintain a high-quality standard.
Each of these types of partnerships requires an increasing level of alignment between partners. Understanding our purpose helps us find the right partners in the same way that it helps us connect with our ideal guests.
At the local level that means celebrating and including other providers that appeal to our guests and provide a consistently great experience. Some of these include the Nordegg Shell, Rockies Heli Canada, Miners’ Cafe and Expanse Cottages.
At the regional level we continue to work with David Thompson Country, a collaboration of Clearwater County, the Town of Rocky Mountain House and the Village of Caroline, to promote the region. Their content tends to be more informational, filling a gap for visitors learning about the area. They have introduced us to many of our guests and are a great resource for guests looking at options to add to their itinerary.
Other communities like Jasper, Banff, Canmore, Sylvan Lake and Red Deer have the potential to play a bigger role as a basecamp for our guests or as part of an extended itinerary. Awareness of our region within these communities is still very limited however.
At the provincial and national levels, Travel Alberta and Destination Canada play an important role in the early stages of our guests’ journey. While their content tends to be more trendy than our guests, the appeal of their inspirational content drives a number of bookings. We have had limited success sharing their content, instead we find that the best option is to provide them with current information about our adventures and supporting media visits.
Moments are those shorter experiences within each adventure that are meaningful and memorable. There are four types of moments we want to include: goosebumps, aha (insights), pride and connections.
Goosebump moments are the ones that rise above the everyday. They are the ones that surprise us, that leaves us speechless and in awe.
Aha moments rewire our understanding of ourselves and our world. They are those special moments when everything makes sense and the answers become obvious. They are the moments that transform us.
Pride moments are about the satisfaction we get from achieving something, especially when it requires the courage to do something new or different than what we would usually do.
Connections are social moments when we share our experiences with others. The challenges that are naturally part of an adventure help create a stronger bond with others and our destination. Like pride moments, they amplify goosebump and aha moments.
Fabricating moments is not an easy task. Our approach is to choose the right time and place, as discussed earlier and then putting in place the elements needed to allow the guests to create the moment.
Three elements that help create those special moments are boosting the sensory appeal, including an element of challenge and embracing the unexpected.
Boosting sensory appeal is about turning up the volume on reality to experience something our guests do not get to do in their ordinary world. It doesn’t necessarily mean engaging all five senses at once but rather choosing a setting that naturally immerses you.
A viewpoint we have to hike to is usually better than the one we can simply drive to. The challenge of getting there leads to a greater appreciation of the moment. Our role as guides is to create situations with a controlled risk of failure while setting the expectations on the positive outcome the guests want.
Finding the right challenge level for the skills and interests of our guests allows us to create a positive experience. This refers to both the physical and psychological elements of the experience. Setting the bar too high results in the guests becoming discouraged or anxious, while making it too easy leads to disengaged or bored guests. In order to maintain enjoyment through an extended period of time, the challenge level needs to ebb and flow.
Surprises are cheap and easy, often gimmicky. Embracing the unexpected doesn’t mean that we script an element of surprise but rather that we leave room in our itineraries to take full advantage of the surprises that happen along the way.
The written stories, videos and photos we share as well as the in-person interactions between the guests, guides and our destination come from the moments we have experienced. It also helps create new moments for our guests.
Stories can take many shapes but their role in adventures is to help create an emotional connection with the facts. Early on in the journey this is done mostly through photos, trail guides and written content.
Vignettes, presentations and scripted stories can play a role on the tour but conversations are our preferred approach. It is less formal and more engaging for the guests while making it easier to personalize for each group.
This requires a deeper knowledge from the guides since, unlike in theme-based interpretation, the discussion is often lead by the guests and their interests.
A Safe Environment
An element of risk, real or perceived, is part of the adventure. The goal is to find the balance between risks and safety that the guests and us can tolerate. This changes based on a number of conditions, including the guests’ previous experience. We have a lower risk tolerance when guests have less experience.
This is addressed through risk management plans for each of our tours, as mandated by OH&S legislation and industry standards.
Emotional safety is just as important. We have to provide the information needed for guests to be comfortable while still keeping an element of surprise. We need to create a welcoming environment. This includes diversity and inclusion as well as knowing how far to push the guests as a guide.
Hot chocolate and adventures
Ask a kid what they learned in school today and the answer is almost always “nothing” or “I don’t remember”. Unfortunately, most participants will give a similarly generic answer if we don’t take the time to debrief at the end of the tour.
