6 great ways to build tourism networks through training programmesNov 30, 2022
Training programmes for tourism destinations are not just about training. Of course, the knowledge and skills that are taught and learned are important. These are ‘the tangibles’ that are written into the curriculum and learning outcomes. At least equally important however are ‘the intangibles’ – the relationships, connections, feelings and emotions that form within the training space.
A programme is more than a once-off session or workshop. While we deliver those too, when we speak about ‘programmes’ we mean training packages that range from 6 weeks to 18 months with multiple opportunities and formats to meet and learn. Programmes focus not only on building skills and knowledge but also on building a destination identity and mindset amongst participants.
To secure participation, a programme’s content must be relevant, stimulating and professionally packaged and delivered. To ensure legacy value, a programme must create an emotional connection within the group and create space for the group to build collective confidence, motivation, reassurance and ambition.
Feedback from a recent 12-week Business Sustainability Training Programme that we delivered revealed that the relationships formed during the programme were the aspect most valued by the participants and also most valued by the funding authority. That prompted us to review methods that we and others have employed to deliberately create a space for nurturing that personal and professional connection that will endure beyond the end of the final learning event.
Based on our review, here are 6 tips that may help you build tourism networks during training programmes:
1. Put the spotlight on the learners
Aim to allow every participant 5-10 minutes ‘in the spotlight’ over the course of a programme. This is a designated slot where they get to present themselves and their business to their peers on the programme. When we do this, we encourage the participant to share something of their personal backstory i.e. how and why they came to be in the business they’re in because we know that this is the piece that others in the group will connect with the most. We encourage them to use the rest of their time letting the others know how to refer their experience to visitors i.e. what type of experience they offer, who it’s best suited to and what to say to a prospective visitor.
2. Hold the training in member premises
Nowadays, most programmes have a high content of online learning. However, destination training programmes benefit particularly from a high ratio of face-to-face learning. We aim to have face-to-face workshops for at least 40% of our training programme. This allows us to hold the training in a number of different member premises, choosing a different one each time. While they may not always have the perfect training room set-up or facilities, these sessions provide participants with that golden opportunity of being a visitor in their own destination. We are always astonished (as are the participants themselves) at how few have ever taken the time to visit the other places that their visitors go to. Moving training around grows a sense of pride and confidence in each other and in the destination offering.
3. Bring some of the learning outdoors
Hosting a learning session in the outdoors is a great way to bring variety into a training programme. From the off, the idea of being outdoors creates a different dynamic that is highly conducive to building relationships. People come with positive expectations, they prepare and dress differently, their physiology and psychology is different. Fresh air and vitamin D heighten the mood and keep it elevated throughout the session. People chat, walk alongside each other, engage in good-humoured banter, all of which leads to a melting of those invisible barriers that exist. In the last 18 months, we’ve been able to offer full-day outdoor Leave No Trace Awareness training as a core element of destination training programmes. Feedback tells us that this opportunity to be together in nature with a collective focus on nature has been highly valued by participants.
4. Harness the learners’ wisdom and expertise
While you want the training programme to be delivered by experts, you also want to ensure that resident experts emerge during the programme. Within any cohort of participant businesses in a destination, you will have people who have more expertise in a particular topic than the host trainer has. It is important that they are given the opportunity to share this expertise with their peers in the group for a number of reasons:
- participants learn to appreciate the expertise that is around them that they may be able to tap into after the programme
- they learn to appreciate that their own expertise is valuable to others and that they have something tangible to contribute
- they build their belief and confidence in each other and in the strength of the group moving forward after the programme
It is very important to name the expert, acknowledge their expertise and its value to the group and thank them for sharing. This provides the social licence for them to continue to contribute in this way and also encourages others in the group to do the same.
5. Include a Field Trip
While they can be a logistically challenging, field trips to another destination or attraction are the best network-building mechanisms within a destination training programme. A couple of days on a bus, shared meals, some drinks in the evening, learning something new in an authentic but unfamiliar setting… all of these things create important moments of learning that will be recalled and be useful long after the trip itself. If curated carefully, field trips will reinforce and enhance all the other learning of the programme. Field trips feel less structured and, as a shared social experience, are often the most memorable part of any programme. In the last year, we have hosted wonderful learning journeys to the Burren & Cliffs of Moher Geopark (theme of sustainability) and to Waterford (theme of Greenways) as well as ‘internal’ field trips where participants stay close to home and explore their own destination for the day.
6. Be intentional about the programme conclusion
We try to avoid ‘ending’ a programme. We try to present the last session in the formal programme as the first step in the rest of the group’s journey together. One way we do this is to invite the learners to share their main learnings from the programme, the actions they have taken as a result and their plans for future action. This provides a framework for each individual to assimilate their learnings and think intentionally about the next steps. Sharing this publicly with other participants builds a sense of accountability and commitment. It also boosts the collective intention of the group and provides a platform for follow-up and further discussion once the programme concludes. It’s a good idea to make an event of the final session – present certificates of completion, issue a press release, invite local politicians and policy makers, take a professional group photograph.
During programme design and delivery we are mindful to allow substantial time for spontaneous learner contribution, conversation, questions, opinions and for participants who have expertise to share that expertise with others. We want to have comfortable time for engagement and interaction and for the most important learning of all – learning from your peers. Achieving a good balance between instruction and interaction is of paramount importance. Destination training programmes are only partly about delivering content that builds knowledge and skills. They are also very much about building relationships that are the basis of destination networks and that are the true legacy value of the programme.
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