Tag Archives: Backpacking

Your place isn’t just anywhere

And neither are you

It takes understanding your customer, their movement and expectations, but also the pacing of their day and time and their perception of “homeness” . In that respect, the locations travelled through some of the locative games, are consumption zones, without semiotic narratives or meaning, other than the often very real sense of fun, associated with it. However not as authentic.

Creating Homeness with more than optional thrillseeking

Due to several factors such as better infrastructure and public transport and commodification of rural difficult to reach areas- formerly the realm of the adventure-backpacker, the thrill and exitement for the actual act of traveling, has decreased. At the same time, the desire to engage in other specifically designed activities within a smaller scale, has increased greatly. A sense of authenticity is still very important.

Backpackers want to feel the real atmosphere of the destination and therefore do not fit within the the package arrangements, often intended for mass tourism.

Remember, there is a difference between backpackers, travellers and tourists. I will go into these differences some other time, but the point is: they all share the same infrastructure. Different needs, wants and expectations.

Travel and the body

The mind does not only exists within the bounderies of our skulls. We experience the world and the act of travel through our bodies aswell. Mediated by, guided by, formed and transformed by the landscape and our bodies.

Through walking, we are allowed to know the landscape in all its features. Step-rhythm generates thought rhythm. The path through the landscape activates a path of thought.

A new thought often looks like an old landscape feature, as if thinking were travelling» (Solnit, 2000). There is a vast body of knowledge on the relationships between travel, the body and mind and landscapes. It is quite impossible to create a singular structure within the boundaries of this blog (and my expertise). However, a few founded and grounded topics, I shal not withhold from you.

A lived experience

Backpackers use their body as an instrument of passage, not just movement. The act of leaving for a new destination and arriving there, through travel, is as much meaningful to his sense of selfness, as is the pre-travel dream and its representations. There is a shift in research towards the multisensory experience and corporeal engagement. Big hotel chains have yet to embrace this, which gives them an immense backward position. Embracing new and less common insights, does not make everything else obsolete! As experience designer and concepter, I find this highly remarkable and ignorant. Furthermore is the tourist not just gazed upon as a mere consumer, but approached from a wide variety of scientific research.

As a professional, I find this highly remarkable and ignorant.

The bodily sensation, corporeal experience has gained in interest and popularity, also by professionals such as myself. I use all manner of research from different scientific sources, to be able to do my work as best I can. The deliverables usually, are written in the language of the client and stakeholders. I can acknowledge the fact that a more holistic approach in the deliverable, usually conjures up more questions than can be answered in a few oneliners.

Tourism research is very much focussed on the visual. By commodification of image culture, place branding, city marketing, placeboosting, this was very much about politics of representation.

To be perceptive of the landscape, is more than just travelling in it. The landscape has given us- since the time ot the hunter-gatherers -ways to make meaning and to remember. To remember more than just the individual life and lifespan. To cite Ingold:

‘‘To perceive the landscape is to carry out an act of remembrance, and remembering is not so much a matter of calling up an internal image, stored in the mind, as of engaging perceptually with an environment that is itself pregnant with the past.’’

Landscape, travel, mind and body are very much culturally linked. Vast distances to travel between families for instance, will produce a totally different sense of space and distance, aswell as time. Tourism has both spatial and temporal dimensions. After the journey people describe themselves as being wiser and emotionally and more socially adept. A very noticeable characteristic of backpacking narratives is the way they describe deep and profound personal changes, after having made the trip.

The experience of mobility is conditioned and co-produced through interaction and engagement (willingly, non-willingly, accidental, subconsciously) with ordinary structures, shapes and materials, such as a folded newspaper, a laptop, mobile phone. Not to mention the circulation of affects such as stress, being tired, irritated etc. They all play roles in the creation of a particular travel atmosphere.

Although backpackers seek to connect with different cultures and localities, they have the tendency to very easily become part of an isolated and self-contained community of travellers, with little to no local connections. The backpacker enclaves have become important surroundings for exchange. The provide an important source of information and information-exchange.

The backpacking sociability and presence as ” a community on the road” was in the past a fleeting and short-term sight, as a perceivable community. Now, in the age of social media, not only the tourist-geography but also the construction and location of social bubbles and hubs, are more visible and traceable.

As traveller by train or bus, your perception of time, travel time and transit, is part of a delicate interaction-sequence and performative structure that defines mobility; Complex socio-technical systems, that afford, restrict or prevent particular mobile practices. Refer to Wilsons Affordance theory here.