On a shorter, more superficial tour, this can be as simple as the guide mentioning the highlights as they wrap up the adventure.
On most tours, we go further by first providing some quiet time on the trail during the return to the trailhead. We don’t need to tell the guests to reflect, we only need to provide the setting.
At the trailhead, usually while enjoying a cup of hot chocolate, we ask the guests a series of questions to prompt the memories. Questions like “what surprised you the most?”, “what did you think of _________?” or “did you think _________?” work well. This is one of those cases where leading questions are desirable, we are after all trying to reinforce key moments from the adventure.
It’s important to keep the conversation informal and flowing. Asking follow-up questions and using the five why helps.
Sharing pictures after the tour also helps, but this can be challenging during the busy season given the time required.
It’s often easier to help the guests take better pictures with their phones while on the tour. This achieves a few things. First, most guests appreciate bonus tips on composition and camera settings that help improve their adventure photos. Second, it leaves the pictures with the guest making them available to share immediately. Finally, most photo apps like Google
Photos have a feature that will remind each year of the adventure they took.
A note on takeaways
Including a takeaway or a piece of swag can help reinforce memories. We all have many pieces we have accumulated over the years that we look back fondly upon. At the same time, we have all thrown out a large amount of swag collected at various events. That’s why we have mixed feelings about whether a takeaway should be included.
An argument can be made that including one can show an increased value to justify a higher price. This is true for a cost-plus or value-added pricing strategies (both are popular with the retail approach). We use a value-based pricing strategy and unless the takeaway is a key part of the product we’ve found that it doesn’t factor significantly in the final price.
We dislike how often takeaways are quickly discarded by guests. Unless it is truly meaningful to the guest, even something that matters to us is most likely to end up as junk. In most cases it’s not the value or quality of the item that makes the difference but the emotional connection with the object. Unless that connection is truly there it’s hard to justify including a takeaway as doing the right thing from a sustainability perspective.
Finally, we’ve found that surprising a guest who was raving about our marshmallows with a bag to take home goes further than including it as a standard on the tour. Guests who have enjoyed the experience also prefer to purchase a mug, a water bottle or other souvenirs rather than having it included. In most cases they mentioned that they want to pay for it as a way to say thank you for a great experience.
It’s a delicate balance but unless there is a strong emotional connection, it’s better to forgo the takeaway.
Applying Our Guiding Principles
As we share moments, develop new products or create content we need to make sure that it supports our goal as a company and is aligned with our guiding principles. These are a few examples of things to consider when putting this into practice.
Get lost in the moment
Fun, shared experiences combined with breathtaking landscapes and amazing people create moments that naturally immerse us, making it easy to forget about daily life.
- Create moments that make guests forget about the outside world by focusing on the positive.
- Create moments people enjoy first, then want to share as a result of the experience.
- Build in time to enjoy the natural beauty, allow the guests the freedom to experience on their own.
- Build programs around digital detox, disconnect in nature or nature deficit disorder.
- Create moments designed to be shared rather than experienced. Instead of fabricating “Instagram moments”, choose locations where they happen organically instead
- Create itineraries with a strict schedule where each element must happen for the experience to be complete.
Simple is better
Life isn’t that complicated. Celebrate the simple pleasures, the raw beauty of nature and the connections with people you meet along the way.
- Add value by constantly getting better at what we do, delivering great experiences.
- Use as few ingredients as possible, serve food family style and allow conversations to happen.
- Use props, a fabricated environment or elements (visual, sounds, smell, touch) that distract from the natural beauty.
- Add features (takeaways, experience elements, partnerships, ingredients, etc) for the purpose of increasing price or showing additional value.
Embrace the unexpected
Going on an adventure off the beaten path means that things are less structured. The best moments happen when you leave the checklist behind to create your own path.
- Celebrate the imperfect: whiteout conditions, cloudy days, rain, snow, wind, cold, etc.
- Keep itineraries flexible to allow time to personalize the tour and adapt to conditions.
- Sell tours based on “must-see” lists, unrealistic expectations or perfect conditions.
Do the right thing
Caring for the environment and each other is not a trend, it’s part of living. Leave nothing but footprints, take nothing but pictures. Collect memories, not things.
- Lead by example, demonstrate what we do instead of talking about it.
