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Hawai’i’s Shared Futures By Vision Foresight Strategy

Rethinking the visitor experience

Aloha kakahiaka, everyone.  Hope Wednesday morning is treating everyone well!  This morning we’re working further on the Reboot and our presentation for it.  Working with some futures colleagues, Day 2 of the Reboot is shaping up to be a very cool experience, one that will likely really shake up participant assumptions about how Hawai’i works and about how it could work.  Very cool stuff.

Later this morning we’ll be working on some pieces to build a new foresight framework for workforce and workforce development for Hawaii, an interesting challenge given many of the assumptions and the focus currently found in that arena.  Choosing a particular approach when constructing a new framework is always fun but also tricky: will ‘reframing’ history set them free to think new thoughts?; will a collection of emerging possibilities energize them?; or do you have to completely deconstruct their ‘worldview’ to effectively shake them up?

The Visitor Experience

A couple of weeks ago we helped with a discussion hosted by NaHHA about the visitor industry, culture, and opportunities.  Attended by some very cool folks, it was an interesting discussion about what, among other things, the visitor industry could look like in the future.  Just afterward, I was on Maui and had a range of experiences that had me reflect even further on the earlier discussions.  From staying at a resort in Makena, to camping in Ke’anae and hanging out at the Hana Taro Festival, to staying in Kahului and eating at IHOP (and vacillating on picking up Krispy Kremes [will power won the day]), it was an interesting compare/contrast.

It occurred to me that, among the many ways people and professionals frame the visitor/hospitality industry, one way is to simply consider the amount of content of the ‘everyday’ that makes up the visitor experience (via their accommodations).  It’s a question of how much the visitor accommodations (the hotel) is interwoven into the lives of local communities and thus how much the real, everyday culture of local communities is intended to shape and make the visitor experience.

At its most basic, a hotel is just a place to sleep when traveling away from home, apartments for the traveler.  Motels are the best examples, designed for people to drive up, sleep, get up, and drive on.  No frills, little mess.  There’s always a need for basic hotels, and given some of the possible futures for Hawai’i around developing new industries and becoming a global center for emerging technologies, we may need a reinvestment in this basic infrastructure.  Here, the content of the everyday within the hotel is minimal, or at best unconscious.  The everyday life and culture of the local community is picked up when they walk out the door and into the community, which they are expected to be doing, whether to attend business meetings, visit relatives, or explore.  Visitors are not meant to stay inside.

But things change, and over the years people have built resorts, which are increasingly self-contained experiences, providing a prepackaged, complete range of services.  The resort in this sense is actually a retreat, it’s intended to be an unusual, unreal place, that is, a place that doesn’t exist in everyday life.  It’s designed for people to escape from the mundane and everyday, and thus they’re typically located in environmentally unusual and beautiful places.  The retreat is intentionally walled off from the content of the everyday that is found in neighboring local communities.  And this why, when such retreats want to expose their visitors to this local content, whatever it might be, they have to import it into the retreat, staging it in ways that are typically unusual and unnatural, ways that typically don’t manifest in the everyday of local life.  And retreats, in and of themselves, aren’t necessarily bad.  In fact, all cultures and peoples feature variations of retreats, often in physical form.  But today’s retreats as found in the visitor industry take on an industrial scale and commercial character that reverberates through localities with unintentional and undesirable results.

Given this, it’s possible to see how the content of the everyday, that is, the everyday real culture of a place can be a fundamental part of of the visitor experience, and specifically through the physical reality of their very accommodations.  Back in 1999, we wrote a short piece called “Experience Hawai’i” which was a thought piece on what a new type of hotel would look like and how it would operate.  While parts of it are certainly dated (the idea of pervasive high speed internet access was novel back then!), much of it retains its relevance for our current discussions about the visitor industry and the visitor experience.  One of the things that made it an exciting piece to work on was that it placed the physical environment and the local community in the position as the primary ‘customer,’ with the visitors as a secondary component.

“Experience Hawai’i” is merely an example of what can be seen as a different set of interactions and experiences between visitors and local everyday culture.  In essence, you have to look at the challenge as one of designing a structure that is built around the everyday, a place that is interwoven into and is a functioning part of local communities.  It is a place that is intended to support living culture, the everyday activities and priorities of people.  And into this you design the capacity for visitors and the accomodation for them to move through and participate in the living, everday culture of the place.  While perhaps an inelegant analogy, such places would be like very vibrant community centers that are designed with the hospitality to accept eager and sincere visitors.

It might not be simple to create such places, but the rewards and benefits of successfully building them would be manifold and ripple across generations.  If the real culture of our communities here is really what visitors want to experience, and not just the beaches and warm weather, then this would seem to be a good new framework to discuss.

Think about tomorrow.

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Filed under: Built Environment, Culture, Hawai'i

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