The Finnish aquatic tourism scene has been missing the “technovation” elements to elevate its user-experience. Nowadays, technology advancement creates a fast track of testing ideas of elevating new conceptual services and thus, allows tourism service providers a chance to see their ideas become visualised and user-testable concepts.
Finland has the necessary expertise from tourism, mobile technology, the game industry, and service design practitioners, to produce advanced services in aquatic tourism. However, the challenge is that the necessary operators in the creation of technovation concepts for the tourism industry are widely dispersed, and the networks between them and the local tourism businesses are currently non-existent. BLUE Project is a standout example of a teamwork effort that bridges the two worlds together to create a new collaborative model for both technology startups and local tourism service entrepreneurs in creating new technovation concepts.
This article discusses the journey of LAB8 with its leading role in BLUE Project that ultimately result in a sustainable ecosystem of teamwork for cross-industrial participants, such as: Augmented/Virtual Reality (AR/VR) communities, Open Data (OD) communities, and Tourism Services communities in building new aquatic tourism concepts for Finland.
The Blue Story
BLUE enables the potential of collaborated efforts between interdisciplinary practitioners of cross-industries: Technology and Service Design. LAB8 sees the opportunities of cross-sectoral cooperation between tourism businesses and others including technology companies, which lead to new types of business models and contribute to the development of an aquatic nature-based tourism ecosystem.
The idea of BLUE is that tourism service providers and technology providers will collaborate to produce tech-innovative solutions that result in 6-12 proofs-of-concept for tourism within the Helsinki Archipelago and the Finnish Lakeland regions. The intangible values of aquatic natural resources, such as the recreational use of waterways, are highly significant in Finland’s tourism. Furthermore, after the global success of the AR game – Pokémon Go, AR/VR and OD technology have proved itself as the changing cause of not only the IT industry but in the travelling and outdoor activities industry. Therefore, by openly working with the AR/VR and OD communities, the small tourism businesses can make their ideas possible with new way of digitalising and visualising the concepts.
Augmented/Virtual Reality (AR/VR) is the technology that can enable smartphone users to see into a looking glass of invisible information layers. With AR, tourists can have a completely elevated travelling experience that brings together both the real-world elements and the invisible worlds that are visualised and displayed on the phone’s screen through its camera. For example, Google Maps released an AR mode that features an animated fox to lead the way for travellers and locals’ alike needs.
Open data (OD) is another supportive technology that offers a vast amount of development opportunities in tourism, both for new products or business models and enhanced customer experiences. Open data refers to data collected by public agencies, organisations, businesses or private individuals that are made freely available to third parties.
The production of AR/VR and OD applications requires networked service system producers such as travel businesses, technology companies and communities, content and data providers. Small tourism service entrepreneurs in local regions are wary of investing in new AR/VR technology without proof of concept (i.e. certainty of demand, improved customer experience, customer acquisition or sales potential). Besides, application development tends to be engineer/technology-led, and not user-oriented. Moreover, the necessary operators are not familiar with each other or each other’s industries. BLUE Project is where LAB8 performs their service design expertise to allow the networking and open innovation to happen that would last even after the project has ended.
LAB8 is a Service Experience Design Laboratory where the main driven passion is about service design thinking. The key aim in service design thinking is to design and innovate services with an user-centred approach. Service design is suitable for projects that produce, through in-depth user insight and participatory design, either completely new and innovative service concepts or upgraded and renewed versions of existing concepts. By implementing service design thinking in “technovation” development framework for BLUE Project, LAB8 provides a long-term guideline for the sustainable collaboration between tourism businesses and technology providers. The next sections discuss in detail how the project has been implemented and the results.
Actions and implementations
Launch and research stage
LAB8 was the project coordinator; its role was to map, and contact key operators including Technology providers of AR/VR and Open Data, and Tourism companies as the Tourism Service providers. The focal regions were Turku Archipelago, Helsinki Urban Nature, and Finnish Lakeland area. The Global Best Practices study was conducted to map existing open database AR/VR service concepts and producer networks that support aquatic nature-based tourism. LAB8 also conducted an analysis of the operating environment and collation of existing knowledge, data relating to tourism trends, user research, and tourism statistics from the target areas.
The co-creation workshops were organised in January 2018 and 2019 for the tri-partite organisations. The purpose of the workshops was to present best practices to operators in the area, co-create new digital service concept ideas, and put together teams of business and community representatives to design the most promising case-concepts identified by the participants. Co-creation continued after the workshop on the digital Project Booster platform, which was designed for participatory ideation. Using in-depth user understandings and working in cooperation with the tri-partite organisations, the service design teams developed new concepts for aquatic nature-based tourism and new AR/VR solutions aimed at enhancing the customer experience and/or providing sales channels. LAB8 supported and facilitated the tri-partite work and provided knowledge supports from national and international experts in service design, service innovation, and AR/VR and OD technologies when needed.
