First impressions count. A statement that without a doubt applies to new employees starting a new job, and how they will perceive their team, managers, and organisation as a whole. They’ll have an initial picture built up based on the recruitment process and their own research. But it is only during the onboarding process that they get their first “real” view into the company: the first exposure to other people they are likely to be working with, to the true corporate culture and to some of the more practical aspects of their new day to day life. The early days of their new working journey and the experiences within it will shape their feelings and attitudes towards their role and future with the company or organisation. So, if they aren’t being made to feel excited, engaged and inspired from day 1, it will inevitably impact their engagement and loyalty, their willingness to stay long term and how they speak about their experience to others.

At some point we have all had to sit through monotonous, repetitive and disengaging training or learning modules when starting a new role – PowerPoint presentations and ice breakers – and 58% of organisations studied admit their onboarding programmes revolve solely around processes and paperwork. Can this really be the best first impression to give someone who you’re looking to develop into a productive, happy employee and ambassador for the brand?

Even more timely and relevant is the need for onboarding programmes to be agile and flexible enough to adapt to the changing work circumstances many of us have found ourselves in. Over 1/3 of the UK workforce are now working from home (up 10% between 2019 and 2020), and with 85% of those stating their expectation to move towards a more hybrid approach in the near future, it seems that organisational practices and approaches will increasingly need to be more inclusive of disparate or disjointed teams.

This is precisely where technology can step in to transform onboarding programmes and processes into experiences that guide employees through informative, impactful learning journeys wherever they’re joining from. While simultaneously helping individuals feel immersed within the organisation and aligned with culture and values from day 1. Irrespective of whether they’re in the office, starting remote, or separated from peers, managers and their physical working environment.

These experiences should be curated to ensure employees leave their onboarding period feeling well equipped and motivated to embark on and make successes of their new roles. Bauer et al state in their research that by this point, employees should have achieved four key objectives for the best chance of ongoing success:

  1. Role clarity: employees understand their role, expectations within it, how to perform in order to achieve expected results
  2. Self-efficacy; employees feel confident in their ability to perform and contribute
  3. Social integration: employees feel connected, valued & trusted
  4. Knowledge of organisational culture; employees understanding and adjusting to company politics, social norms such as language, goals, values and history

So, how do we implement these objectives in a way that’s accessible, impactful, enjoyable and sustainable?

Digital Onboarding, With a Difference

Games and gamification are already being utilised in the attraction phases of recruitment, with games being created to simulate everything from a day in the life of a new employee to testing an employee’s soft skills.

Following that trend into the employment phase of an employee’s journey, we can make use of gamification to create unique and engaging experiences that keep them informed and interested up to and during their first few months of employment.

Creating these kinds of experiences takes time and expertise, balancing the needs and culture of the company with needs of the new employee.

We consider these weeks and months as a quest, creating a structure around what they need to learn and understand early on. Each stage or level of the quest represents new knowledge and experiences that will help them to learn. Focusing on intrinsic motivation, we choose mechanics that support the employees with social connectedness, education and goals to focus on, all in an environment that promotes exploration and discovery at their own pace. To this we this we add mini-games and interactive learning materials all tied together with interesting narratives and storylines. This gives the individuals reasons to want to continue rather than just knowing they have to continue.

Weaving in these dynamics and elements enhance the overall experience significantly, and research shows these types of great onboarding programmes and solutions can lead to higher retention rates, with some studies stating as much as 69% higher retention after 3 years.

Right now, as we focus more and more on digital transformation and open our minds to new and improved ways of working, there is a key opportunity to stop relying on default or traditional methods, simply because “that’s how it’s always been done.”

At a time when people have not been able to get out and about with much ease, locations, venues, destinations and organisations dependent on attracting visitors have understandably suffered. Of all the sectors profoundly affected in the last year by the COVID-19 crisis, the hospitality, tourism and culture sector has potentially felt the sting the most.

On a global scale, tourism is the third-largest export category (after fuels and chemicals) and in 2019 accounted for 7% of global trade. Taken from the UNWTO Secretary General’s brief of the unprecedented economic impact of COVID-19, as many as 100 million direct tourism jobs are at risk, including associated industries such as accommodation and food services that provide employment for 144 million workers worldwide. Small businesses (which shoulder 80% of global tourism) are particularly vulnerable.

Within the UK, a Historic England survey on the effects of COVID-19 on the sector, 76% of respondents reported lost business in the short term and 58% had postponed or cancelled income-generating events due to the Coronavirus pandemic. Meanwhile in the three months leading up to June 2020, the arts and entertainment industry saw a nearly 45% reduction in GDP, leading to nearly 70% of workers being furloughed.

