Mapping the future for Sweden’s national tourism organization
You are working in the travel industry/tourism sector and every day you face the fact: The massive transformation of society-as-we-know-it is here. Ground transportation will soon be revolutionized by the twin innovations of autonomous driving and electric cars; society is fast becoming cashless; just a few platform ecosystems now mediate a majority of our time spent online… On behalf of Visit Sweden we asked ourselves: How do we position Sweden’s tourism sector to best exploit these inevitable trends? And where are they most at risk?
At Äventyret, in order to design tomorrow’s services today, we need to know what the future holds — not just in terms of which technologies will dominate, but also in terms of how societies will adapt, and how user behavior will change. We design for the user, so we need to know what the user’s world will look like in the next five to ten years.
That’s why our design research covers far more than just technological innovation. We do have a hands-on approach to experimenting with new technologies (see our work with virtual reality and augmented reality) but we also explore the psychosocial dimension of technological progress — how does the concept of ownership change when goods become digital? How does social media’s gamification of user attention change relationships, both with other people and with brands? How do users gain knowledge when algorithms act as gatekeepers of information?
We use these insights to inform our work, but we also occasionally lecture about what we discover — for example, in Hong Kong we described the rise of the post-materialist consumer at the Knowledge of Design Week conference:
Not surprisingly, we’ve found that many of our clients don’t just want to hire us for our service design skills; they also want our help in understanding the future, so that they can build a more proactive strategy for user engagement.
Beginning in 2015, we started a multi-year partnership with Visit Sweden to deliver precisely these kinds of strategic insights. Visit Sweden is the country’s national tourism organization—a public-private venture jointly funded by Sweden’s Ministry of Enterprise and Innovation and by the Swedish travel industry. Their mandate is to market Sweden as a travel destination to the world.
Visit Sweden’s initial need was for a series of actionable insights into the future of travel for their FutureWatch seminar. This event is held each year for Sweden’s many regional destination marketing organisations (RDMOs), to help them navigate a crowded and competitive market. We began our work with a series of workshops with Visit Sweden — connecting wider technosocial trends to specific strategic opportunities for marketing to the modern tourist. The result was a trend report and a well-received presentation by Äventyret at FutureWatch in November 2015 — and a road show, with versions of the presentation held around the country in front of hundreds of people.
Our FutureWatch report differed from previous years in that we did not go looking for narrow trends limited to the travel industry. Instead, we first focused on identifying broad trends in society and technology, and then explored how each of these will affect travel behavior. For example, ground transportation will soon be revolutionized by the twin innovations of autonomous driving and electric cars; society is fast becoming cashless; just a few platform ecosystems now mediate a majority of our time spent online… In each case, we asked: How are Sweden’s RDMOs best positioned to exploit these inevitable trends? Where are they most at risk?
Based on the response to our work, Visit Sweden wanted more. So when it was time for Visit Sweden to reboot its marketing strategy, they turned to Äventyret for a thoroughly researched foundation. The result was “Strategies for a Digital NTO: A Study of the digital destination marketing landscape in preparation for Visit Sweden’s next-generation national branding platform.” The 97-page report collates a wealth of information about trends at the intersection of the travel industry and digital media, including: An overview of how digital technology is affecting traveler behavior; an integrated customer journey model that incorporates a travel cycle, a purchase funnel and a brand ladder; a benchmarking study of the world’s best NTOs; and a taxonomy of online travel sector actors. The report distills these insights into 4 strategic recommendations, and illustrates them with 5 concrete concepts ready for implementation.
Our second FutureWatch report for VisitSweden, published early in 2017, applied the same methodology as the first, but covered a number of new trends that had gained sudden resonance in a year where both Brexit and Donald Trump had emerged as unexpected exogenous shocks. Among other things, we explore the new open/closed cleavage replacing the old left/right cleavage in the body politic; and we look at how artificial intelligence and robotisation are changing the labor landscape, kickstarting a debate on the merits of a universal basic income. In every case, we ask how these changes can be turned into an opportunity for tourism in Sweden.
Visit Sweden also entrusted us with a number of custom research projects for business development. For example, we benchmarked activity channel managers; we helped explore how online travel agents and Visit Sweden could better collaborate on sharing data; and we investigated how Visit Sweden, RDMOs and local providers might best collaborate on social media platforms, to avoid duplicate effort.
Ultimately, our work for Visit Sweden created opportunities to work directly with a number of Swedish RDMOs. For example, we helped Tourism in Skåne with the reboot of their digital strategy, writing research reports on both their internal readiness and external challenges; the result was strategy document, “A strategy for digital tourism in Skåne” that distilled a number of strategic principles as well as concrete proposals for ways to implement those strategies.