The challenge of creating experiences

It is not a surprise that when it comes to tourism education in the universities, teaching about how to create and develop experiences becomes one of the most common topics of the classes. Obviously, since we tourism students we have been taught that unique experiences have become a trending market during the last years!

So let’s take a look at how hard was it to create a new product almost from scratch.

Creating something from nothing

In the course Tourism Product and Experience Design, we formed groups of four students each to create a touristic experience for Echoes Ecomuseum. The idea was to develop a whole experience around a place that already exists, which in our case was Mynämäen kotiseutumuseo​.

During the course we had some classes about the creation of experiences, some advice on how a good tourist experience looks like, and we also had our deadlines for returning some files showing our progress, but nobody told us exactly how to develop our experience, which from my point of view, was a great tool to use our creativity and see how original we would be for this assignment.

The first part of the creation process is to know the place we were going to mold, so everyone must visit their places and take some notes to start the development process, and this was the first challenging step.

It might sound easier when you are watching the power points that say how to actually create a new idea, but have you ever stopped to think about an original idea for something like this? Not easy at all and I’m pretty sure my whole class can relate to that fact!

Going through our location, the museum, taking pictures and notes about what the owner said to us was challenging – we learned more about the place, but our assignment was to “remake” the product, and we realised how difficult it was going to be after all.

And if that was not enough, the places we worked with were all far from the city centers and let’s say they were not too international, I bet I was not the only one who needed the Finnish team mates to translate everything in the museums.

Now that we knew what we had, it was time to get down to work and start thinking about the experience we wanted to develop, and yes as you can imagine, the very first days we were blank, with no ideas about what to do.

It started to go well when we did our brainstorming, some ideas came to us in that great inspiration moment, and we were starting to build something. We might have disagreed sometimes, but there’s no good team with no feedback and different ideas.

Team work and cultural differences

Cultural differences was something interesting for me, and not only because of how Finnish people usually are with things like punctuality (I know, I am late for most of the meetings, but I swear not every Spanish person is like this, I’m sorry team!) But the communication I felt doing this assignment was very satisfactory: I love to work with people who don’t say yes to everything! Feedback is very important in these kind of projects, and that’s something that I loved about working with Finnish people.

Once we had a main idea and the feedback of the teacher, it was time to show our classmates what we had been doing those weeks and to get some feedback. There were many presentations in one day, and all of them with good ideas from challenging places to develop – that is a sign of what this generation could be for the future tourism industry. We all also gave useful feedback to our classmates.

To finish this blog post, I would like to encourage all people with an entrepreneurial soul interested on the tourism industry to think about new, authentic experiences for tourism!

Text: Dorian Espinosa Negrín, exchange student from Universidad de la Laguna
Pictures: Pixabay

EduTravel trainees have been developing new day trips this Spring

This is a collection of day trip test reports from students who have been working for SAMK’s own travel agency, SAMK EduTravel, this Spring.

Product testing: wonderful winter exploration day at Pitkäjärvi (on 20 January 2022)

It was still dark outside when our product testing group gathered at the SAMK parking lot at 7.30 AM. It started snowing when we were driving from Pori to Kokemäki, adding to the sense of a genuine winter adventure. Upon arrival at the Pitkäjärvi Recreational Centre, we were greeted by our host and enjoyed morning coffee with sandwiches near the frozen lakeside.

Full of energy and in high spirits, we then proceeded to the fatbikes, which were available as battery-powered or regular. I went for the muscle-powered option. After receiving instructions on how to use the electric fatbikes, we put our helmets on and proceeded to the road and then to forest. It was already dawning, and the white snow helped us to stay on the trail, although going offroad was not a problem when driving a fatbike on a pristine, thick layer of snow and ice.

Riding a fatbike through the forest was a pleasure, and those who went for electric fatbikes were clearly having a blast, as they could take on occasionally rough terrain with ease. It was snowing pretty much all the time when were out fatbiking, which proved some challenge with my GoPro, as the lens cover needed to be wiped dry pretty often.

The day was not over after our fatbike ride, as there was a tasty salmon soup lunch waiting for us at the lean-to near the lake. To make sure nobody was on the verge of hypothermia, the hot soup was followed by a sauna, with an option of dipping into the icy Pitkäjärvi lake. Having never tried it before, I quite enjoyed the brief swim in the chilly water.