These can be seen as the design-structure of your mode of transport. This design-structure includes not only the above and you- it is comprised of different materialities. Textures, movement, hardness, colour etc.

Tourism research is very much focussed on the visual. By commodification of image culture, place branding, city marketing, placeboosting, this was very much about politics of representation.

The Nature of Cities

To be perceptive of the landscape, is more than just travelling in it. The landscape has given us- since the time ot the hunter-gatherers -ways to make meaning and to remember. To remember more than just the individual life and lifespan. To cite Ingold:

‘‘To perceive the landscape is to carry out an act of remembrance, and remembering is not so much a matter of calling up an internal image, stored in the mind, as of engaging perceptually with an environment that is itself pregnant with the past.’’

Narratives of travel: Telling it to the self

When does an experience become a story?

Anyone travelling loves to tell stories. During travel, after the journey, whenever resting around a campfire. But these stories are more connected than you might think, although they are told at different points and places within the travel experience, using different voices and stances. Together they form a typical narrative. Pre-tour narratives are carried throughout the journey, shaping and scripting the journey. Whatever happens during the journey, provide material for post-tour narratives, which after a period of time, may change the pre-tour stories altogether.

As a traveller you interact with your environment through all of your senses. Sensory modalities are symbolically structured. They are mediated and go far beyond the mere textual. The larger pre-tour narratives are nowadays for a large part construed through visuals, through the use of social media and internet.

A highly superficial way of doing ones pre-tour research but unavoidable. Also the pre-tour planning is a narrative structure, as people tell peers through social media, exactly in which stage of planning they are.

The master narrative

The object of a photograph on the web, is less that of the narrative or actual biographical or ethnological depiction of the main subject, but a visual that was already predestined to provide commercial imagery for the tourist sector, before it was even taken! When it no longer resides within the personal and private domain of the owner or depicted subject, it has no biographical meaning or relationship to its’ context, in whichever country the photo was taken. For the regular tourist, the photograph meets the expectations he has from the destination in very broad and commodified terms.  Photographs offer a point of departure (Barthes, 1984): a pregnant surface from which narratives can be launched, a fertile social soil for memories, identities, daydreams to grow on. (Noy, 2014)

Imagery

The actual time and occasion of taking the photographs are for the larger part staged and framed, both by the tourist industry and by the tourists themselves. The circulation of the imagery is very much NOT coincidental! The way Europeans look at the third world, is still very colonial. Not withstanding recognition of equality and fairness, the view of the third world is still very much of a grown civilisation, based on big 19th century constructed narratives. Mind you, this says nothing about looking down upon them. The big narratives of the 19th century grew within us, but not neccesarily within the same direction as the actual country in question. These established master narratives are of huge significance and influence. They make meaning, shape action and movement, the form tourist behaviour and direct the infrastructure for foreigners. They are therefore stories of power, aswell as meaning.

The master narrative is a perceptual framework that works as a filter which includes as much as it excludes (Bruner, 2005).

Backpackers are usually somewhat quieter when preparing for the journey. The usage of social media by backpackers, is significantly lower than that of the emerging flashpacker. Figures from 2014 indicated 26% of backpackers and 41% for flashpackers (G. Richards).

On a personal note, I wonder if the quest for “otherness” by backpackers- who are more reflective and internal in orientation -creates affordance for both a lower degree of social media use and more methodological and less visual pre-tour planning?

Backpackers often start their journey alone or as a couple. They frequently end up travelling in a small group. When on the road, the sources of information vary greatly by mode of travel. In groups, local guides and agents are the primary storytellers, with additional material by standard guidebooks. Backpackers use hostels or sites along the route as an additional primary source of information.

An experience- as it happens -is much more laden with rich sensations than any story could begin to approach. An experience turns into a narrative, as soon as you say to yourself what is happening on tour. When transforming a sensory occurrence into a plot structure.

” From the point of view of the experiencing self, the journey consists of a series of sensations, but from the point of view of the remembering self, it becomes a narrative, and a severe selection from reality (Kahneman 2005). “

However, the routes create their own sources for information- outside the tourist-industry – as can be read in the blog on volunteering abroad.

Volunteers and the knowledge created through volunteer-travel and religious travel, supply important modes of information and narration, like well informed non-professional guides, offering services. Some of them are skilled, other less so.

Most of the ones I have listened to over the years want to be entertaining as well as educational, but most do not have an anthropological understanding of culture but rather present unrelated snippets of information, or interesting random stories about the people or locality. Bruner; 2005

toerist

Learn it from a pro?

Volunteering abroad: New tourist or passers by?

