Entertainment, Education, Marketing, or Benchmarking? Yes!
The summer vacation season is under way. If you have openings in your vacation agenda, or are looking for mini-vacation ideas, you may want to consider “tourism factories.” These include plant tours, participatory agricultural and culinary experiences, and other tourist services that connect consumers to products in unique ways.
Tourism factories serve varying interests of visitors and hosts. Whether it serves to open a new communication channel between a company and its customers, reinforce a marketing message, provide an educational opportunity, or simply satisfy the curiosity of inquisitive types, a well-designed tourist experience can be an incredibly valuable asset for many types of businesses. Increasing numbers of these tourist experiences are available as business leaders around the world recognize their potential.
For the Visitor
Vacationers may doubt that tourism factories will fit the theme of their vacation or sufficiently interest or entertain the family. To assuage these concerns, let’s consider the range of options already available.
Sports fans can visit Louisville Slugger (Louisville, KY), Ping Golf (Phoenix, AZ) or Trek Bicycles (Waterloo, WI), among others, to witness athletic performance in the making.
Music aficionados can learn why their Paul Reed Smith (Stevensville, MD) or Martin Guitars (Nazareth, PA) sound the way they do. Classical musicians may prefer a visit to Steinway & Sons (New York, NY) to learn about their legendary pianos, while the new-age crowd may prefer Moog Music (Asheville, NC) synthesizers. For those that take their music a little less seriously, perhaps a kazoo factory (Beaufort, SC, Eden, NY) will fit the bill.
Ford, (Dearborn, MI), BMW (Spartanburg, SC), Volkswagen (Various, Worldwide), and Hyundai (Montgomery, AL) aim to provide a deeper connection to their vehicles. Harley-Davidson (Various, USA), Triumph (Leicester, UK), Indian (Spirit Lake, IA), and Ducati (Borgo Panigale, Italy) have the two-wheel enthusiasts covered. Airstream (Jackson Center, OK), Winnebago (Forest City, IA), and Tiffin Motorhomes (Red Bay, AL) can even show you how your vacation transportation comes to life. If your vacation travel choices are less grounded, Airbus (Toulouse, France) or Boeing (Seattle, WA) can accommodate you.
What would a vacation be without some indulgence? Numerous breweries (Guiness, Dublin, Ireland; The Boston Brewery, Boston, MA) and distilleries (Maker’s Mark, Loretto, KY; Cuervo, Jalisco, Mexico; Jack Daniels, Lynchburg, TN) are open for tours and samples. For a more family-friendly option, Ben & Jerry’s (Waterbury, VT), Jelly Belly (Fairfield, CA), or Hershey (Hershey, PA) could provide this vital vacation component.
These are only a few categories of products that visitors can learn about directly from the manufacturers. There are also opportunities to observe the construction of boats and ships, agricultural equipment, furniture, textile products, plumbing fixtures, soaps and candles, and even money. If there is a product of interest to you, you can probably tour a factory that manufactures it. Many facilities also have a museum to present the history of the product, facility, or company. Manufacturing processes may be explained in a museum-style exhibit, in lieu of a tour, in cases where tours would be dangerous or otherwise impractical.
There are also opportunities for other types of participatory experiences that may not fit strict definitions of factory or tour, but will create visceral and cognitive connections between consumers and the products they purchase. Some may be considered “agritourism,” their popularity fueled by increased interest in organic farming and environmental sustainability. Others would stretch even that definition; however, they are of similar function and purpose – allow customers to experience, and participate in, the creation of the products they consume.
Perhaps the simplest example is a “pick your own” produce market. More immersive farming and ranching experiences may include planting crops, collecting eggs from a henhouse, milking cows, or even butchering animals and preparing the meat. Obviously, these are not for the faint of heart. If thoughts of engaging in these activities makes you queasy, perhaps a dude ranch would be more suitable. If you want to avoid animals altogether, you could try mining – unless, of course, you’re claustrophobic.
For the Host
Business leaders that have not yet developed customer experiences in their factories may also be skeptical of factory tourism. The ever-expanding range of experiences offered, alluded to above, indicates that skepticism may be unwarranted. However, objectives and strategies must be defined prior to launching an interactive experience. To aid this process, let’s explore the potential value of developing a tourism factory.
