Gamification and Tourism

Back in late 2018, I spent a weekend away in Torquay, a small coastal town (or ‘seaside resort‘ according to Wikipedia) on the southern edge of Australia. It can be a cold place this time of year. So cold, in fact, that some evidence suggests I kidnapped my partner and forced her to endure the strong winds on the cliff’s edge.

While the weather ranged from ordinary to abysmal, the indoor pool was flooded with people and we didn’t play a single board game. Yet even though the only gaming that took place was a brief rendezvous with an old Ghostbusters pinball machine, it was still a relaxing, fun, and re-invigorating trip. There was no gamification involved on the holiday either… But as it turned out, there could have been!!

Just as my partner and I were completing a tour of the upper Bellarine Peninsula, I heard a radio advertisement for Wander To Win. This turned out to be a gamified app promoting engagement with various local attractions and businesses throughout Geelong and its surrounds. Check out the video below for a teaser:

The app’s website outlines the ‘levels’ that can be completed by visiting a sports stadium, a museum, an arts centre, a golf club, a cinema, a farmer’s market, a shopping centre, a lookout, and many other business and scenic locations. There are three tiers of points allocated to these different challenges, which are linked to a range of prizes, such as free accomodation, meal packages, train tickets, gift vouchers, and more. Opportunities to win ‘spot prizes’ throughout one’s travels that are separate from the final major prize ‘draw’ serve as extra incentives.

The Wander to Win intiative was developed by Pace Marketing for Tourism Greater Geelong and the Bellarine. Given the competition’s timeframe of 29 June to 7 October, it’s an intriguing strategy to enhance tourist activity in the cold Winter months. The app’s reach is inevitably localised (there are somewhere over 1,000 Android downloads and an unknown number on iOS), and I can’t guess at the effectiveness and success of the app without an inkling of targets and actual use. Nonetheless, Wander To Win‘s employment of narrative and geolocation signals the potential of gamification to generate an immersive experience that goes well beyond a point scoring system.

The rhetorical framing of the ‘Quest’ fittingly connects the app’s virtual gamified environment with a user’s actual journey around the map (an interactive representation of which is housed in the app via Google Maps). This combines with an Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland-inspired theme that is in large part delivered vis-à-vis the app’s rabbit narrator:

Join me for adventure!

Every button has a place,

Find the hidden clues

And enter in the race.

Alice in Wonderland Cosplay @ HamaCon ’14 by Michael Miller (CC BY 2.0)

In order to complete a level or ‘solve a clue’, users must visit the corresponding location (with GPS enabled for verification purposes), take an in-app photograph or scan an image on a poster, and then enter a game codeword and/or solution to a riddle. A series of puzzle mini-games can also be unlocked at several locations, replete with not-so-subtle references to Lewis Carroll’s White Rabbit and other elements of the children’s book.

Crucially, while the 40 map locations with their ‘hidden clues’ are numbered, the user is in no way obligated to pursue them in sequential order or to complete every objective to have a chance at winning the major prize. Rather, in the tradition of the sandbox game, the map can be treated like an open world and locations can be roamed based on personal preference. In other words, travellers can engage with the app to the extent they wish while always giving priority to places they might like to experience under non-gamified circumstances. Of course, if a user happens to be a completionist, they may be looking at fairly significant petrol consumption!

Wander to Win is just one example of how game elements can be applied to promote tourism and engage travellers in their endeavours. The use of challenges, mystery, and what is described as a ‘dynamic scoring system’ by Competitours is another example that’s well worth exploring. Marketed as ‘The Amazing Race for regular people’, Competitours targets in particular people who may be ‘less adventurous’ than other travellers, seeking to harness the possibilities of gamification to get people out of their comfort zone. The short video below from one of many blog reviews on the Competitours site (click here for full list) this blog post highlights the complex interplay between competition and collaboration:

Immersive storytelling is another avenue for gamified tourism – and let’s face it, the industry could use all the help it can get lately!

I’ll certainly be looking further into gamified tourism when I get a chance. In the meantime, I’d love to hear what you think about gamifying the promotion of landmarks and businesses to tourists and locals? Have you experienced a form of gamification on your own travels? Would you like more chances to follow the White Rabbit when you’re on holiday…?

Follow the White Rabbit by John Ziebro (CC BY 2.0)

Featured image: Enjoying the usual hot day in Geelong.

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