Changing travellers and work

Whether be it from loving to travel. doing things for others, having a cheap alternative to travel and stay in another country, having something to do for the summer or fleeing from everyday life and home… All people working as volunteers abroad, have their own reasons for doing so.

Usually, it is a combination of backpacking, wanting to do something for others and sheer opportunism. A combination of both being there for others, and by doing so, implying an reasonable reciprical action. This works usually through social travel and social accommodation. Much like Couchsurfing and houseswapping, the need for symmetrical swapping or exchange, does not apply when bound by certain common qualities. Contact through a community, trust, mutual interests and being endorsed by others, are commonly seen as deciding factors for housing someone, either on their sofa or as guest with more freedom in movement and stay.

Volunteers, working abroad, are usually not familiar with the term volunteer-tourism and don’t like to be called `tourist’, which indicates- similar to backpackers -volunteering abroad is still seen as (partially) idealogical in nature. Baring in mind ofcourse, the idealogical traits can be interpreted as being “social currency”  for travel and staying abroad.

Motives

On the subject of motives for volunteering abroad, there are numerous studies and theories to be addressed. In a study by Tomazos & Butler (The Volunteer Tourist as ‘Hero’; 2010), participants explained their engagement in a programme in different ways:

  • a wish to get away from the everyday routine at the permanent place of residence,
  • a fondness for travel.
  • a wish to repay one’s life of privilege and the need to give help to those who are poor and whose poverty is no fault of their own.
  • growing distrust of all kinds of charity organisations which bring help to victims and collect funds in developed countries.

As the backpacking community changes, so do the parties that provide in voluntary work, that work on a voluntary basis and exceedingly so: the go-between party. Often providing extra services that require payment and registration and work along reciprocal routes that have less bearing on peoples willingness to exchange things without currency, in a symmetric way. When such parties require payment, they can no longer rely on the willingness of travellers, to be as open as they were before. They become “customers” instead of traveller or volunteer, providing and demanding different qualities altogether. People volunteering abroad, increasingly use more bi-directional reciprocity to get where they want to be, meaning that an exchange is made based upon more or less the same value: work for accommodation and food and drink. One example I can mention is the new startup Amons.

amons.co

The way people make use of working abroad as volunteer is highly bound by cultural differences in leisure-experience, the experience of time, global routines and seasonality. American students for instance, will have a summer break for a specific duration. Having a gap-year has more flexible time boundaries and often involve a combination of paid and voluntary work.

You walk the voluntary walk of a pilgrim

Volunteering is specifically popular in Europe. This has a very interesting bit of background. Doing volunteering is related to pilgrimage and religious travel. Although obviously many other factors are important, volunteer-tourism is often been associated with being interested in other cultures; wanting to get to know them better. The length of stay is quite long. Many tourism volunteer projects are also based on the conservation or restauration of heritage. The cultural routes have a strong potential link to volunteer tourism through heritage and through the desire to have intensive experiences with local people. (Greg Richards, 2011)

Poland

In Poland there is a high rise in movement-possibilities, due to emergent new ways of very cheap travel like Polskibus, covering long distances for a very low price. Polish people themselves are as yet less familiar with the concept of Couchsurfing and social travel and are quite pragmatic in their use of transportation and covering large distances, putting an emphasis on the act of arriving, rather than the travel itself. In the past 3 years, the use of and familiarity with social travel and accommodation has increased greatly in Poland.

This brings me to the ideological aspect of social travel within Poland. As much of voluntary work in Poland is regulated through Non Governmental Organisations with quite good and large networks, the possibilities for cultural exchange are huge and rhich in meaning. They provide excellent opportunities for artists applying for grants for cultural exchange programmes and for volunteers abroad, to engage in more spatial experiences, not particular to one single space or place of work. A very good example on a cultural low-threshhold scale, is the work of Kinderzirkus Wanjanini in Germany, with affiliated organisations.

Scholarly travel

Researchers also find an increase in scholarship schemes, to provide Polish young people to travel, work, stay and study. The two largest programs now, are Erasmus and CEEPUS, covering most of Europe. (Joanna Kowalczyk-Anioł)

In commercial tourism, research is often directed towards conversion, to understand motivation just enough to earn money.

In my personal opinion, the tourist geography of both backpacker and volunteer-tourist, should be seen as an organic entity, bound by structures that rise above and flee from the commodified nature of spatial and experiential structure of the everyday world. Don’t forget, travel is an act of cultural production, of meaning making and placemaking along a network of incorporated symbolic boundaries.

