Analysis - April 14, 2014



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April 2014


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Enhance your product with dynamic nature interpretation activities

Interpretation activities encourage a lot of visitor participation and transform visits into memorable experiences. Furthermore, the method is available to any destination wishing to engage directly with its public.

A perfect blend of entertainment and education, this technique is a powerful tool for helping visitors learn about an area. It triggers a response by playing on people’s emotional connection to nature. The education programs available today are constantly evolving.

A growing demand

Nature tourists seek sensory experiences. A study entitled Adventure Tourism Market Study 2013, published jointly by the Adventure Travel Trade Association and George Washington University, shows that adventure tourists look for travel experiences involving interaction with culture and nature.

How can interpretation affect the visitor experience?

Every park and organization has a message to deliver and, if this message is framed properly, interpretation can improve not only the visitor experience, but also the image of the destination management organization or agency. In places with the dual mission of welcoming the public and preserving the site, nature education has a very important role to play. A scientific interpretation of the environment can transform certain visitor perceptions and raise awareness of new concerns. The Mingan Island Cetacean Study Research Station, the Hands Up Holidays travel agency in Slovakia and the ExplorAysén tour operators association in Patagonia offer the public opportunities to take part in research sessions and interpretation tours in places of particular interest or with special features. This type of activity also guarantees a more dynamic visit and group interactions.

Suggestions for adding this type of activity to your products

Visitor expectations have changed: travellers want to do more than simply enjoy the scenery; they want to participate, have experiences and truly understand what they’re seeing.

Since “what to learn” is closely connected to “how to learn,” effective interpretation activities help visitors relate the information they are given to what they already know. Four aspects must be kept in mind when deciding how to approach the content:

  • It must be fun, to encourage tourists to participate in activities.
  • It must be relevant and provide clear information on the product in question.
  • It must be organized and structured to guide visitors throughout the program.
  • It must be linked to a theme and deliver a strong message so visitors do not forget what they have learned when they get home.

In fact, unless nature itself imposes a theme, it is a good idea to select a specific theme to generate client interest. Here are some examples: literary walks in Poitou-Charentes, guided night tours while snowshoeing in Quebec, mountain biking in the Alps or kayaking in Puerto Rico, tours combining observation and photography in Spain, animal tracking, role-playing, culinary tours in Florence, guided walking tours, the glass trail in Finland, a wild mushroom workshop at Au Diable Vert and edible forest plants in New Brunswick.


Source: Alpes du Léman


Source: Photographic services in Val d’Aran, Spain

Numerous elements can be highlighted, such as the site’s general characteristics (geography, ecosystems, climate, etc.), flora (plant variety, special features of trees, etc.), wildlife (animals specific to the area, rare species, nocturnal species, etc.) or the region’s history. Interpretation activities help individuals better understand their environment. When a destination relates what visitors learn to what they see or experience directly in the area, visitors become more aware, conscientious and act more responsibly.

For managers, it is important to provide just the right amount of information and find effective delivery methods. Some basic tips:

  • Become familiar with your clients’ expectations and adapt the information according to the context.
  • Find your own interpretation and facilitation style (pedagogy, listening skills and communication techniques).
  • Ask questions and enhance your own knowledge to provide high-quality, accurate information.
  • Organize the activity around points of interest (a vista point, peat bog, wetland, observation site, etc.).

Creative, original and stimulating activities

Explanatory panels, an interactive multimedia environment, a guide/interpreter or naturalist, brochures, videos, photos, geocaching and themed tours are all good ways to create a stimulating environment for your clients to learn and discover.

In particular, there is growing interest in using technological tools out in nature, which has the advantage of making information more accessible and getting beyond traditional sightseeing tours, even if these tools sometimes seem intrusive. The Park Path Explorer  by Sépaq, the Vendée Vélo application on the Escapado Web portal in Provence and the iNature Trail in Florida are excellent examples of this.


Source: iNature Trail, Florida

Other destinations invest in innovative facilities and physical media like the concept of the underwater trail in Port-Cros National Park or Croatia, canoe trails with an audioguide in Obalski Park or panels in the Everglades, adapted routes like the interpretative tables and models set up in the Pyrénées National Park for visually-impaired or physically disabled visitors (watch the video), or tours in electric vehicles, like the biotrain at the Quebec Centre de la Biodiversité.


Source: Port-Cros National Park


Source: Lucy Wilcox Claiborne


Source: Parcs nationaux de France

To raise the awareness of future generations or target children, one must use a variety of approaches to increase attention and participation. Some ways to do this are outdoor shows, treasure hunts, finding the answers to riddles or telling stories and legends. The Marais Poitevin nature reserve, Yellowstone National Park and Canada’s Terra-Nova National Park all offer programs designed especially for children.


Source: Jérôme Chevereau, Marais Poitevin nature reserve

Touch, see, smell, taste, and hear: Awaken all five senses

Create multisensory environments with interactive situations that offer a wealth of opportunities for discussion. Listen to your clients, appeal to their emotions! Tell them stories! Interpretation activities can transform your product and help it become a driver of regional dynamism.


– Association québécoise des interprètes du patrimoine. "Interprétation; parcours et pratiques particulières aux lieux scientifiques, technologiques et en milieu naturel," La revue de l’AQIP, no. 4, volume 1, March 2013.

– Chaumier, Serge and Daniel Jacobi. "Nouveaux regards sur l’interprétation et les centres d’interprétation," La lettre de l’OCIM, no. 119, 2008.

– Fugère, Anne. "L’interprétation au cœur de l’action," talk delivered at the Aventure Écotourisme Québec conference, November 6, 2013.

– Norden. "Nature Interpretation for Children and Young People in the Nordic Countries," 2013.

– Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences. International conference on heritage interpretation, June 15-18, 2013, Sigtuna (Sweden).

– Tourism Queensland. "Innovation in interpretation: 30 case studies," 2000.

– Wearing, Stephen et al. "Enhancing Visitor Experience Through Interpretation: An Examination of Influencing Factors," Sustainable Tourism Cooperative Research Centre, 2008. Available online:


Association for Heritage Interpretation

Aventure Écotourisme Québec

Interpretation Australia

Interpret Europe

  • Clara Labadie

    I found your article very interesting and was pleased to know that we are on the right track with our tours which offer the five sensory activities recommended.

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