Source: via Simon on Pinterest


The various components of tourism provide some of Service Design’s most engaging challenges. From the logistical complexities of transport to the experiential intricacies of accommodation, tourism is a rich seam of opportunity for people in the business of creating and managing service experiences.

Our visit to SDT2012 in Innsbruck provided ample opportunity to consider the past, present and future of tourism as a service, and as one of the greatest experiences we can have. From the timeless beauty of Innsbruck and its mountain setting, to the tourism innovation laid out in the sessions, the possibilities for tourism are endless.

Data was an unavoidable theme of the conference. While the explosion in tourism-relevant data types is unlocking real potential for new experiences and delivery mechanisms it’s clear that we’re only at the beginning of a journey that will generate completely new models of user-experience. The challenge for Service Design is to find new ways to pull together wildly different types of data, from sentiment to climate, and turn them into something individually meaningful.

The evening before the conference Thomas Schönweitz was talking about how designers wanted to make the world better. I kept revisiting this idea as the interconnectedness of tourism with the environment and corporate responsibility wove in and out of the conference tracks. Tourism needs to go beyond the mitigation of impact and consider new possibilities for positive intervention. User-experience is increasingly inseparable from global implications.

The first day opened with Dave Carroll, whose customer experience with United Airlines became something of an internet meme. His music video, based on the damage his guitar suffered at United’s hands, has now been seen by nearly 13 million viewers. A stark reminder of how wrong a service can go and a useful start to two days of thinking about the user.

Other keynotes explored the history of Service Design in tourism, with Kip Lee talking about great examples like César Ritz; or some of the contemporary challenges of Service Design, as Barney Kirby took us through the mind-boggling scale and complexity of delivering integrated digital services for Marriott hotels.

From the introductions onwards there were constant reminders of the topic’s sheer diversity. Contributors talked about everything from sensory studies in theme parks to wayfinding in airports. Some of it was mid-study, some of it had failed, but all of it was open to discussion. It was good to see some real honesty.

One of the core ideas of the conference was meeting people, and in keeping with this social approach the first day ended in a communal dinner upstairs at MCI, overlooking Innsbruck and the mountains beyond. Despite the heat of the evening (designers need to work on this) the combination of food, talk and game-playing punctuated the conference neatly.

The second day packed in more talks but it’s worth a special mention for the workshops. The whole conference combined presentations and workshops in parallel tracks and although I did miss some of the more interactive sessions on the first day I was lucky enough to make it to Adam and Markus‘ hour of serious play on day two.

Adam and Markus stepped in again the following morning to provide a Service Jam and it was fun to spend some time with the conference stragglers, thinking about making things. We had to leave early but the teams struggled on valiantly and the resulting four ideas can be found here.

My main takeaway from the conference was a feeling that there is a lot of work to be done, that much of the topic is still raw. But the sheer variety of content and approach (from academic insights to service theatrics), coming together under a single theme, shows a willingness and drive to find new connections and innovate. And besides, raw is good.

I hope Marc Stickdorn and his team can find the energy to do it all over again next year. I’d like to see more making stuff but then that’s what we’re into.

  1. Thanks for the write up. Would have been great to be there, but hopefully next year. Where there any examples of local/ smaller businesses in tourism that focus on service design? thanks

  2. Hi, thanks for your comment. Many of the talks were about case studies and so, although they were generally delivered by researchers or designers, they did cover many different small businesses and events. The programme (http://www.servicedesigntourism.com/conference/?site=programm) has a few case studies that you can click through to although we missed a few of them because we were presenting ourselves. 🙂

    Some of the videos and images are also online now so you can start to see some of the talks. Hope this helps.

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