Product Update: Developing Authentic Experiences

After Carmen Morosan, Global Shore Excursions Manager, participated in “Transforming Shore Excursions to Deliver Authentic and Exclusive Experiences" at Seatrade Cruise Global 2019, we asked her to explain how you develop an "Authentic Experience”.

What is an Authentic Experience? 

For me, the definition was inspired by Sara Ban Breathmach, who said: “The authentic self is the soul made visible”, so therefore an authentic experience is one in which the guest can glimpse the soul of the destination and the local community. 

How do you develop an Authentic Experience? 

  1. Work closely with local communities: This is the most important part of maintaining authenticity - involve and listen to them and their recommendations.
  2. Brief Guests: Set realistic expectations of the experience and also provide information on the local customs and etiquette.
  3. Sustainable Tourism: The principle of sustainable tourism must be referred to for all product development, but especially if you want to maintain authenticity. If 50 buses arrive at a location, I would find it hard to argue that the experience is still authentic.
Who needs to be involved in creating Authentic Experiences? 
Most of our destinations go through the process of “Shorex Co-Creation” during product development, involving all stakeholders in the process. The objective is to offer attractive alternatives to the more well-known experiences, while maintaining authenticity. These forums involve tour operators, cruise lines, destination authorities and other groups from the local community. They then look at a variety of topics, ranging from how to use social media to set guest expectations or promote lesser-known sites/attractions, to infrastructure efficiency, or how we can stagger tour timings to decrease overcrowding. 

Overcrowding is said to erode destination authenticity, how do you overcome this?
It is very difficult to provide an authentic experience to large groups or when surrounded by large groups, but there are steps you can take to avoid this: 
  • Secure access to keys sites or attractions outside of standard opening hours 
  • Develop programs that would work in the shoulder season and offer these to cruise lines 
  • Offer alternative and lesser known sites/attractions of similar artistic and cultural value. For example, the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona is Gaudi’s most well-known piece of architecture, but there are plenty of other incredible Gaudi and modernist works around the city
  • Promote new and alternative sites, especially if they are located outside of the busy areas, which supports the decentralization of tourism

Palau Guell (left) is one of Gaudi's lesser known works and an alternative to Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, while a visit to Montserrat (right) brings visitors away from the busy city center. 

Some would argue that there is no such thing as an authentic tourist experience, what would you say to this? Inherently we need to have some level of control as to what is seen or heard during an experience and this may limit some of the authenticity. This is done for many reasons, ranging from guest Health & Safety, to protecting the destination and also making sure guests have a smooth and comfortable experience – let’s not forget that they are on vacation! Our objective is to curate experiences that share the authenticity of a destination in the small window of time we have during a transit call, providing an experience in which the guest can glimpse the soul of the destination and the local community.

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