To create new and interesting products in tourism, companies need to cultivate an environment in which creativity can flourish. Ai Vuong, Creative Director at Clickable, talks through three simple steps to beneficial and productive innovation.

In today’s environment of social media ubiquity, experiential tourism, and multiple players, tourism companies need to be creative in order to compete. Vietnam’s tourism companies can’t just rely solely on never-seen-before destinations or rock-bottom prices anymore. If they want to thrive, they need to innovate.

But what does this word even mean? Although there are various definitions, innovation is simply significant positive change.

“There are no new tours to be invented,” laments Torsten Edens, Country Director of Go Beyond Thailand. “The structure of tours will generally remain the same: a village delta tour will be a village delta tour no matter what. But the real innovation will be in the elements of the tour: the transportation, the order. Reinvent what you put into the tours.”

Mekong Delta, Vietnam. Photo credit: Bien Nguyen

So, how can tourism companies create significant positive change within those confines? You can start by adapting these global practices of innovation to your tourism product:


1. Understand Your Market

Innovation starts from a deep understanding of your customers – knowing exactly who it is you are targeting for your tours.

Not all tourists were created equal. A French tourist, for example, might be looking to explore historical influences due to a long history between France and Vietnam. A Canadian or Australian tourist might be looking for an entirely different experience, not to mention domestic tourists.

Speaking broadly about the Western market, Torsten advises that what is lacking in Vietnam is the true understanding of what Westerners want. 80% of tourists in Vietnam are Asian tourists, but the industry shouldn’t forget about the lucrative 20% that remains. Ask yourselves what different markets want – it won’t always be the same.

Segmenting your tourism products for specific markets will make a difference, and will be the first step to innovation.


2. Elicit Empathy

Once you’ve gotten a firm understanding of who your customer is, you can begin to elicit empathy.

Professor Jeffrey Sanchez-Burks of the University of Michigan defined empathy as a means of taking a different perspective, and paying attention to verbal and nonverbal cues. Empathy, therefore, means observing customers in context of the tours and trying to experience the tours exactly the way they would.

“When travelers regale of their journeys, they don’t talk about the sites or the hotels,” says Torsten, “They talk about local interactions that they had. The tour guides that took them around. The local Red Dao girl who speaks amazing English.”

Go that extra mile to experience your tours the way tourists would experience it: lug a heavy 70L backpack or bring 3 other family members along. Eliciting empathy will bring profound insights into what customers need – and want.

A red Dao woman. Photo credit: Bien Nguyen

3. Adopt a beginner’s mindset

A beginner, or a stranger, will have an inherent curiosity and wonder when discovering something new. “Disrupting a market demands exploration of new possibilities,” cites Mike O’Toole, President of PJA Advertising in a Forbes article.

Empathy leads you to view the same situations from a fresh perspective, new eyes; thus, a beginner’s mindset.

For most local tour operators, Torsten notes that it’s hard to notice the uniqueness of the destinations, as they live within that reality every day. For example, he recalls with fondness a fishing village in Nghi Tam Street in Hanoi that has been there for hundreds of years. While he sees something special about the village, he differentiates that most other locals don’t look at it from a touristic aspect.

Knowing that you should innovate is easy, but embarking on the process of innovation can prove a little more challenging. Innovating tourism in Vietnam begins with these first three steps.

This content is also available in: Vietnamese

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