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Play's Place in Tourism and Hospitality

Play might be the most natural, inherently human aspect we all have in common. As children, we don’t have to think about it, we just do it. We pick up a stick, it quickly becomes a sword, and towels turn into superhero capes in an instant. Our imagination never falters to take a mundane moment or object and transform it into something magical & exciting.

When is the last time as an adult, you were encouraged to play? To buck tradition, color outside the lines, and partake in a little daydreaming? Better yet, when did a hospitality property or tourism experience enable you to revert back to your childlike ways and tap into a more playful state?

Play and adulting seem to be at constant battle with each other. As we become burdened with jobs and responsibilities, there’s less time for exploration for explorations’ sake. Tinkering, dabbling, doodling – unless you’re in the creative space, it’s typically frowned upon once you hit a certain age. But what is a life without play? Not very pretty...

(Source: National Institute of Play)

Play is a complex topic, because there are so many different types of play (upwards of sixteen) and the value of play shifts and evolves depending on what stage of life we’re in. Andrew Huberman in his podcast episode on play puts it perfectly: It is through the process of play that we become who we are as adults, and it is through the process of play, that we are able to ADJUST who we are as adults.

In fact, important neuroscientific findings are proving that play literally wires the brain for the skills we use our whole lifetime — physical agility, social confidence, emotional regulation, creativity, and resilience. According to the National Institute for Play, as adults, time spent in a play state increases our resilience — it activates neural pathways in the brain that mitigate the effects of stress.

When we take off all our super serious hats and put on our play hat, a world of possibility opens up. After all, one of the major obstructions to creativity is a fixed identity. When we are in play mode, the prefrontal cortex starts seeing and exploring many more possibilities with how we interact with our environment, with others, and the roles we can assume for ourselves. It allows us to explore different outcomes in a low stake environment.

Because of this, we believe that leisure travel IS the portal of play. We like to think of play as the more actionable form of exploration and discovery. And the more we move away from work, seriousness, autopilot tasks, the more we enter into the realm of play, imagination, and creativity.

It’s nearly impossible to engage the play circuitry when there are high stakes or seriousness. And travel does such a brilliant job of removing us from that tense, rigid, adulting mode. The experiences we engage in while we’re on vacation are often low stakes, where we feel less of a need to do things perfectly. In fact, when we’re traveling in new places with new people, we even have an easier time stepping into new adventurous roles & identities.

Museums, wineries & distilleries, national parks, restaurants & bars, adventure courses, music venues… these are the adult versions of playgrounds. These places are often where we go to have fun, but having fun and playing are not always synonymous. While yes, play is about having fun, play at its core is more-so about low stakes experimenting and expanding. Unlike fun, play typically has goals, but the pleasure and engaging quality of the activity are more important than the outcome.

Adults who don’t play are less curious, imaginative, and experience less spontaneous joy according to physiotherapist, Jessica Maguire, in the video below. When we enable our guests to play, we’re supporting them in their growth, wellbeing, and even healing. Take a moment to watch this great video on how play can heal one’s nervous system.

As Jessica points out, play is personal. What your nervous system needs is maybe not what your guest's nervous system is comfortable with. So, you will have to take time to explore the play personalities of your guests. Spend some time reflecting on the ways you witness your guests being playful vs. where they look uncomfortable. Consider what playful activities your guests are nostalgic for and how those childhood activities can be transformed into experiences for adults. For example…

  • The child who loved to sew and play with paper dolls might turn into an adult who loves to travel to explore the world through fashion, textiles and patterns.

  • The child who loved to play with stuffed animals might turn into an adult who loves to take a safari adventure.

  • The child who loved to treasure hunt around their neighborhood might turn into an adult who loves to travel the world collecting antiques.

  • The child who loved to play the harmonica might turn into an adult who loves to tour with their favorite country bands around the globe.

Sometimes, all we need is a new environment and invitation to step into a new role to help us tap into the power of play. A sort of ‘psychological halloweenism’ if you will. Because let’s face it – most people have a hard time loosening up after spending day in & day out with their role of ‘serious professional with family to take care of’. Shifting into play mode and open-minded exploration isn’t like flicking on and off a light switch.

Play merges beautifully with wellbeing, nostalgia, and other important travel trends that you can’t afford to ignore. If you were to walk through your experience right now and take note of all invitations to play, how many would you find? Would you find any?

If you’re having a hard time envisioning what ‘adult play’ might look like, we are here to help. Our creative play-ful experience design process empowers guests to channel their curiosity and imagination in hands-on and immersive ways. Our new Journey Mapping tool has many play styles baked into it so you can easily integrate them into any moment. Click here to schedule a call today to explore the play-abilities!


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