- Engage in meaningful discussions led by guests.
- Accept that we can’t do everything we would like, do the best we can with the resources we have.
- Be preachy, condescending or academic when discussing environmental or societal issues.
- Greenwash and virtue signal. Focus on what we are actually doing instead by demonstrating it.
Focus on the long term
Build relationships and memories that last. Taking the time to enjoy the journey will transform you.
- Focus on the journey. Celebrate milestones and small successes along the way.
- Get to know the guests on a personal level. It’s about them, not us.
- Focus on the destination: the summit, the viewpoint, etc.
- Make the story about us or our partners. The adventure is about the hero, our guests. We play a supporting role.
Mornings at David Thompson Resort
Throughout the Journey
We’ve discussed how each of the building blocks influences the experiences we offer. We also need to consider how they work together throughout the entire guest journey.
We share moments through photos, written stories, social media posts, in-person with our guests and through a number of other ways. How we do this varies throughout the guest journey but a few things hold true at every step.
Our voice is conversational, inspired by our love of the region. We’re here to help guests with their adventure, providing guidance and assistance whenever needed. Our content reflects our approach: getting lost in the moment, simple is better, embracing the unexpected, doing the right thing and focusing on the long term.
Visually, we embrace the imperfect. We love bluebird days but we see the beauty in dynamic skies, moody and stormy weather. Vivid colours catch our eyes but grey, rainy and whiteout days offer a different kind of beauty worth sharing. We don’t cancel tours because the conditions aren’t perfect, we adapt the tour to the conditions.
We avoid fabricated moments and props in our photos but that doesn’t mean we don’t embrace posed and “classic” shots. We know that many of our guests prefer to pose for a photo than having a candid shot taken.
We need to find a balance between the aspirational and the attainable, helping our guests choose an enjoyable level of challenge for their adventure and setting realistic expectations.
Guest don’t average their experience. The peaks and transitions are what matters most. We need to elevate the positive and minimize the low points.
Transitions help trigger the pursuit of those moments. We need to embrace those, even when they are outside of our control.
We use multiple milestones to keep the engagement. This includes before the tour, and within the tour. Itineraries need to build up, celebrating as you go. This could be done through gamification but we prefer to celebrate naturally existing milestones.
Here’s a few ways we can bring everything together throughout the journey.
Guests are living in their ordinary world, not yet dreaming of adventure until something happens. It can be a joyous life event, the slow realization that they need a change, the change of season or a tragic event. Regardless of the event, it triggers a need for change and the call to adventure.
We can help them answer the call through photos, videos and written stories we share on multiple channels.
At this point they want to say yes to an adventure but they need help to make it happen. This is where we can help them with their plans, having already established trust in the dreaming stage.
Our guests are curious and love to learn about the area before they join us on a tour. We can help them by embracing longer-form content and being informative but we still want to allow for discovery so that they can make it their own adventure.
They’re ready to commit. This needs to be the simplest step for them, regardless of how complicated it may be on our side.
Once the commitment has been made there’s a lot of excitement and some trepidations. We can help by providing the details they need to be comfortable, something that varies from one person to another.
We also need to build realistic expectations to set the stage for the next step.
This is where it all comes together, in person. The guests are ready for the challenge, yet there’s still some nervousness about what lies ahead at the beginning of the tour. This is a good time for the guides to establish themselves as the mentor. They are there to push and stretch the guests as they take on a new challenge. More importantly, they are there for the guests when they need help facing an obstacle.
Along the way the guide needs to use a variety of styles, at times being very directive while at other times setting up a situation that allows the guests to discover for themselves.
Some indications of goosebump moments or aha moments are people taking pictures without being prompted or going quiet to immerse themselves. Let them. It means the moment transcends the ordinary.
Personalization requires us to be responsive. It’s important to listen to the guest stories, learn more about them to understand their goal, validate their aspiration and care about their well-being. Taking turns asking questions and listening to the answers between guests and guides where both learn about each other is what matters most. It’s more important than the actual questions being asked.
Reinforcing memories at the end of the tour bridges the gap to the sharing stage of the journey.
Most of the time this step requires little on our side, the guests are already excited to share their adventure.
We can help them share those stories through pictures, having reinforced the memories and a few prompts in the weeks after the tour.
This completes the circle, helping other guests start their journey and returning guests embark on their next adventure with us.