In this blog, Joe Veneto, Chief Experience Officer at Veneto Collaboratory, talks about immersive tourism and how DMOs can use it to enhance their destination’s unique experiences for both locals and visitors.

When a visitor books a trip, what exactly do they have in mind? They may expect to indulge in local food and drink, take in the beautiful scenery, or rest up and rejuvenate. Whatever their motive is for picking a destination, there is one thing all potential visitors are craving, whether they know it or not, and that is experience.

Veneto has coined the phrase 'experience junkies' to describe today’s tourists — people who seek new sensations that they will cherish forever and tell others about. Why? 

Humans are curious by nature: there's always been a need for deeper, richer experiences. Travel lends itself to exploring different destinations, people, cultures, and environments to open ourselves up to discovery. 

Humans have a desire to connect: we feel the need to be connected to people to keep them in the loop for where we are going and what we are doing. Since social media is so accessible to all, sharing our experiences has become easier than ever before. Destinations can amplify their attractions through the words of visitors who share their experiences with others. 

To lure in these experience-craving visitors, Destination Management Organisations (DMOs) must consider implementing a crucial concept to their attractions: immersive tourism. We sat down with Veneto to hear more about immersive tourism and learn how DMOs can draw in visitors with enhanced experiences in order to keep them coming back for more.

Go Beyond Show & Tell 

You have probably heard that destinations should engage tourists, but what does it mean to immerse them? Immersive tourism, also known as experiential tourism, takes a visitor to a deeper level, below the surface of a destination. Anyone can go on a trip and 'do' a lot, but most people don't just want to 'do' — they want to feel. Immersive tourism includes sensory types of experiences that amaze, excite, and teach visitors the essence of the destination’s brand. 

This type of tourism has to go beyond show and tell. Anyone can sip samples at a winery, but what if you sipped while you … 

  • Learned about the vineyard’s history
  • Met the owner and the winemakers 
  • Tried your hand at picking grapes
  • Tasted the perfect pairing of cheese that you learned how to place in a picture-worthy cheeseboard that you can now recreate at home

Now that’s immersive.

Learn from the Expert

So what is your destination’s essence? What makes it special or distinct? What unique experience will draw people in? That’s where Veneto says it all starts. 

“We first and foremost look at a destination and ask, what do they have? What is their brand essence all about, and can a visitor get into that experience?" Veneto said. “How do we come at this from a number of different ways and layers so that when they are put together, it's amazing? That's the secret sauce.”

When you look at a destination, you might know the history but have you felt it? The goal is to make it come alive. It’s all about design, storyboarding, and scripts that are interactive, engaging, and impactful. 

One tip from Veneto is to seek out transformative travel experiences for visitors. Create ones that inspire life-changing impact and evoke deep emotional responses. Then, consider the following steps:

  • Find the feelings: what emotions are you trying to evoke from visitors? 
  • Create the connection: how can you pull at the heartstrings of your visitors and connect the experience to something they are familiar with or will find touching (remember: ethos, logos, pathos!)
  • Nurture the narrative: who should tell this story and how can they tell it in a way that is unforgettable? 

“Our sweet spot is showcasing the process of taking a concept or idea of the brand essence and creating something either brand new or enhancing it so it's revenue-producing.”

A checklist for DMO must-haves before considering an immersive experience: 

  • Brand essence and unique attributes 
  • Strong partner relationships
  • Budget
  • Staff to monitor bookings, sales, and meeting/events 
  • Time commitment to keep the experiences alive

Veneto explained the shift he has seen from destination marketing to destination management and development. The question is no longer, “How do we promote, market, and sell the destination,” but rather, “How do we stay competitive?” 

DMOs have to put the work into creating new, fresh stories and experiences that add a deeper layer for first-time and returning visitors. The need for ongoing innovation to stay competitive is what drives many to consider immersive tourism.  

A DMO which has embraced the concept is Tourism Northern Ireland with its 'Embrace a Giant Spririt' experience brand.  The Giant Spirit Experience Collection sets out to represent what the destination stands for in terms of its passion, warmth, respect for heritage and history and sense of place.  There's a range of experiences on offer including distillery tours, craft workshops, street art walking tours and star gazing.  Visitors to the site can also watch an interactive video featuring 14 experiences and enter a competition to win two and an overnight stay.

Simpleview's site for the Cotswolds features a great range of experiences, from opportunities to discover the secrets of farming with local legend, Robin Dale to whisky masterclasses and private tours of castles.

The team at Visit Dean Wye has been busy filling their Experiences section with some great content including 'forage and feast' cookery experiences, an introduction to the potter's wheel and a walk through the Gloucestershire countryside with a Harris Hawk to name a few.

All of this content aims to immerse the visitor in the destination so that they are more likely to want to share their experience and return to experience more.  And as travel restrictions start to reduce, people will be more eager than ever before to seek unique travel experiences and make up for lost time.

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