We also had a photo contest where the participants posted their photos on WhatsApp, after which the winning photo was voted by all. Some of our photos and videos were also published on EduTravel’s social media channels.

As this day was also a Project challenge assignment for Iina, we filled her feedback sheets after the sauna and discussed the experience with our host over coffee and pastries. Our experiences were mostly positive, with the activities being enjoyed by everyone. In addition to product testing, the purpose of the trip was to redevelop the product and to gain footage for marketing purposes. The suggestions for improvement included such things as spending a little more time on biking instructions (how to wear the helmet correctly), putting together a diploma for those who tried winter swimming, and how to better utilize the day as a team-building opportunity.

All in all, a fine day with very nice activities in the great outdoors in Kokemäki!

Text: Olli Riihimäki

Photo: Annika Polvi

Product testing trip to Koivuniemen Herra Farm on Saturday 9th of April 2022 / Fun at the Farm (Budget)

The need for this product testing sparked when we didn’t get enough bookings for this day trip that we had planned. We suggested this product testing idea to Koivuniemen Herra Farm, and they gladly answered yes. So then began the process of modifying the original program and agreeing on minor details regarding the product testing. The aim was to make a “budget” version of the original program so that it would attract more customers in the future.

We began our journey to Koivuniemen Herra Farm on 9th of April around 13:00 from SAMK Campus Pori. On the way there we had short briefing about the days purpose, signed permissions for photography, went through the program for the day and openly discussed about these subjects. We arrived in Koivuniemen Herra Farm, Merikarvia, a bit earlier than expected so around 13:45. We were warmly welcomed by the staff and then gave short introductions of ourselves. At this point we also asked them to sign the permission for photography so that we could take photos and videos and use that for marketing purposes. Then Sirkkis (our guide for the day) showed us around the premises, for example we got to see the accommodation premises and other buildings such as the old barn that had been turned into multifunctional area for different kinds of events.

Then the day continued with guided farm program and activities which included taking care of the animals and feeding them, but we also got to milk a goat, pet cute rats and chickens. During the day we also had this outdoor lunch including sandwiches, grilled sausages/corn, and French toast as a dessert. The day took a surprise twist when the program ended up with us virtually milking a cow, can you imagine! Finally, it was time to sit down, fill the questionnaires and have a feedback session with the whole crew. We arrived back to SAMK Campus Pori around 19:00.

The essential purpose of the day was to experience the day from international/exchange-student point of view, gather marketing materials, enhancing our partnership between EduTravel and the Koivuniemen Herra Farm and based on feedback made changes to the program/brochure. Viveca Antila was in charge of this project. She organized this product testing, negotiated about the details with the service provider and afterwards updated the brochure and other related materials based on the feedback that was gathered. Overall, I think everything went smoothly and we are happy with the results we got which are even tighter partnership with Koivuniemen Herra Farm and improved day trip product, but also it was super useful from a learning point of view for all of us!

Text: Mika Haavisto

Relaxing Forest & Summer Cottage Feeling – Product testing trip to The Forestry Museum and SyVilla on 22nd of May 2022

On a sunny Sunday morning in May, our entire team of five with our equipment crammed into a small passenger car and headed for Parkano, to Satakunta’s neighboring region of Pirkanmaa. At our first destination, The Forestry Museum of Parkano, we met our guide of the day, nature and recreation service provider Mr. Hannu Raitio, who introduced us the history of the forest industry from the rise of the sawmill industry in the 1860s to mechanization in the 1960s. He was professional and entertaining, and his personal experience and passion brought the stories to life.

The Forestry Museum and lake Kaidatvedet is a part of Lauhanvuori-Hämeenkangas UNESCO Global Geopark. The area of the Forestry Museum includes an exhibition hall, logging hut, sauna, horse stable and forestry machinery. There is also a nature trail, Messukallio cliff, beach, lean-to shelters, and campfire sites in the vicinity of the museum. Our guide introduced us to the premises and led us along the nature trail of “Gustav the Moose” to the magnificent place of devotion, Messukallio, where we had a snack break on a cliff honed by ice age.

Wellness and healing value of nature are growing in popularity as tourism trends. Studies show that nature promotes well-being in many ways, for example, it soothes the body and mind, relieves stress, and increases satisfaction. Spending time in nature improves perceived health status, enhances social cohesion, and supports physical activity. Our guide is a pioneer of the trend, as he is already familiar with the subject and has included relaxing wellness exercises into the day trip experience.