Plant tours and exhibits can be “purely educational” in nature. Nuclear power plants often conduct tours to promote energy efficiency and conservation, reassure the community of the safety of nuclear power generation facilities, and to foster interest in science and technology. Similarly, manufacturers may conduct clinics on the operation and maintenance of their products. Customer satisfaction is then attained via maximum performance, safety, and reliability.
Plant tours and museums are components of experiential marketing – activities that engage customers more thoroughly than is possible with passive campaigns and, thus, increase a product’s or company’s mind share. A factory tour or interactive exhibit captures far more attention than advertising. Direct interactions with consumers provide opportunities to demonstrate a product’s innovative features or superior quality and to acquire immediate feedback. A well-executed interactive experience creates a connection between the product and the consumer – “I was there” – and, often, a subconscious loyalty to the brand.
Customer engagement can also be achieved by providing pure entertainment. Customers may frequent a pizza shop to see the dough twirled above their heads. A Japanese steakhouse may be popular because the chef routinely has more objects in the air than a circus juggler. In both cases, consumers witness the creation of the product without learning a great deal. Nonetheless, customers develop an affinity for these providers because they enjoy the experience.
Industrial settings can also be entertaining. Some of us enjoy watching materials being transformed by a well-developed manufacturing process that, to the uninitiated, may seem uneventful. Automation is often fascinating to the knowledgeable and the naïve alike. On the opposite end of the spectrum, craftsmen and artisans are amazing to watch and leave visitors in awe of their skills.
A tourism factory can serve as a benchmarking opportunity for both visitor and host. Visitors can conduct more detailed comparisons of products when observed in manufacture than when sitting side by side on a retailer’s shelf or showroom floor. Customers can rely on their own observations and judgments, rather than marketing materials, to assess quality of construction and component materials.
Visiting other tourism factories could provide ideas for developing a customer experience in your own facility. Taking the customer’s perspective throughout the development of services and exhibits invariably improves the outcome, resulting in a more successful program.
The most important revelations to be made during the development of these programs will be the things that you would not want your customers to see. Are areas of your facility dirty, unorganized, or otherwise embarrassing? Does your company engage in practices that would make customers uncomfortable or that may damage its reputation if publicly revealed? Discovery of these issues provides an improvement to-do list that is more important – and more urgent – than the development of the interactive experience.
For the visitor:
For the host:
Many of the example tourism factories mentioned above are in the USA, but this is a truly global phenomenon. Taiwan has embraced manufacturing as an important contributor to tourism. Japan leverages its reputation for manufacturing excellence to enhance tourism. Countries such as Poland and Belarus are exploiting the symbiosis of manufacturing and tourism to bolster their economies in the post-Soviet era. Wherever your travels take you, there is likely to be a tourism factory nearby. If you’re not convinced, you could consult TripAdvisor; the site has a search category dedicated to factory tours!
If you’d like to increase customer engagement with a plant tour or exhibit, feel free to contact JayWink Solutions for guidance. If you’ve discovered a great interactive factory experience you’d like to share, tell us about it in the comments section below. We could all use more vacation ideas!
[Link] “The Relationships among Experiential Marketing, Service Innovation, and Customer Satisfaction – A Case Study of Tourism Factories in Taiwan.” Tsu-Ming Yeh, Shun-Hsing Chen and Tsen-Fei Chen. Sustainability 2019, 11(4), 1041.
[Link] “Over 130 Factories Get New Lives as Tourist Destinations in Taiwan.” Laura Kiniry. Smithsonian.com, September 22, 2017.
[Link] “Industrial Tourism in Belarus.”
[Link] “Mines, Factories, Shipyards – Tourism Goes Industrial in Poland.”
**Disclaimer: Reference to any site, service, or manufacturer does not constitute an endorsement by the author, JayWink Solutions, LLC, its representatives, or partners. The author and JayWink Solutions, LLC make or support no claims as to the safety or suitability of any site or service referenced.
Jody W. Phelps, MSc, PMP®, MBA
JayWink Solutions, LLC
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