Facing the stark impact, the immediate priority is to boost competitiveness and build resilience. In order to strengthen and begin to recover momentum, many groups and organisations will be looking at economic diversification and promotion of domestic and regional tourism where possible. Experts believe this will need to involve advancing innovation and digital transformation, including investment in digital skills and exploration of digital solutions to preserve and promote work and experiences across industries, as well as a means of adapting to what could be a slow return to previous activity.

The question is not just how to reopen. As governments contemplate phased approaches, for some opening as before may not be possible or may not provide the much-needed injection of activity and revenue for a fast recovery. We will most likely be looking at slow progress to avoid the problematic booms that provoke subsequent restrictions. Consequently, many will need to consider alternative experiences or services to bolster their offering, different ways to carefully reconnect with communities, supporters and members, and either reassuring outreach or vastly innovative engagement to attract and appeal to a wide range of attitudes and emotions. Or even a combination of all of the above.

The challenge that continues to weigh on most minds is when people cannot physically come to you, how do you – as a site or destination or city – bring your offering to them? In a hugely competitive market, the pressure is on to do something amazing and do it right, or else face abandonment or rejection. How can you provide valuable, meaningful but exciting experiences that people may be willing to pay for or donate towards as a way to stay afloat, nurture advocacy, and attract participation? The answer may require some strategizing, but by applying imagination and innovation, the results could outlast the current crisis and even provide some futureproofing for a sector already rich in inspiration and attraction.

Experiences and Engagement

Let us perhaps start with an easier set of questions: how can we easily reach large audiences? How can we make sure what we create is easily adaptable and even repeatable? The answer is probably already at your fingertips right now. Technology is more powerful, flexible and accessible than ever before, with improvements and new devices and platforms arriving every day. There are more ways to get closer to end users or consumers. More insight into needs and expectations, more possibilities to translate experiences to screens – either wide or palm-sized. And audiences are more than ready to try new ideas. In the UK Gov Digital is Future 2018 survey, 30.6% of adults had participated in some form of digital culture (defined as visiting websites or apps). 60% of consumers reported that they believed experientialism (the use of large-scale projections, holograms, virtual reality or augmented reality) had already become the future of events. Epson’s research “The Experiential Future”, points to how immersive and experiential elements could be the future of retail outlets and the high street with 67% of Millennials more likely to shop in-store if there was an experiential element included, followed by 65% of Generation Z, 58% of Generation X and 52% of Baby Boomers.

These shifts in attitude demonstrate that more audiences are coming to expect technology as a primary vehicle for connecting, promoting, communicating. The next important step is in mastering how to make those digital experiences last longer than a few ephemeral seconds, designing instead to hook consumers, captivate hearts and minds, and nurture lasting, emotional connections through a variety of methods.

When looking to apply this across tourism, hospitality or culture, we need to take into account the expectations of today’s tourists or consumers. In the current situation many organisations find themselves in, the objective is to reignite sparks across different audience groups to get people excited, engaged and feel encouraged, to help kick-start the sector again. How can you influence attitudes to make people who were hoping for a holiday abroad feel equally excited about a staycation? How can you communicate information to reassure around safety measures? What extra incentives are dotted across your offering to draw people back? Or how do you provide a great experience to someone who is not yet comfortable with or able to leave their home or area?

Tourism, or tourism-adjacent products and services are already experiential by nature. The essence of tourism is the development and delivery of experiences to people who wish to see, understand, and experience different destinations or the way people live, work, and enjoy life in those destinations (Ritchie, Tung, & Ritchie, 2011). Given the evaluative and recommendation-based aspects to the sector, tourism organisations (hotels, airlines, booking platforms, destinations, etc) began extensively implementing Customer Engagement strategies in one form or another long before COVID-19, to engage with their customers at various stages of ‘consumption’ (pre, during, post). By looking at it through a Customer Engagement lens, organisations are able to extend the visitor experience beyond the service or visit to provide multiple opportunities to have a positive and meaningful influence on consumer attitudes and behaviour, and create a lasting connection. The same way retail brands look to increase footfall, advocacy, loyalty, and revenue through carefully curated Customer Engagement and Experience strategies, similar principles can work or at least be adapted across tourism. Whether you’re browsing for a new pair of trainers or looking for something different to do this weekend, as a consumer you will naturally turn to your preferred device and surf for the winning product or service that speaks to you – that helps you picture yourself enjoying the end result, that stands for similar values, that provides a seamless browsing experience, that sends relevant, personalised communications when you exchange information, that gives you that value-add feeling. Developing experiences to attract the Digital Tourist, the focus should be the same – considering the end users’ needs or expectations and designing them into the heart of whatever experience or offering you create.

