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The thrill of adventure when we book a trip is the honeymoon of the travel experience. The search for just the right destination, the anticipation of experiencing something new makes the heart beat just a little faster. A world of options is just a few clicks away, and what we seek is a once-in-a-lifetime, can’t-wait-to-tell-the-world experience.

As a tour operator or guide, how can you provide this experience? In one word—story.

Long after the first flush of discovery for your destination has passed, guests who have savored stories are more likely to remember the experience you gave them. And there’s real science behind the phenomenon.

The Wonder of Story

Storytelling does wondrous things to our brains. Just ask any avid reader why they picked up the latest best-seller, and they will tell you that it’s about the experience, what they feel when they read.

Scientists are as fascinated by this power to evoke emotion through story as the millions of fans for series like Game of Thrones or Outlander. Research shows that as we become immersed in story, the hormones cortisol, dopamine, and oxytocin are released in our brains, and we are more likely to feel empathy and connection, as well as discover meaning and sense between a location/history/community and ourselves.

Writers have understood this for centuries, and for some, their work has been loved and retold, resonating through the years with succeeding generations. Gone With the Wind, A Tale of Two Cities, Pride and Prejudice, and Romeo and Juliet still make our hearts quiver with emotion and anticipation for what happens next.

Story Matters

Dawn Riddoch, Treasurer of the Writers’ Community of Durham Region near Toronto, Canada, says that story is central to everything we do, and travel is no exception. An avid traveler, she seeks audio tours that tell her more than a list of historical facts. “The ones that really stand out are the ones where you’re dropped into that world, taken by the hand, and led through this wonderful place. You experience the place on a totally different level. I’m hearing a great, memorable story and I want more.”

Studies have also shown that when we hear a story, our minds form and examine our own truths and beliefs. We gain new perspectives and, in exploring the world through another’s lens, we challenge and expand our own understanding.

The same is true in an audio tour, where story can turn a pleasant day into an unforgettable experience. Ange Berlin, VP, Creative at AudioConexus, has written hundreds of audio tours for millions of travelers worldwide. “Experiencing a destination means learning something you never knew before,” says Berlin, “but more than that, it’s about connecting on a personal level with something that matters deeply to you inside.”

Self-proclaimed travel addict Kellie O’Leary has taken countless audio tours, enthralled by the wonder of learning about new places. “I love being able to absorb the information at my own speed. I like to replay sections I find particularly interesting. You don’t miss things that way.”

But one tour experience stands out for her. On a recent visit from England to Canada, her daughter’s British fiancée wondered out loud whether there really were 1000 islands on the St. Lawrence River, spurring Kellie to suggest the family venture to Gananoque and take the boat tour on . As they enjoyed a beautiful afternoon on the water, the group discovered that there are in fact 1864 islands, and they were treated to stories about two nations, Canada and the USA, harmoniously co-existing with only a river separating their countries.

“He thought it was cool to hear about the indigenous people who first populated the islands, smugglers during prohibition, shipwrecks, and Boldt Castle, plus to see how the cottagers, some American and some Canadian, share the islands,” says O’Leary. “But what really hit home was when he turned to our daughter and remarked how he felt he had gained a bit more understanding about what it was like for her to grow up as a Canadian. It was almost like he saw her differently after the tour.”

Knowing that stories about the destination they love bonded families and engaged them in a meaningful way is fulfilling for tour operators as well. “It’s heartwarming to hear Ms. O’Leary’s story about her experience with our tour. It’s what our cruise line is all about,” says Neil McCarney, General Manager of Gananoque Boat Line in the Hornblower Cruises and Events group. “Our family built this company 68 years ago to bring extraordinary experiences to our guests, and we’re deeply proud to enhance that experience into this generation by telling meaningful stories about our homeland.”

Judy Grinton, Program Advisor, Ontario Ministry of Education, had a similar experience of connection with her family when they traveled to the Hoover Dam in Nevada, USA. Although everyone was looking forward to the excursion, no one was more thrilled than her son-in-law, an engineer.

“We knew he’d be excited to see the dam up close and to hear all about how it was constructed,” says Grinton, “but we didn’t realize how seeing him in his world was going to affect us. It was so much fun watching him. Because the tour wasn’t all facts and figures, it made the dam came to life, and he was like a little kid at Christmas.”

Having a son-in-law with specialized knowledge means there are times that the family is not able to share in what interests him. The group trip to the dam, however, provided an unexpected opportunity for real connection.

“By the time the tour was over we felt we’d learned something, but more importantly, we were communicating with my son-in-law on a level that we can’t always reach,” says Grinton.

Making Your Story Count

According to Global Digital Report 2019,  the number of social media users worldwide has reached 3.484 billion. Unquestionably, social media has become the great influencer over all forms of consumer decision-making, including those made by travelers.

According to Huffington Post, in 2017 over 95% of leisure travelers read at least seven reviews before booking their holidays. And like the 40% of travelers who post an activity/attraction review, Kellie O’Leary says she regularly shares her travel experiences on social media.

“I like to bring everyone back home along for the ride, so I post something every day on Facebook and Twitter. They hear where we’ve been and what we’ve seen. And because I rely on reviews when I’m mapping out my own vacations, I post reviews. Maybe it’ll help someone else have a great vacation,” O’Leary says.

Emotional reactions and shared experiences in travel bond people to their family, friends, and others on their chosen tour. This bonding extends to the tour operators and guides who bring visitors the stories they love, creating engagement that leads to more bookings and a happier life for all.

“That’s what we explore in the destinations we visit and it’s those moments that we seek,” says Ange Berlin. “We go home with an experience to remember for years to come.”


What’s Your Next Story? Want to learn more about transforming your audio tour into an unforgettable experience? Talk to Us. Read our Writing for Tours Blog Series or download our FREE eBook Storytelling for Tours.

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