Innovation Tips for Tour & Activity Operators

Innovating doesn’t have to mean coming up with ideas from scratch, there’s a lot to learn from other industries: a conversation with Claus Raasted, Director of The College of Extraordinary Experiences

In the travel industry, things change every day. Traveler booking habits change, the technology changes, the ways people find and book tours, activities and attractions changes, the types of experiences they’re looking for change. 

From designing new experiences to reaching new markets to finding new and better ways of doing things, innovation is at the heart of the rapidly changing in-destination experiences industry. But how do operators who are busy enough simply running a business actually… innovate?

“Innovation happens at the edges, it happens in the details and it happens in the helicopter,” according to Claus Raasted, Director of The College of Extraordinary Experiences

What does he mean by that? Here are a few of Raasted’s tips on innovation, in a preview of his featured keynote session on “Crafting the Extraordinary: Innovation & the Experience Economy” at Arival 360 | Berlin this March. 

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Innovation at the edges: It doesn’t have to be new, it just has to be new here

Innovation does not have to mean coming up with new ideas from scratch. “You don’t have to think of things that don’t exist as long as you think of things that don’t exist here,” said Raasted. “One of the keys to innovation is to take things from different worlds and put them in different places.”

“In any industry there’s people struggling with problems that someone has solved somewhere else,” added Raasted. “The trick is getting the right people in the room.” The magic of innovation can be found by connecting with other people, often from different spheres and industries. 

So what types of other spaces can tour operators look to for creative ideas? “First off I think the best place to look is in underground creative spaces,” shared Raasted. “Because if you look in places where there’s no money, you will find solutions that don’t cost money.” 

Raasted gives an example of a theater that linked up with some people from the airline world who were responsible for dynamic seat pricing, and together they decided to experiment with it in the theater. “Within a year or so they had doubled their income without changing anything on stage, just by changing the pricing model,” Raasted explained. Now, dynamic — or variable — pricing are commonplace for things like theater and event ticketing, and are steadily gaining traction in attractions and tours as well.

Theaters found a way to fill more seats and increase income by taking a cue from the airline industry on dynamic seat pricing | Photo: Pexels / Marcio Ribeiro

Innovation in the details: Stop guessing and start trying

One of the challenges many companies face in any sector is the guesswork of figuring out what will be successful. A lot of time and resources can go into research and development of a new product or service that ultimately fails, and sometimes very little thought goes into something that ends up being wildly successful. 

For example, “how often do you think about the Roman Empire?” Nobody could have predicted men thinking about the Roman Empire trending on social media, Raasted observed — but it was the talk of September.

#romanempire took off on TikTok after a video encouraging women to ask the men in their lives how often they think about the Roman Empire went viral

One of the secrets to innovation, then, is “getting away from a culture of thinking we can guess what will work, into trying,” said Raasted. “So many innovation projects fail because nobody gives them a chance to succeed.”

“It’s very easy to say things are impossible and it’s very easy to say ‘but the numbers show…’” observed Raasted. “Numbers work backwards and innovation works forwards. It’s scary… but if you look back at history it’s full of the people who said ‘we’re doing it differently.” 

“The whole trick is to get it down to saying ‘we don’t know what happens until the rubber hits the road,’” he shared. “The faster you can stop guessing and start trying the better.”

Innovation in the helicopter: Regularly return to the ‘why’

“The key to successful ongoing innovation,” shared Raasted, is not only looking at the specifics, but also looking at the bigger picture: what he calls the “helicopter view.” Regularly returning to those bigger questions, to the ‘why’ of what you’re doing, and looking at your ‘why’ in the context of cultural changes may help you see new ways of approaching problems… and getting more comfortable with the change that innovation brings.

Getting the “helicopter view” of what you’re doing and how that fits into the bigger picture of your ‘why’ is key to successful ongoing innovation | Photo: Pexels / Apex Graphics

Another big picture approach that can help with innovation is looking at mega trends. What this means in the context of tourism can also mean asking why travelers travel. For example, the greater focus of travelers on experiences is an opportunity for innovation. Another of the mega trends that pertains to travel, beyond or perhaps connected to a greater desire for experiences among travelers, is “authenticity.” 

“We used to travel to see the world,” explained Raasted, “now we increasingly travel because we want to see ourselves in a new way. We don’t just want the experience, we want to also be transformed. If you, as a destination or a tour operator, if you’re not aware of that and you’re not catering to people’s wish to travel to change then you’re missing out on both money and on impact.”

Raasted shared the example of National Geographic running tours that allow people to travel along with their photographers. “They paid exorbitant amounts of money,” he said, because these are trips where the travelers get to have the unique experience of traveling like a professional photographer, and they “come home transformed.” 

“And there’s more and more of that going on,” concluded Raasted.

Getting the right people in the room: Innovation at Arival 360 | Berlin

Raasted will be joining us at Arival 360 | Berlin this March to share some of his insights and learnings on innovation, the mega-trend of authenticity and transformation, and what in-destination experience operators can learn from other sectors and industries, in a featured keynote theater session.

Also, something new this year (or new here) is a special focus on in-destination experiences industry innovation at the first Arival Experiences Innovation Showcase. Come and be inspired by the ideas of others, and consider how they might We hope to see you there!

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Header photo: Pexels / Dmitry Zvolskiy

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