Angloville banner

Zach
Volunteer at Angloville (Poland)

Circus-game-in-Malaysia

Polskibus routes
Polskibus routes

Music-travel and opportunities

Working abroad as an artist or busker? There is an increasingly larger amount of academic funding you can apply for, for working and work-exchange on an academic level.

There are numerous reasons why art in general and street theatre and busking, are important in everyday life. Music travels through time and space through a number of modalities, most of which are nowadays considered to have “un-natural” rhythms, in the sense that we are so much attuned and formed by the commercialisation of both music and rhythm that it is hard to concentrate on, and be influenced by sounds that matter for wayfinding, for instance.

Ofcourse, music transforms particular places into tourist hotspots. If you’ve been to Rynek square in Krakow, you know how throughout the day, the square is filled with music. The place is filled with sound and the sound of a place, enters the consciousness of the tourist and becomes part of the experience of the place.

Some links

Interested in more background? A few (of many) readings:

  • Tourist product in experience economy (Institute of Urban and Tourism Geography andrzej.stasiak)
  • The role of experience in consumer behaviour in the tourism market: concept of experience economy and experiential marketing; (Agnieszka Niezgoda)
  • Motivations and Behaviour of Independent Travellers Worldwide (Greg Richards and Julie Wilson)
  • The Volunteer Tourist as ‘Hero (Tomazos & Butler; 2010)

Interested in putting everything into practise and see welldevised concepts turn into proper, unforgettable experiences? Contact me! 

Renk van Oyen

Contact me

Creative hostel?

How creative are you? And your staff?

Hostel guests are primed for gaining new experiences. They have to be actively approached by the hostel staff. Creativity is a very important trait to have for them.

Contrary to cheap and affordable hotels, hostel customers usually seek for a bit more than just a low price. They also want social interaction. Due to the communal character of the hostelpopulation on location, it is easier to control the social situations There is a desire to meet and socialise, with other travelers and with the locals.

Hostels’ customers have usually travelled themselves, have been in other hostels aswell and are familiar with them. They themselves form creativity by their active participation in hostel events. Guests without the urge to communicate that much in hostels but are mostly in search of cheap accommodation, may not engage in efforts to get them participating. This can have a direct effect on the internal use of space and group-agility.

The key element for hostel is ambience.

Your role is everything

Role 1: hostel owner aiming at profits without taking efforts to create a specific marketing environment. Remember, the low cost of stay, is not the defining trait for guests to come and stay at a hostel, you have to provide additional services.

Role 2: The caring and participating hostel owner. They care about ambiance. Many hostel owners have travelled extensively themselves before opening a hostel. They are more familiar with other hostel culture and other travelers. The caring hostel owner is an active participant in creation and is able to weave this into the daily running and operations of his hostel.

So what if you’re in a bad mood? Or your staff is hungover? Being creative and affording to meet your guests, cannot be left to mere chance or spur of the moment. It needs to be an integral part of your servicedesign. This means you have to think it through and know what you’re talking about. It does NOT mean (I can hear you think it… 😉  ) it is veigned and masked performance. Creativity is both spatial and eventual in charactre. Creativity in hospitality includes approaches to space organisation and an active role on your part to build interactions in behavioural and in the marketing environment.

mymarriotthotel

Interwoven wit custumer experience management. Does that mean it’s all rather fakey? Absolutely not. As long as you’re sinsere and know what you’re doing, where you’re doing it and why.

If it is a family run hostel, it has the capacity of being the most welcoming place possible. However, beware of the wear and tear! Showing routine behaviour to your guests is a killer!

Most hostels do not give a lot of comfort in their design and organisation of space. This is compensated by other traits. The use of themed design or familiar decorations, gives an extra affordance to the internal space of the building. It gives guests an extra- albeit conceptual -livingspace, in which they are invited to move around in and make use of.

Four managerial directions:

(Irina Borovskaya, Mariya Dedova Creativity in hospitality industry: study of hostels.)

Targeted recruitment

Segmentation of customers

Organization of space

Organization of communications

Great expectations

Becoming strangely aquainted

There are numerous ways of ensuring your guest have a good time. One of the mistakes you could make, is to try and standardise staff-behaviour too much.
Travel is by all means a sense-making process. Travelers construct te touristic experiences by learning, understanding and feeling the places they have visited.

How strange or astranging is arriving in a hostel full of other cultural influences? Travelers construct a touristic experience by getting to know the places they visit, through interaction, understanding and sensing the embedded culture of a place.