Proof of concept
The aim was to produce 6-12 service design projects that use AR/VR and/or OD technologies as innovation factors. Each project corresponded to approximately 500–700 hours of design work. Each service design project had a testing round with real users by using fast prototyping methods to produce a concept design for the new solution. Thereafter, development work shalt take place outside of the proposed project under individual projects implemented by the operator network. The project scope limits only to the proof-of-concept stage. The purpose of the scope limitation is to ensure that the project will not support any individual businesses or in any way distort the market.
In total, there were approximately 150 participants during the development cycles, and over 10 service design projects developed proofs-of-concept involving AR/VR technologies. In this article, the notable proofs-of-concept are divided into three innovation categories based on geographical themes: Sustainable Lakeland Tourism, Cruise Tourism in Helsinki’s Archipelago, and National Park Tourism.
Sustainable Lakeland Tourism
The Lakeland regions in Finland welcome both domestic and international tourists thanks to the aquatic nature elements as well as Lakeland’s regionally unique animals. The tourism businesses in the regions want to promote a sustainable image that combines great tourist experiences with knowledge about nature preservation.
In Järvisydän Spa & Resorts, every year, hundreds of tourists travel to Saimaa region with the hope of seeing Norppa, the endangered ringed seals. It has become less and less possible because the species is sensitive to human encounter. The concept is to bring an AR Norppa to tourists so that they can interact with the Saimaa’s famous seal and through the AR experience, tourists can make conscious choices for Norppa when visiting Saimaa regions.
Another project is about Imatra city’s rapids show. How has the city of Imatra elevated the visit experience of their famous rapids when the rapids are closed? The answer is with Augmented Reality. The proof of concept has been developed into ready service at www.virtuaalikoski.fi.The visitors can follow an AR trout to different checkpoints to explore the Imatra city and its nature.
Cruise tourism in Helsinki’s Archipelago
Island hopping in the Helsinki’s Archipelago will be more fun because AR is going to show visitors the way to experience the underwater world. The service design project that focuses on the cruise tourism in Helsinki’s Archipelago has used AR technology in a mobile concept called SEAVIEW – An Underwater World in Helsinki’s Archipelago. The mobile application is a location-based application that pinpoints the hidden treasures of wrecked ships, sea creatures and untold stories about what lies deep down in the Gulf of Finland.
National Park Tourism
With the growing effect of social media influencing on users’ decision, the needs to incorporate social aspect in AR concepts are visible. NatureScope is how the city of Tampere will promote visitation to its national parks with a new concept of bringing nature to potential visitors. The concept is an application called ForestifyAR
that promotes visiting Tampere’s national parks. Users would use the application to create and interact with an augmented natural environment, such as growing forests or watching a group of deer. When satisfying with the designed forest surrounding, users can take screenshots and share with their friends and families asking them to visit the national parks in Tampere.
Sought impact and innovativeness
The project has combined service design thinking as its framework for the development of “technovation” concepts with AR/VR and OD as development tools. The derived framework implementation has brought out the wanted results, which is the successful collaborative effort of 150 participants. The novelty value of the proofs-of-concept is high due to the cross-sectoral expertise and the technological advancement involved.
The project has created a new operating model for cooperation between tourism + open data + AR/VR/MR service providers, which further strengthens the regional ecosystems for service development. BLUE is an act of bravery in walking on the untouched water of actualizing “technovation” with regional aquatic tourism businesses who are often left unencouraged by the always-growing world of technology enhancement. Taken into consideration of the shyness and non-existing networks situation between the worlds of the local businesses (both in tourism services and in technology services), LAB8 has shattered the barriers and given the two worlds an opportunity to share their expert insights and create new concepts together. The tri-partite of AR/VR service providers, OD service providers, and the tourism businesses in chosen regions have formed connections and communications that promise a sustainable and supportive ecosystem for future “technovation” in the Finnish tourism scenes.
Although the pioneer, LAB8 is not the only one that has been participated in the project, there have been many collaborate that involved in the process. Thanks to the determination and well-planned operation, the outcome result has exceeded all expectations, as it is a first-of-its-kind project in Finland.
We would like to thank the Manchester Metropolitan University’s AR/VR Hub, VTT Multimedia, and NHTV Breda University of Applied Sciences for their experts support throughout the project.
Moilanen is an experienced Service Designer and SDN Accredited Service Design Trainer. He has participated in different roles to 100+ service design projects, ranging from airlines to shopping malls and from hotels to healthcare. At present, he is working as adviser and coach for several place branding projects at both city and nation levels.
Nguyen has been in the IT industry specialized in Digital Service and User Research Sector for 4 years. Her passion is in researching and developing User-Centre Design for Augmented Reality utilities. At present, she is working on multiple AR/VR projects in LAB8 that involved cross-industry professionals.