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Experience Economy
How Cities Become Memorable?

In today’s experiential marketplace, all companies are experience businesses and all cities are experience stages.


Mário Passos Ascenção

principal lecturer
Haaga-Helia ammattikorkeakoulu

Published : 05.11.2019

Twenty years ago, Pine and Gilmore stated that “an experience occurs when a company intentionally uses services as the stage, and goods as props, to engage individual customers in a way that creates a memorable event. Commodities are fungible, goods tangible, services intangible, and experiences memorable.” Since then, memories became a pivotal area of interest by those staging experiences. Given that increasing products and services include symbolic and experiential benefits, the experience economy concept is particularly useful for destinations, cities and experience businesses as it encourages managers to consider experiences as a distinct economic offering and value.

Guests’ commercial ‘lived experiences’, representations of the experiences, choices and the knowledge that they gain from these experiences, attain significance as a result of reflection, memory formation and construction. The importance of the concept of ‘memorable’ is of more relevance to managers than the concept of ‘memory,’ since memorable is associated with the exceptional, outstanding, extraordinary, unforgettable, and alike while most memories tend to be ordinary.

Today, memorable experiences represent a new benchmark that destinations, cities and experience businesses seek to offer in order to become and remain competitive in the marketplace. While in situ experiences are momentary and may provide transitory feelings, experiences stored in memory are of great importance, as guests often reflect on their experiences. The memory of an experience is critical, as it holds a certain attraction and intrinsic reward that materialize in the moments of storytelling, and therefore helping to relive an experience long after it has taken place. This poses hitherto unexplored question, how cities become memorable?

A few years ago, Kim, Ritchie and McCormick suggested that a memorable tourism experience (MTE) is selectively constructed from tourism experiences based on the individual’s assessment of the experience. They defined MTEs as experiences positively remembered and recalled after the event has occurred.

The results of their study comprised seven dimensions (hedonism, novelty, local culture, refreshment, meaningfulness, involvement and knowledge) that represent the MTE.  Hedonism is believed as pleasurable feelings that excite oneself. Novelty-seeking refers to a psychological feeling of newness resulted from having a new experience. Local culture denotes a good impression about local people and closely experienced local culture. Refreshment is the feeling of refreshment or renewal and relaxation. Meaningfulness is a sense of great value or significance, namely doing something important and valuable.  Involvement refers to the extent to which an individual is interested in an activity and their affective responses aroused from the activity. Knowledge refers to the cognitive aspect of an experience, which involves learning and education. If we take the MTE dimensions as the answer, then cities become highly memorable by using MTE dimensions in staging a mix of offerings for guests to create and co-create experiences.

A recent study by Sthapit and Coudounaris tested the MTE scale in a city tourism context, that is, among international tourists to Rovaniemi, Finland. A web-based post-holiday survey was conducted among tourists to Rovaniemi and a valid sample of 202 tourists was used for data analysis. Structural equation modeling was applied to investigate the relationships between MTE dimensions and subjective well-being. The results show that tourists’ subjective well-being is influenced by two MTE dimensions: hedonism and meaningfulness. The findings of their study led them to recommend that destination managers in Rovaniemi should develop and design activities that are perceived as exciting, delightful, fun, thrilling and interesting. In addition, destination managers should offer tourism activities that involve the strengthening of bonds with travel companions and developing new bonds with other travelers, which may offer a meaningful experience and contributes to an MTE.

Well intended recommendations, indeed. However, destinations and cities have been described as fragmented, consisting of companies and other stakeholders with diverse goals and strategies who are responsible for delivering different products and services including experiences. This means that the development and design of experiences are in the hands of many different companies and actors that are outside the control of city development managers. In fact, only a part of the experiences staged come from the planned efforts, while a significant part of the total experience comes from interactions and/or moments outside destinations, cities and experience businesses control. Thus, the focus should be on integration, cooperation and coordination efforts aimed at developing and supporting a shared vision, value proposition, intended brand identity and experiences. It is only then that the MTE dimensions can be used holistically and possibly contribute to cities become memorable.

About the authors:

Dr. Mário Passos Ascenção works as a principal lecturer at Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences. Mário is a Certified Experience Expert by the Lapland Centre of Expertise for the Experience Industry (now House of Lapland), an Accredited Service Design Master Trainer by the Service Design Network (SDN), and a Certified Facilitator of LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® method by the Association of Master Trainers. He is also a Certified Hospitality Educator (CHE®) and a Certified Guest Service Professional (CGSP®) by the American Hotel & Lodging Educational Institute. His current teaching, training, research and publications focus on service design, experience design and the experience economy.

Dr. Erose Sthapit works as an RDI Specialist at Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences. Erose has completed his PhD from University of Vaasa and in the past decade, he has been involved in conducting research work, published numerous peer-reviewed articles and travelled the world presenting his research. He was recently given the 2018 most citations award by the Scandinavian Journal of Hospitality and Tourism for his co-authored article titled ‘Memorable tourism experiences: Antecedents and outcomes’, which is covered in this blog.