Text: Julia Alankoja

Photo: Maaria Berg

From relaxation and culture to the excitement of summer

We pass from the forest to SyVilla, a cottage located on the shore of a lake. There, we visited different spaces that make up SyVilla hosted by Hannu Raitio. There were two main buildings: in one were the rooms and in another the kitchen-dining room. Then we found different types of “cabins” dedicated to different spaces. For example, one was for the smoke sauna, in another there was a small dining room and in another a normal sauna. But not everything was buildings, it also has outdoor spaces where you can relax and make a campfire.

After visiting all the spaces, we proceeded to have lunch. We decided to do it in a kind of round glass cabin, since we found it very cozy and its views of the lake won us over. Lunch consisted of pasta salad, tomatoes and chicken casserole and to drink kotikalja (a home-made table beer) – what a delicacy!

After digesting, we proceeded to go to the water activities area, sauna and hot-tub. There we had a very fun time between SUP-Boarding falls, swimming and drifting with the canoes and row boating! Of course, the laughs were not lacking. After spending all our energy we spent a long time between the sauna and the hot tub, well… and Olli between beers too (0.0% of course). To finish completely relaxing, after a warm shower we went to another permise and had coffee and pastries.

At this time, we decided to carry out the feedback session, because once the entire product has been tested, it is the right time. We filled out a questionnaire made by SAMK EduTravel and together we gave our point of view and reached different agreements. During the session there is always someone who takes notes of what was said, because sometimes we say things that we have not written because we are inspired at that moment thanks to the opinion of another colleague.

Back to the office

In the office, a summary of what was exposed is made and uploaded to Teams, so that it is registered and everyone has access to it. The same process is for the visual material, which is then sent to the supplier, in this case Hannu Raitio, so that he can use it as well.

Testing a product is good for both parties, because in this way both can improve their services, both for other consumers and for those offered in cooperation between them. Hannu Raitio himself was not very convinced, but after finishing the feedback session he admitted that after that moment he understood what the purpose of this product testing is.

Text: Corina Morales

Photo: Maaria Berg

Old life experience in Kauppilan Umpipiha

For our Tourism Product and Experience Design course, we got a task to develop services for various rural places related to the Echoes Ecomuseum project. Our group got to work with Kauppilan umpipiha in Laitila. This place was completely unknown to us before the course – both for the Finnish and the Erasmus students in our group.

When we got to Kauppilan umpipiha, we discovered a mill, sheep, red barns, an interior court as well as a museum (which we unfortunately could not visit because it was already closed after summer).

Once there, we remembered our teacher’s advice and took the time to feel the sense of place. We sat down in the grass and let our senses guide us. We could hear the sheep and the wind in the foliage and the birds singing. We could also smell the old wood and grass. It was at this point that we began to realize the potential of this place!

Back at SAMK, and during the meetings with our group, ideas on how to develop the place quickly came to mind. We brainstormed for a long time to put all our ideas together and came up with three main ideas:

  • make an educational farm for children
  • renovate the museum part of the farm, and
  • create a traditional festival on the farm grounds.

    Eventually, we decided to concentrate more on a detailed planning of a festival that could be organized in Kauppilan umpipiha. The theme of the festival would be Return to the past. This theme would allow visitors to immerse themselves in the life of the 17th century. As soon as you would enter the festival, you would disconnect from the modern world and enter a very unique experience. In this festival, visitors could walk between the stalls of local craftsmen, dance and sing to traditional songs and have fun with typical Finnish games. Children could play with animals, get a face painting, or milk a cow. All these activities are small examples, but there would be many more to come. We also planned a drive-in cinema, which could attract many types of visitors.

Creating this experience as our course assignment was very exciting for us, and we were able to let our imagination run wild without too many constraints. We felt really free in our ideas!

Text: Marie-Amandine Moulin & Camille De Borman, exchange students from Haute École Galilée University of Applied Sciences in Belgium
Pics: Marie-Amandine Moulin

Designing tourism experiences: how to create something from nothing

The Echoes Ecomuseum project assigned the international tourism management students a group project for the course Tourism Product and Experience Design, including various assignments related to designing, implementing and developing tourism products and experiences.

Our group consisted of two degree students, Julia and Jere, as well as two Spanish exchange students, Paula and Marina. Sammallahdenmäki, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Rauma, was selected as our group’s project location, and the objective was to come up with an innovative tourism experience design there.