For digital solutions, from virtual reality to 360-degree photographic tours, there are a wealth of options available to the likes of museums, libraries and tourist attractions. However, is recreating the visual in the virtual enough? When you visit a museum, it is a visceral experience, with all of your senses being treated to sights, sounds and smells. You can touch objects, interact with exhibits, listen to the stories behind them and more.

Poorly implemented or irrelevant technology could make all that magic fall flat. However, interweaving an intuitive and attractive design, and integrated, rich user-centric strategy to capture hearts and minds of all backgrounds and interests, different digital functionalities and solutions can help people truly live the experience – and even relive it time and time again.

While you may not be able to touch the skin of a dinosaur via your phone at home, but you can see it come to life and roam through prehistoric jungles. You can listen to a narrator explain to you how they lived, whilst watching them hunt. You can take control of them and explore on your own, discovering new facts as you go. The experience is translated and enhanced, becoming richer and more meaningful than just a marketing tool to raise your profile.

So, what can you weave into the story you want to tell?

Narratives, Story Telling and Game Design

Designing experiences that focus on strong storytelling can take your users on a journey that is engaging, entertaining and educational. They are elements that allow people to fully immerse themselves in a situation and detach themselves from the daily routines, distractions or even restrictions in their own real world. As a design feature, they really help participants get the most out of both the experience and are a proven method to help improve learning and wider engagement.

Within arts, culture, heritage, tourism and hospitality, storytelling becomes a match made in heaven given there is ample material or existing characters to seek inspiration from. Narratives encourage exploration in both virtual and real spaces; for example, creating intrigue to draw people to different areas of a city, or enticing them off the beaten track to hidden gems. There are even ways to make the participants the protagonists by providing tools to create their own stories, such as sharing their adventures with others on micro-blogging sites like Medium and Instagram, helping to promote and advocate for the experience.

Though story-telling and narratives lend themselves well to the sector, there are many elements of game design that can be woven into creating exciting and engaging experiences. Setting missions that require users to visit (physically or remotely) locations to move the narrative on or earn some kind of reward can drive users to visit new and unexplored places. Providing opportunities to win prizes can keep users coming back. Adding “multiplayer” like social elements, such as group tasks, can create a sense of community allowing them to share their experiences and help each other, without necessarily being physically near each other.

Picture inviting visitors for weekend missions where by downloading an app, they have the chance to immerse themselves in the life of a well known author, setting them missions or challenges that take them around their birthplace, encouraging collaboration and friendly competition, blending quizzes based on their well-known tales with facts from their own life story – and blending local businesses and destinations with the participant’s journey. Visitors leave with more knowledge and appreciation for the area, and the sense of having done much more than just sightseeing.


Immersive Exploration & Virtual Reality

In some ways the pandemic propelled interest in VR and gave it a chance to shake off perceptions of it just being a passing fad or gimmick. Trapped in the four walls of our homes, Virtual Reality is one of the truest definitions of escapism and as it becomes more accessible, the potential continues to grow. There are games to give you a cardio rush, traditional games that engage you in missions and quests, but there are a growing number of experiences that utilise the medium as a way to blend learning, exploration and immersion with more emphasis on ‘reality’. And many feel it is here that the concept of a digital (or virtual) tourist has the potential to flourish into something exciting.

Various destinations have started showcasing locations and attractions through VR in recent years to diversify their marketing approaches. Groups such as the German National Tourist Board adopted VR as a marketing tool, raising the profile of its attractions and piquing interest as they take Oculus Rift viewers on 360º video tours across the country. It is arguably a more competitive approach to garnering interest, but the impact VR can have as a marketing tool that converts fun videos into ROI is still yet to be seen. What is evident is the demand that exists, combined with people’s need to explore – albeit virtually for now. Searches related to “virtual tours” have grown globally by over 500% year over year suggesting people may even prefer alternatives to in-person tours until they feel safe or ready again.

