Experience-scapes

Hird & Kvistgaard wrote “Oplevelsesrum. Turisme, kulturarv og oplevelser – et krydsfelt” in 2010. Sadly, this book has never been translated into English but with permission from the authors, I will share a few of the main ideas from this excellent book with you.

Based on a phenomenological approach, Hird and Kvistgaard present their tool “Experience Matrices”, which combine Heritage, Tourism and Experiences into an Experience-scape. Heritage, the authors explain, provides the content,  experiences the means through which the intersecting experience-scape is sold in the marketplace: tourism.

As a method, Experience Matrices involve stakeholders in a process of rediscovering a particular area, destination or attraction with the intention of creating a set of values, characteristics and understandings for which these stakeholders have a high sense of ownership, so that those elements from the process are selected for which participants feel motivated and enthused.

The process starts with facilitators identifying the stakeholders to invite. This is based on a preconception of the site. Next, participants are given an understanding of the method, before they are invited to experience and interpret the area with brand new eyes, even in the case of a site which is very familiar to them. The observations collected are sorted and analysed by the facilitators, who end up with one or more sets of values, syntheses or representations of participants’ evaluation of sensory strengths of the site. These results are then fed back to stakeholders, while remaining very open to how these results are received. Questions are asked and answered, and ownership and enthusiasm are very important goals. Context and meaning,  part and the whole are constantly compared and adjusted, until alignment is reached, which ensures quality. Based on these final definitions, socially constructed and hermeneutically tested, the site is then strengthened through changes in content, focus, logistics and structure to best bring to life the identified values.

Experience Matrices use 5 categories to investigate the Experience-Scape in question. The 5th category has two different versions. Let us look at them.

Characteristics try to describe the physical space. Is it a modern or old place? Tidy or disorderly? What feelings and thoughts come to mind? What is unique.

You might have heard of the 4 Es of the experience realms by Pine and Gilmore. Or you might not. But this looks at the types of experience you can have here. Aesthetic, Escapist, Educational, Entertainment; and Excitement or Action. And included then the 5th E of Excitement or Action.

The 3rd area is your senses. What can you smell? Salt water or diesel oil? What can you feel? Wooden interpretation panels, concrete walls, the cold air of a wine cellar? And how is your gut feeling about the place? Eerie? Calm? Curious?

The 4th area looks at what stories are there: Why is this important to me? What stories are NOT told but could be? What connects people to this place? This is about the emotional connection to the location and about ways to make it relevant to other people, as well.

The first version of the 5th area is about music. Both the music that is composed, such as ‘This is a folk music place’ or ‘Arabic music comes out of all the shops here’. But it’s also about the music of the seagulls and the sea, or the sound of birds and waterfalls and the musical qualities of places – the rhythm of people, cars, movement – you get the idea?

The second version of the 5th area is about the economic potential. Is there a chance in this area of giving visitors more than they expected, to give them added value and, you know, those things which make them leave wonderful reviews on TripAdvisor etc. Also, is this a place where you could attract investors, and how would you do that? Who might see the opportunities here? How could we sell the area to them? And can this area cope with tourists? Are the experiences likely to be sustainable over time?

Something that might be negative at a first glance could perhaps be turned into something positive or distinctive about the place. Old disused factories have been turned into culture houses, and now new buildings are being built to fit in with the raw, naked, and possibly beautiful industrial heritage in some areas. A multi-cultural market is disorderly, sometimes a little scary for some – but that is part of the experience – the smells, the sounds, the chaos, the rhythm of people bargaining, moving, gesticulating.

The collected data to create a picture of the place to guide your development, your choice of marketing, your messages, your audiences – in close connection with the stakeholders who will be the driving forces long after facilitators, project managers and tourism planners have moved on to other jobs, other challenges and other destinations.

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