Northern Ireland Tourist Board

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Belfast City Bike Tours

Product Innovation

Give your customers what they want

Your tourism business is a unique part of Northern Ireland’s tourism offering. How visitors feel about Northern Ireland will reflect all the individual experiences they had during their trip, no matter how big or small. The more customer-focused businesses are, the more successful the Northern Ireland tourism experience (and your business) will be.

The changing tourism environment

Over the past decade, changing consumer behaviour has had a dramatic impact on global tourism. Traditionally, tourism destinations developed a series of products and services – a hotel room, a beach, a beautiful landscape – which were packaged up and sold to customers in a generic way. However, changing needs and expectations have led today’s tourists to do things differently. Increasingly, they are looking for bespoke offerings that provide them with once-in-a-lifetime experiences that closely match their individual needs and aspirations. They want to be engaged on a personal level and feel something from the places they visit, and to be touched by the stories of the people and actively participate in culture and community.

Create the ‘wow’ factor

Reflecting on their experience, visitors will want to say that they got a real sense of what Northern Ireland is all about; they will want to have had ‘wow factor’ moments that they can brag about to their friends on social media; and they will want to feel that they have discovered ‘hidden gems’, the sorts of things that aren’t listed in the guidebook.

Give your customers what they want

Different customers will want different things, from more active to more passive experiences – but the principles for your business remain the same…

  • Get the basics right - To satisfy customers’ basic needs your core business foundation should be based on a quality product, excellent value, good customer service and a connection with your surrounding area.
  • Innovate your offer - Go one step further and exceed their expectations. Think about how what you offer could help to create special memories. Innovation doesn’t always need high levels of investment. Sometimes doing the simple things well can make a big impact.

Innovation through collaboration

Although you may be able to enhance your tourism offer in isolation, a more effective approach will be to collaborate with other complementary tourism businesses to create visitor experiences that deliver more than the sum of their parts. To identify opportunities for collaboration, first consider your destination area and then look at Northern Ireland’s key themes.

Work with others in your destination area

When identifying businesses to work with, you may want to consider those that have a natural fit (e.g. restaurateurs and producers in a fishing port working together to create a seafood experience); but equally it may be that the only linkage between you and potential collaborators is that you are located in the same destination (e.g. a rural hotel that works with a nearby activity provider to offer guests more to do during their stay).

The key thing in identifying collaborative opportunities for your business is to have a good knowledge of what’s on your doorstep:

  • What are the key selling points of your local area? Can you tie in with them?
  • Which businesses seem to attract most visitors?
  • What types of experience are other businesses offering? Have you sampled them? What is the quality like?
  • Do you share any local heritage / stories with other businesses in your destination area?


Work across NI’s key themes

Use NI’s key themes to identify opportunities for collaboration:

  • Maximise linkages with key attractors – do you share a connection with any key attractors that fall under each theme, such as the Titanic story? Are you located on / close to any of the key attractors e.g. Causeway Coastal Route?
  • Create your own clustered experiences under each theme – do you share a common thread with other businesses that, when clustered together, could create an exceptional visitor experience? For example, could you collaborate with other businesses to create a themed itinerary or trail based around any of the attractors that sit underneath each theme (e.g. maritime history, traditional music or literature)? The businesses that share these connections may be located in your destination area or, if your experience is compelling enough for visitors to travel, could be in other parts of Northern Ireland.


Working in partnership

Forging mutually beneficial business relationships

Why you should work with others
Working with others is an important way to maximise business potential. In reality, tourism providers attempting to attract customers exclusively through their own individual offers are less likely to attract as many tourists as they would by working together with other operators. By working in collaboration, you will be able to offer a more diverse and compelling experience.

The benefits of joint working

  • Visitors stay longer due to range of experiences on offer.
  • Visitors spend more = increased business revenue.
  • Visitors are more aware of what the region has to offer.
  • Increased profile for your business and region.
  • Opportunities to learn from each other and access useful knowledge and insights.
  • Easier for the travel trade to sell.
  • Increased media opportunities.
  • Competition for business is with other regions rather than between products.

How do I go about it?

  • Create a package: Consider creating a package with another operator to sell at an inclusive price e.g. a hotel room with a concert ticket. The packages can be sold direct to the customer or indirectly through inbound tour operators or other bonded operators such as coach operators. However, packages of this nature are regulated by the Package Travel Directive. As such, the costs and complexities involved in complying make it a prohibitive option for many tourism businesses.
  • Create a ‘cluster’: The solution for many smaller businesses is product ‘bundling’ or ‘clustering’. This involves combining complementary products to provide an enhanced offer and a more complete and compelling experience for your customers. This approach differs from packaging in that the products are promoted together but sold separately.


Guidelines to Developing Tourism Cluster Groups

This guide has been designed as a practical tool to help you get started to establish groups that have clear objectives, a common purpose around their visitors and with the best foundations to grow and develop.


Download Belfast City Bike Tours Case Study: Product Innovation