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Games and Tourism

Games are important and relevant in ways that transcend personal entertainment. You probably know that games and learning is a major area of study and development, along with games for health, and games for social impact. And serious games and simulations are widely used in military and corporate contexts.

But tourism? That might be a new one for you. In fact, a growing number of travel and tourism companies and destinations are turning to games as a way to both market their locations and services, and to better engage tourists during their vacations.

The field of tourism and hospitality shares a lot with the field of game design, especially in their focus on the psychology of motivation and engagement. Professionals in both fields are trying to attract people to engage in their experience, and to make that experience enjoyable and compelling enough that people want to repeat and enhance the experience. In games, the goal is to have players continue to pay monthly fees, or buy new content (DLC, expansions, sequels, and new titles from the same publisher). In tourism, the goal is to encourage tourists to spend longer periods of time in a given destination, and to encourage repeat business--either returning to a destination, or continuing to patronize the airline, cruise, or hotel business.

On a very basic level, airlines and hotels have been applying game design principles to their frequent traveler programs for years--with points, leveling up, and rewards for "winners"--although these represent a very rudimentary (and not very fun!) type of game.  But what does a more engaging game for tourists look like?

From a marketing standpoint, it could be a virtual representation of a location that allows you to explore it before visiting it,  a website with games and activities that help you learn about a destination (e.g.Thailand's Smile Land Game), or even a board game that draws on the geography and history of the location (e.g Ten Days in Europe or Tokaido).

Once a tourist has arrived at a destination, augmented/mixed reality games like Ingress and Pokemon Go can encourage them to explore areas they might not otherwise visit. Activity books and scavenger hunts can do the same, especially for younger travelers and those without mobile devices.

Here at RIT, we're starting to look at how to introduce our students to designing and developing for this market. Using our campus in Dubrovnik, Croatia--a UNESCO heritage site, and one of the top tourist destinations in Europe--we have created a new semester-long study abroad program targeted at game design, marketing, and tourism/hospitality students. Students participating in the program will take a seminar on games and tourism in which they review case studies and learn about the intersections of the two fields. They will also participate in a production studio where they build games focused on Dubrovnik's history and culture. (Dubrovnik also serves as the location for King's Landing in the HBO Game of Thrones series, which provides an additional opportunity for game development!) This program will run for the first time in Spring of 2018--for more information on the study abroad program, see http://gamesandtourism.com/rit