We started with visiting the destination together in order to come up with ideas and to evaluate the site. At the latest at this point we realized how challenging this project would be for us: not to belittle the historical value of the location, but for an average visitor like any of us, it was literally just a forest area with piles of stones. However, after brainstorming, planning, getting feedback, developing, and adding a little bit of imagination and creativity, we created our final experience design: an augmented reality tour into the Bronze Age in Sammallahdenmäki.

The designed experience is a guided journey into the past along the natural path from the comfort of your own home. Within the six stops on the 1,5-kilometer trail, the live guide will tell compelling stories about the hereditary value of the site and the livelihoods of the people of the past. The tour will be recorded in advance and there will be performers acting scenes to bring history to life. Overall, we also got good feedback on our concept.

We found this learning experience in general very interesting, as we have been able to analyze the current state and future needs of a place that only consists of a pile of rocks, and we have also been able to analyze all the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats in order to start creating the experience.

This final experience made us open our imagination to create an attractive and original experience and we liked doing this practice, as it is not easy to find the potential and opportunities for this place.

We believe that the idea we have come up with is the one that best suits our destination, as it can be used to great advantage, a plan for whole family without having to leave home and at same time learn about the history of a destination recognized by the UNESCO.

Augmented reality is a way of getting to know the most hidden – or not so hidden – places to people from all over the world, giving the places the value they deserve.

Text and pictures: Julia Alankoja and Jere Iivari, second year SAMK International Tourism Management students & exchange students Paula Carrion Serrano and Marina Marin Martin from Universidad de Málaga

Designing digital routes and the importance of testing

It is a cool and crispy morning in December. The sky is grey and dripping as our hardworking students make their way to Kirjurinluto in a happy mood. They are on their way to test their route produced as a course assignment in collaboration with DigiLuonto Satakunta project.

SAMK often provides different and interesting alternative projects for the students to work on. On the course Tourism Product and Experience Design, second year students of International Tourism Management were given an assignment to work on in collaboration with DigiLuonto and the Lauhanvuori-Hämeenkangas Geopark to produce themed routes for the region.

Throughout the whole project all groups had a chance to implement their creativity while doing their routes. That was a truly great opportunity! We not only got skills in creating, testing and bringing our ideas in life, but also had a lot of fun working in the assignment together!

At the end of the Autumn, we were told to test the route before finalizing the details. This proved crucial! Before the product can be published to consumers it must be tested in order to assess potential defects and improvements before it is released for commercial use.

Our themed route

Different student groups had been assigned with different interactive, themed trails to work on during this semester. These themes included aviation history, wellbeing, outdoors action and geology.  

Our group was in charge of creating a wellbeing route in Jämijärvi region. While doing this task, we managed to come up with a lot of creative activities which can be done throughout the route, for instance guided meditation, physical exercise like yoga in the forest, and creating art in nature such as drawing mandalas on the sand. The main concept is to connect yourself with the nature, get some relaxation from the big and noisy towns and generally have a great time.

The whole process was creative and fun! We went to Jämijärvi and wandered through the forests in order to catch the inspiration which could lead to thinking up new ideas. Although it was a long process, we didn’t feel bored – vice versa, we were encouraged doing this assignment, which we considered to be a very positive attitude.

The importance of testing

During the testing phase, we were facing some inconveniences with the product, and the application itself. The content was provided prior to the testing, but some parts of it could not yet be found in the application. But one needs to keep in mind the application is still being developed!

Because of the pandemic, a member of the group could not participate in the testing in person. That did not stop the innovative and hardworking students! They video called him to help him participate in this activity as well.

It is definitely important to test your route or it might not function up to the standards required by the customer. There may also be unexpected bugs and missing features which are essential in making the experience. Testing also helps you realize what is working, what is not working, does something need to be aaded, is it easily accessible or usable?

The activities we had designed within the digital points of interest were fun and active. Here in this picture you can see our group doing physical exercises within the route we are testing:

After testing for a while, we realized there are still some technical difficulties within the application, but regardless it is almost ready to be released into commercial usage. The content still may be improved to make the app as user friendly as possible, but it is almost ready.