The benefit of developing technological solutions such as VR is that, if done well to ensure adoption and usage, they can be a cost-effective and powerful way to help clients feel more comfortable and more willing to travel. From a practical point of view, VR can be highly effective for learning settings.  For cities, airlines and airports, hotels, or larger organisations looking to incentivise travellers, VR experiences can help set expectations and improve understanding before they go to book anything, for instance explaining to users what health and safety measures are now in place to keep them comfortable. For specific destinations, such as museums or similar tourist attractions, VR could bring an experience to life for people not yet ready to leave the comfort of home but who are missing that sense of adventure or discovery. Virtual Reality as a design mechanic has great potential, but on its own all you are really showing is an immersive video experience. By adding motivational and behavioural design to it, you can create something that truly hooks the imagination and interest of participants.

Imagine visiting a virtual library, where you can not only read the books on the shelves, but you can hear from their authors, learn how the book came to be, what got left out, what they might have changed.

You can take the design much further, by creating video or live-action role-play games that add to a visitor or users overall enjoyment of their experience. These could be stand-alone games designed to attract people or fully integrated to augment the existing physical or virtual experiences.
When you open the book in the libraries app, the characters could come to life – playing out the story in front of you and then offering you a chance to decide how the story branches. Do you follow the original narrative, or make changes and see how the ending is altered?

All of this is made possible with the use of the right technology and an understanding of where it is appropriate to use it. Not only does this open up attractions to wider audiences, for example bringing museums into classrooms around the world for interactive lessons, but it also creates an opportunity for augmented and enhanced physical experiences when visitors are once again allowed to come through the doors.



Personalisation and User Centricity

Finally, but possibly most importantly, personalisation. As we come out of various lockdowns and restrictions to our lives, something we will likely want more of is control of how we enjoy our new freedom. When this comes to what we are going to do with our spare time, it is an opportunity for attractions to provide something different and interesting for potential visitors and tourists, physical or virtual, by offering as much flexibility and personalisation of the experience as possible.

The development of apps that work as virtual tour guides, offering location-based tips on exciting sights to visit near them will give visitors the chance to start to build their own custom tours and outings. You can then allow users to choose the types of exhibits or attractions they are interested in and further personalise their experience by only suggesting things that fit those preferences.

Make it as easy as possible for people to find an experience that they may enjoy by offering related recommendations or creating easily navigable apps or websites that can take their preferences and offer focused suggestions. Even before the pandemic, up to 83% of customers felt that said they felt brands should offer them suggestions based on their personal preferences.

More than “A Day Out”

Post COVID-19, people will naturally want to get out more and travel again but may well be nervous of doing so. At the same time, those leading within the culture, tourism and hospitality sector will be determined to revive activity and re-establish some form of normality and security for thousands of organisations, destinations and venues. It will be a huge challenge, but simultaneously could be a grand opportunity for the industry to showcase just what they have on offer for a range of interests, needs and abilities.

In the UK alone, when asked what type of vacation they expect to take in the next 12 months 38% of respondents said they now expected to take a domestic vacation and 20% expected to take a staycation in their local area (Google Trends 2020). There have also been shifts in consumer demand around the specific location of domestic vacations. While demand for beach destinations has remained consistently high, in August this year, UK searches for ‘country holiday’ surpassed the term ‘city break’ for the first time in over 10 years. The desire and appetite for escapes, exploration and relaxation is undoubtedly there, but collectively we need to be ready to navigate and adapt to new expectations. Creating alterative, parallel, or more accessible experiences as part of a support network will be imperative to help the sector create momentum again in the long run. Designed with long lasting engagement in mind, they will also have the capacity to futureproof against any more bumps the road ahead brings. Designed with users in mind, you’re creating experiences that will be more diverse and inclusive and accessible than ever before.

The use of the right technology can support all stages of accessibility as we all initially emerge from lockdowns or get used to new circumstances and habits. Digital can play a powerful role in feeding the need for exploration, learning, inspiration, excitement, and can step in to fill in gaps across experiences, keep connections and channels open for broader communities, and can empower the brilliant teams behind some of our beloved destinations, projecting the stories they have to tell to all who are ready to listen.


No matter what the job is most workers and employees will need to go through training, learning and development in some form at some point. It will vary drastically between sectors amongst other factors but generally it can be split into three distinct categories: mandatory (for example, health and safety or IT security), career related (project management), and personal development (communication and presentation skills). In the corporate world learning has received more pronounced attention (and subsequently investment in many cases) from executive and people teams in recent years, especially as demand for learning opportunities builds with each new generation entering the workforce, and with more readily available opportunities to demonstrate upskilling across your career. Scan the careers section on LinkedIn and you will spot ‘learning’ playing an integral role in many organisations EVP, or just being an essential compliance piece for effective employees.