The places they visit and cultures they encounter and experience, are connected to them by “stakeholders”, such as tourists, the government, original inhabitants and minority groups. The touristic experience is mediated through representation by stakeholders or by their being part of the tourism context. Backpackers themselves are certainly stakeholders in the sense that they meet eachother regularly and word of mouth is a big source of information for them.

Check-in

The length oIf the service-encounter at the check-in area can define the service quality in a negative way, if the service is not mediated in a proper way. Short check-in moments can actually be perceived as loose and easy in a nice manner. But not every type of information can be conveyed in that period of time, without giving off all the wrong signals. A longer check- in moment can be really irritating if the check- in desk is too high and there is nowhere for the guest to sit down. It creates a distance between the staffmember and the guest that is hard to correct later. If the check-in moment is short, be careful you only give out information that has a high service level. In Little Havana hostel in Krakow for instance. you were given a long waifer sheet for you to sign with all the restrictions the hostel wants to impose. It would have been better to bring some towels to the room with the waifer discretely tucked away in an envelope.

For backpackers and long time travellers especially, the actual proces of checking in at the desk is not a hugely significant event. However you must realise that the actual act of arriving and leaving at a venue, still holdsa large ritual value. The act of distancing oneself from newly befriended people and the actual physical shift in location when they left home to travel, has been compared to a rite of passage. The mediated environment of homeness in a hostel, can act as a new ‘fire-up’ for the rest of the travel. It is therefore important to make sure their departure is not only noticed but noticebly marked at check-out.

The eventmaker in your hostel can be a powerful mediator, in the right context. They link the tourist to the surrounding strangeness and translates the strangeness into a cultural idiom, that becomes shared and familiar to the visitors. Make sure you give your guests the opportunity to explore. Prefably experiences that are local and experienced through the eyes of the guests.

A tourism experience contains primary and secondary products and services. Although some may be seen as more significant than others, without te smaller or supporting experiences, the peak experience does not happen. If it ails in the supporting experiences, the main or key experience is in danger, no matter how strong the peak experience is.

It is neccesary to identify also the daily routine experiences, experienced by the guest. As guests are continually informed by the world around them, throughout the day he will be continually fed information and new impressions on your hostel; through the media, through other guests and travelers, through leaflets and pictures. It is not possible to deliver a continuous produced “flow”.

Further reading:

The Social Affordances of Flashpacking: Exploring the Mobility Nexus of Travel and Communication

Richards, Greg -Tourism trends: The convergence of culture and tourism

Richards, Greg – Backpacker tourism: the contemporary face of youth tourism

Hostel servicedesign: making the obvious seem extra special

CONCEPTUAL Framework hospitality.pngServicedesign: making the obvious seem extra special

Even when a hostel provides only the most elementary and basic service, these too are called products. Ofcourse they are only a small part of the whole deal. Each element within this deal, contributes to either satisfaction or dissatisfaction and a negative recollection of their stay.

A bed is a bed is a bed, you might think? Through applying different features to your services, the products and the surroundings within you place them, you differentiate from others. A dormitory room with twin-beds, standard room, etc.

Tourism-products

There are 3 levels of tourism products:

  1. The core-product: The essential service or benefit, designed to satisfy the identified needs;
  2. The formal or tangible product: the special offer on sale.
  3. The augmented product: all the forms of added value produced, to make the core-product more attractive.

Complexity

Tourism products can be categorised in different ways. One criterium is the level of complexity, or number of services, embedded within a single offer. You can say you can divide them into simple and compound products.

A good way to let your services standout, is to combine several elements in such a way, that the most important one you want to convey- albeit a “simple” one, stands out.

Basically there are 4 types of simple products:

  1. A service: like guidance, gastromic- or hotelservice, tourist info
  2. An Item: like a guide, map, souvenir.
  3. An object: like a museum, a castle, church
  4. An event: a show, presentation etc.

Simple products can be combined together, to make it into a more complex and advanced product.

Overview Renk on Linkedin

Mediation of homeness

an-introduction-to-marketing-semiotics-8-1024.jpgMediation of homeness

You as a hostel, are the mediator of homeness. Some of these commercially led immersive locative games, miss one very important factor: sense of place. The hostel- although not the actual home of the traveller -is able to recreate a setting that is very near a home situation, familiar to the young backpacker.

Urban is not a corporate word

Urban is not a corporate word

In every city big franchise companies take over part of the touring- aswel as the locative gaming market. They target their audience well and look for places to easily get at them. Gues where? Yup, your hostel is one of these places. Every time you simply point at the rack of leaflets, you are very kindly providing all other parties with customers at your own expense.

Hostels can easiliy provide tours and immersive experiences for their guests.