In recent years, adventure learning companies have focused on quantity versus quality in regards to their programs. As a trip leader, I’ve seen it too often.
In a rush to increase destination offerings, for a wider audience, many of the experiences are often not in context with the purpose of the trip. The result is that after a week-long program the guest remembers they participated in some fun things, but are not exactly sure how they grew as a person. If they cannot successfully answer this, then how is your company unique? And, why should they return?
An easy way to help guests grow, and nurture them for joining future trips, is to keep all of the travel program’s experiences in context with a big idea. In short, what is the big idea you want your guests/participants to remember? Think of a big idea as a unifying theme for the trip. All of the site visits, excursions, and explorations on the trip should gravitate around this big idea.
It is very easy to build a program around generic information, which is what most tourism companies do (see photo below). It is more challenging to design an adventure learning travel program around a unifying message where all of the experiences (walks, food, guest speakers, site visits, etc) are in context with a big idea. When travel experiences are in context, guests remember they had fun, but also their discoveries.
All program managers at learning/adventure travel companies wrestle with how best to design quality programs. The most common approach is to think of a subject or a destination (as fire, central Oregon, or Crater Lake) and build the program around it. This seems simple enough, yet themes are a continuous source of frustration, ambiguity, and pain. I’ve seen friends and co-workers, who are solid program managers, struggle with themes that never effectively come together into a cohesive whole.
The problem arises because themes are thought of as things or destinations (nouns). Themes should be thought of being actions (verbs).
A multi-day program built around a topic of “fire” now becomes the theme, “Discover how fire helps forge every aspect of our life (sub-themes include: homes/communities, food preparation, entertainment, arts, places we play, and our survival).”
A week-long bus/hiking/rafting program with a topic of the “Seven Wonders of Oregon” transforms into a theme of, “Exploring Oregon’s dynamic geology allows for first-hand discovery and connection to one of the most fundamental forces of nature – in both its creative and destructive roles.”
An active hiking program with a topic of “Exploring Crater Lake” evolves into the theme, “Crater Lake’s breathtaking beauty, seasonal weather extremes, and distinguishing natural and cultural features, combined with a variety of recreational opportunities, provide visitors with abundant chances for discovery, reflection, and inspiration.”
Another way of thinking about a theme is to answer, “What is the big idea I want participants to remember?” Creating a theme in this light focus all of the activities and interactions around a single idea; it helps the program designer and the trip leaders focus on what is relevant while bringing the program to life.