However along with demand, expectations are also growing. Organisations are eager to stay relevant and keep their employee experience offering innovative, but so often people keep circling back to LMS platforms with no personalisation or personality. You can only reinvent the same content or processes so many times, and L&D professionals today find themselves in a battle for people’s attention in a world that has had to move so many events and strategies entirely online. Equipped with all the benefits of technology, but perhaps still facing a delay until we can have face-to-face sessions again, how can we reinvigorate and enable L&D to ensure participation, commitment, and engagement?

Video is King?

Video has long been the first step for online learning settings, and it is particularly useful when virtually replicating what otherwise would be happening in a classroom based or face to face environment. Quick videos suit the attention span of today’s learner, and conferencing helps encourage connecting and collaborating across locations. There are plenty of advantages that video content can bring to the professional world. It has the potential to be delivered at any time often on any device, it can be made bite sized, it can be made collaborative, autonomous, virtual, the possibilities only grow with technological advancements. But in the same breath, so does video exhaustion. Zoom has seen a growth from 10 million meeting participants per day to over 300 million per day since the start of January 2020. It has been used for everything from virtual coffee mornings to delivering webinars. Whilst the online move was vital for the events space and has shown great lengths of creativity behind L&D, even by the second month of lockdown many were feeling saturated, facing webinar overload, and most concerningly worrying about the potential impact on career progression and stagnation over time.

Video undoubtedly does enable more dynamic content production, but it doesn’t always allow for inter-personal or spontaneous moments that develop naturally in person and this has been noticed profoundly since lockdown. Conferencing and video both have a tendency to fall flat when it comes to personal and professional development. Individuals are lacking the communication and collaboration required to thrive, develop, and pick up those soft skills from being immersed in a physical environment with others. It can feel hard for people to feel like they’re progressing, learning, or on track with their development when it’s just them and their screen all day every day, they’re having to prove their skills and aptitude purely online. This is where a balance between technology and human interaction becomes important. There are plenty of digital solutions to connect A to B or carry messaging. To support people’s innate drive for relatedness, autonomy, mastery and purpose any implemented technology needs to facilitate experiences that address and interpret the core needs of the people involved.

People need more of a hook with compelling content in order to build engagement and commitment to the learning path.

Not Just Playing Games

A 2019 survey found that 83% of the respondents receiving gamified training felt motivated, versus only 28% for those undertaking non-gamified training. When gamified elements were added to training, boredom dropped to 10%. And although integrating gamification into training or L&D isn’t new: right now, there is a great opportunity to delve further into its possibilities.

Think about traditionally content heavy training: we have all been faced with reading through pages upon pages of health and safety, corporate rules and regulation training that is often difficult to absorb. Translating this content into a virtual gamified experience has been show to be a particularly effective approach for helping to deliver consistent experiences in a way that employees can ‘digest’ easily, interpret

That said, hesitations around gamifying experiences is understandable, particularly when trying to deliver essential or meaningful training, such as how to improve communication or diversity awareness. But gamification doesn’t always just make something fun. It can be a stimulating element for ensuring learning transfer, through more meaningful recognition techniques, visualising progress, or simply by integrating levels or tutorials to help people find their feet on a new course. In the absence of face to face training, simulation and scenario-based training can be a great substitute, especially with the advent of more affordable technologies such as Virtual Reality. Applicable for more practical roles when you’re not yet able to put skills to the test in reality, like practising beauty treatments or developing trade related skills safely. This kind of immersive approach can be used for this by putting people in realistic, but safe situations – just like you would in a role play in face to face training, but without the nervous laughs and self-consciousness. When considering VR, research shows that the added movement associated with being able to move your head and even arms can increase a participant’s feeling of empathy during the experience, which can make a huge difference for people in customer facing positions. Or as part of recreating or simulating everyday experiences within a virtual environment, participants can create avatars to explore content, courses and locations, in a much more direct way.

Once you lift the experience from the classroom, the opportunities and approaches are endless. So whether it’s recreating a training event on a group video call, developing and providing a gamified experience or a virtual world: the common denominator in what will make each approach successful is the focus on making it an engaging experience, made accessible to potentially all employees irrespective of location. It might not be a full replacement for everyone being in a room together, but it’s certainly one step closer, and a way that training, L&D can be provided more naturally. Still providing something insightful, engaging and valuable yet is capable of evolving with changing circumstances and requirements. And not forgetting, providing an element of fun along the way!