Experiential Tourism; Your Place is Your Product

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Experiential tourism is simple: “Great places to live are great places to visit”, James Dion, Sustainable Tourism Program Manager at National Geographic Maps said.

James Dion talked about experiential tourism in terms of "geotourism" and "geotravellers" at Mekong Tourism Forum 2016.

National Geographic’s James Dion talked about experiential tourism in terms of “geotourism” and “geotravellers” at Mekong Tourism Forum 2016.

And the best travel advice comes from the people who live there, he said as he delivered a presentation about “Experiential Tourism” during Mekong Tourism Forum 2016, July 6.

“Product is place,” Mr Dion said. “Protect it.”

Poor management can destroy a sense of place and can lead to the objectification of culture, however some destinations have taken control of their image. Mr Dion cited some examples:

  • The old city of Toledo, Spain has restricted new development and tightened residency and property laws. From afar Toledo’s skyline has barely changed from centuries ago. And modern Spanish lives play out in storied homes and alleyways.
  • In Chattanooga, Tennessee, initiatives to make the city more livable for Chatanoogans have attracted a boom in visitor arrivals.
  • Romania, keen to move on from its image as the home of Count Dracula, has developed a brighter and friendlier public face by shining more light on its rich culture and heritage.


National Geographic advocates, and is attempting to facilitate, “geotourism” which it defines as “tourism that sustains or enhances the distinctive geographical character of a place—its environment, heritage, aesthetics, culture, and the well-being of its residents”.

Mr Dion told delegates that geotourism is achievable by identifying uniqueness, developing it if necessary, marketing it—telling the stories of your place (“local voices inspire global audiences”)—and sustaining it.

Indicators of successful geotourism are an emphasis on quality not quantity, length of stay, yield, an equitable distribution of income, and a sustained sense of pride of place.


“Geotravellers” comprise the natural target market for geotourism destinations, Mr Dion said, before highlighting who American geotravellers were:

  • In the US, geotravellers include 55.1 million generation X-ers aged 43-55 who are educated, with a high disposable income, and take more than four leisure trips per year.
  • US geotravellers also include 75.4 million millennials whose digital lives have more in common with Chinese millennials than their real lives have with their older compatriots. Only 54% of millennials own a TV, for example, yet practically all of them have a computer and/or a mobile device.

Experiences are important

Geotravellers are active and more willing to go outside their comfort zones for adventure, culture, food etc, yet they want to stay connected, Mr Dion said.

In spending $350 more per person than other travellers, geotravellers want to feel renewed or positively impacted by their travels. And they can be alternately budget and luxury travellers depending on their mood.

National Geographic’s online geotravel tools are available to destinations as a not-for-profit “development assistance model”.

The Mekong Tourism Coordinating Office (MTCO) welcomes contributions from experts and writers on the subject of experiential tourism. Click here to discover more about our contributor program.

Presentations from Mekong Tourism Forum 2016 are available for download here.

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