Today’s travelers expect a unique experience, one that grabs them on a gut level: a genuine once-in-a-lifetime, you-are-there event they can’t wait to post on social media.
“Travelers are prioritizing experiences that can teach them something new and open their eyes — meaning that hospitality brands and accommodations need to shift how they attract and appeal to guests.” –AirBNB
Tour operators who think of their destination as an experience will attract the lion’s share of business in a crowded tourist market. So, what sets your tour apart and makes the competition irrelevant? Use all your senses and engage your visitors in a way they will never forget.
Think of toddlers exploring their first county fair. How they grin when they catch sight of a rainbow-colored carousel! How they hop in time to the pipe organ. Put them on a wooden horse and their hands go to the cool, smooth brass pole and the ridges of the carved mane. Set them on the ground again and they follow their noses toward the delicious aroma of the food stalls. Tomorrow they may not remember a single detail of what they did, but they’ll never forget the sensory overload of new tastes, colors, sounds, textures, and fragrances.
Visitors Remember Your Tour with All 5 Senses
As adults, we may have outgrown the merry-go-round, but we still crave an exciting adventure that takes us to new places. New and memorable experiences are hot-wired to our five senses, the most direct link to our emotions and memories. Think of the smell of your mother’s kitchen or the sound of your best friend’s voice. The most authentic experience you can provide your visitors is one that appeals to their hearts by way of their eyes, ears, nose, mouth, and skin.
Open Their Eyes
Say you’re taking a bus tour of a major city, and the audio commentary says,
On the right, you’ll see our farmer’s market.
What if you’re sitting on the left side of the bus? What if you’re vision-impaired, or taking a night tour?
Visitors in a moving vehicle will never be able to see or recognize every point of interest. But strong visual descriptions can bring a scene to life. Look at what you’re describing as if you’d never seen it before. What catches your eye immediately? What can’t you see until someone points it out?
Just ahead we’ll pass a bright green sign that says, “Howard County Farmer’s Market…Since 1979.” Every weekday morning, all 35 rows of wooden booths fill up with vendors selling the freshest local meat and dairy, as well as fruit and vegetables brimming with earthy, aromatic flavors.
With just a few words to guide your eye, you’ve seen that farmer’s market.
Rich visual description can even show visitors the invisible. In St. Augustine, Florida, Ancient City Walking Tours brought the swank Gilded Age architecture of the Ponce de Leon Hotel to life by placing listeners into a historical scene, allowing them to imagine themselves as elite guests at the hotel during its heyday.
Delight their Ears
Visitors don’t read your tour—they hear it. If your tour sounds like your destination and speaks with your voice, you can create an unforgettable experience. Think how carefully you listen to every sound in a new place…especially in the dark. Singapore’s Night Safari includes dark places for the animals to hide, making the experience less stressful. The audio tour uses natural sound effects to encourage visitors to locate animals using their other senses, especially hearing.
We have an immediate emotional response to everything we hear, especially the sound of voices. Carefully chosen, professionally produced voices, sound effects, and music tell a story beyond words. They add atmosphere and personality. They tug at the heartstrings and tickle the funny bone. Some places even call out for a musical soundtrack, like Memphis blues or New Orleans jazz.
Put the Scene at Their Fingertips
In some tours, visitors don’t get to touch many things, so the commentary needs to stand in for their fingers and toes. Describe tactile sensations, from running their hands over marble to walking on cobblestones in the rain. If you want to evoke the thrill of skydiving, describe how the pit of the stomach feels right before the jump.
Evoking the sense of touch through words takes creativity. The PARIS CityVISION children’s audio tour features two animal narrators, a prim poodle, and a naughty French bulldog. On a blazing Parisian summer day, younger visitors remember the heat and humidity even after they climb aboard the air-conditioned tour coach. That sensation inspired a vignette about jumping into a fountain: a pleasure forbidden to people, but not to pampered Parisian dogs!
Tickle Their Noses
Can you remember the scent of your grandmother’s cologne or the school chalk your elementary teacher used? If you smelled them today, you’d be flooded with memories and emotions. Look for opportunities to wield the power of the human olfactory lobe in your tour, whether you’re pointing out the spicy aroma of an Indian food market or the delicate perfume of a rose garden.
And if something reeks, don’t be polite. Make it part of your tour—especially if you’re talking to kids! Families riding the tram at the Singapore Zoo get a potent whiff of rhinoceros poop as they pass the Wild Africa exhibit. The narrators on the audio tour, playing a little boy and his mother, turn this potentially disgusting episode into a teachable moment about animal behavior, reinforcing the tour’s strong stance on wildlife conservation.
Give Them a Mouth-Watering Experience
TV baking shows and cook-offs are popular these days. Almost everybody loves to eat! They also love talking about eating and hearing about new foods. Vacationing builds up an appetite, so visitors are happy to hear food recommendations. If your destination has a signature food, make the experience of eating it part of your tour.
What visit to Paris would be complete without pastry? The free-spirited French bulldog on the PARISCityVISION children’s tour describes éclairs, macarons, and Tarte Tatin, pausing to gobble one of each.
After hearing about the pastries they can devour at a Paris café, no doubt your guests will want to hop off and experience it for themselves. An audio tour is an easier way to cross-promote your food concessions or partner attractions. You can literally “sell the sizzle” with the narration and a banquet of sound effects to help you bring the tastes to life. While sailing up the Thames, City Cruises London satisfied their visitors’ curiosity about local food and drink, a natural opportunity to promote their own delectable tea and dinner cruises.
Sense and Sensibilities
No one loves your destination more than you do. Really knowing a place — experiencing it on a daily basis — builds the deepest kind of love. It’s time to remember why you feel that way and share that feeling with your visitors through sensory perception. Once visitors fall in love with your destination and long after they’ve forgotten the facts, they’ll remember the wonders of how it looked, sounded, felt, smelled, and tasted.
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