Text: Kalle Kaseva and Kristian Surmai, second year students of International Tourism Management
Photos: Kalle Kaseva, Kristian Surmai, Ella Sten, Sina Khabbazi

Study visit to Lauhanvuori-Hämeenkangas Geopark

Quiet chatter fills the bus that is heading from Pori to Lauhanvuori-Hämeenkangas Geopark. Onboard is the International Tourism Management class NTO19, who have just started their second year of studies at Satakunta University of Applied Sciences. This study visit to the Geopark is part of their Tourism Product and Experience Design course.

Study visits to different kinds of companies and field-related events are very common in SAMK. For example, our class has visited the Sokos Hotel Vaakuna here in Pori and we also got the chance to visit Matka Nordic Travel Fair, which is organized annually in Helsinki. Study visits bring variation to normal schoolwork and give the students an opportunity to actually see and hear what it is like to work, for example, in a hotel. We also get to ask questions straight from the professionals and get experiences that we would never get in the classroom.

In SAMK we students get to participate in cooperating with the local entrepreneurs and businesses. It can be in the form of a guest lecturer, study visit or doing a project with them etc. Especially in tourism studies, this type of contact with the companies is important. This can help us to network already during our studies, gives us insights on what we could possibly do with our degree and valuable hands-on experience.  We get to work with real companies and give them our ideas and/or solutions. We get different kinds of ‘clients’ from different fields of tourism and a variety of assignments.

Assignment for the Geopark

This course assignment is for each team to design a themed trail in the Lauhanvuori-Hämeenkangas Geopark. We are supposed to use digital, experiential, and interactive content as part of the experience. The content could be anything from photos (old and new), videos, texts, audios, quizzes, games, stories (historical or fictional), etc. Only the sky and imagination is the limit here. These types of assignments are always fun because while they give us the frame it also gives us a lot of freedom to use our imagination and creativity. The different themes are aviation history, wellbeing, outdoors, and geology.

In order to accommodate the needs of the customer, we needed to know more about them so after a tasty lunch we gathered into a conference room to hear more about the themes and the park itself. First, we got to hear about the interesting aviation history that the area holds. It dates back all the way to the 1930s when Suomen Kuvalehti held a competition to find the best location for a new airfield and Soininharju Ridge won. For decades Jämijärvi was one of the pioneers of the Finnish aviation industry and even in the world.

After this Terttu Hermanson, Executive Manager of Lauhanvuori-Hämeenkangas Geopark, told us more about the park itself. Lauhanvuori-Hämeenkangas Geopark covers 5 000 km2 and reaches 10 municipalities. There are also 40 000 inhabitants living in the area. Within the perimeter, there are 52 geosites, 100 cultural sites and 39 natural sites. These sites range from rock formations to churches and bogs to farms.

UNESCO recognition

Lauhanvuori-Hämeenkangas Geopark is one of the 161 UNESCO Global Geoparks that can be found in 44 different countries. They are defined as ”single unified geological areas where sites and landscapes of international geological significance are managed with a holistic concept of protection, education and sustainable development” (Website of UNESCO, 2020)

This means that the park is ‘not only about the rocks’. They are promoting geotourism, preserving the area, teaching networking and co-operation and much more. Lauhanvuori-Hämeenkangas is the second Global Geopark in Finland and only got its designation a few months ago (July 2020). UNESCO recognition gives the park visibility and peer support.

DigiLuonto Satakunta is a project organized by Turku School of Economics and Tampere University. Its target areas are rural sectors in the Satakunta region. DigiLuonto aims to develop smart destinations. The goal of this project is to “increase accessibility, real-time interactivity and destination attractiveness for new target groups by digitally augmenting the existing tourism destination resources with enriched experience contents, activities, and open data.”

Let’s get to work!

After a short walk outside our class returned to the conference room and was set to work. Our first task was to come up with at least one idea for each given trail theme. This way no one had to start their assignment from a blank paper. When everyone had given their ideas and thoughts we split into four groups and started to develop the ideas further. After some time we presented our new ideas for the trails to our class and got some feedback and suggestions on how to continue with our plans. The last task we had on our trip was to write a group work plan and also present it.

After a full day our class returned to Pori full of new ideas and ready to set to work for the coming months. Some headed back home, while others headed to the initiation of the first year tourism students. But such is student life at SAMK: busy, eventful, and fun!

We will see what this semester, and the course, will bring us and we will definitely keep you updated.

Text: Milla Ruonala and Roosa Rantanen, second year students of International Tourism Management
Pictures: Roosa Rantanen