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Tourism Management 60 (2017) 244e256

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Serious games and the gamication of tourism*

Feifei Xu a, *, Dimitrios Buhalis b, Jessika Weber b
School of Humanities, Southeast University, Nanjing 210096, China
School of Tourism, Bournemouth University, Poole BH12 5BB, UK

h i g h l i g h t s

 A systematic review of the concept of gamication.

 Identied extrinsic and intrinsic motivational gaming elements that contribute to a meaningful gamication.
 Discussed the application of gamication in tourism with case practices.

a r t i c l e i n f o a b s t r a c t

Article history: Gamication has become a focus of attention in an increasing number of elds including business, ed-
Received 15 January 2016 ucation, and health care. Through a wide range of applications and support functions, its potential for the
Received in revised form tourism industry is signicant. Gamication of tourism can contribute to a more rewarding interactions
25 November 2016
and higher level of satisfaction, as well as increase brand awareness and loyalty to the destination. As one
Accepted 27 November 2016
Available online 18 December 2016
of the rst attempts to conceptualize gamication of tourism, this paper examines gaming in general
terms and the application of it in specic tourism elds. It identies game design elements that can
contribute to a meaningful gamication. A few cases of best practices are presented to show how this
innovative concept can benet tourism marketing. Implications for tourism marketing and management
Serious games are discussed as well as future research recommendations.
Engagement 2016 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Tourism experiences

1. Introduction methodologies to engage users at a deeper level and to improve

their experiences.
Persuasive computing technology has become popular in our The popularity of video games in the past decade, empowered
daily lives (Bogost, 2007; Shuib, Shamshirband, & Ismail, 2015). by the rapid development of smart mobile devices, allowing mo-
Serious games, as a type of persuasive technology, are computer/ bile experiences (Gentes, Guyot-Mbodji & Demeure, 2010) and
video games with a set of cognitive design properties to focus on vibrant on site communication, has made gaming popular and
changing user behaviour and transferring knowledge, instead of attractive to a broader group of players. Recently, serious games
the mere entertainment function of traditional games (Ghanbari, and the application of game elements have drawn a great atten-
Simila, & Markkula, 2015). They are widely used in training, med- tion from different elds, including education, heath, and tourism,
ical applications and leisure activities in the last decade (Oinas- motivating its adoption in a non-gaming context (Xu, Weber, &
Kukkonen & Harjumaa, 2008, pp. 200e205). Researchers (Xu, Buhalis, 2014). The recent 5 years has seen the spread of the ter-
Tian, Buhalis, Weber, & Zhang, 2015; p. 2) suggest they could minology gamication (Epstein, 2013). It usually refers to the
collect information about consumers, determine behaviour pat- application of game mechanism outside its original domain
terns, thought processes, priorities and interests, the aims of these (Deterding, Dixon, Khaled, & Nacke, 2011). Through a wide range
games usually include using gaming technologies and of applications and support functions, its potential for business is
signicant, such as engaging customers in experiential co-creation
and training service providers for innovative processes and
Part of the paper has been presented at the ENTER Conference, Dublin. functions.
* Corresponding author. Seaborn and Fels (2015 p16) state that gamication has its roots
E-mail addresses: (F. Xu),
in marketing endeavours. For example, loyalty cards, stamp books,
(D. Buhalis), (J. Weber).
0261-5177/ 2016 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
F. Xu et al. / Tourism Management 60 (2017) 244e256 245

competition and reward membership, are early approaches as 2. Gamication theory

customers can collect points to exchange for presents and gifts.
Foursquare partners with some restaurants to redeem game 2.1. The concept of games
players' virtual rewards or check-ins into free cupcakes and drinks
(Frey, 2012). WTM (2011) states gamication is spreading to the Avedon and Sutton-Smith (1971) conclude game features
travel industry and predicts it to be a popular future trend for travel include: voluntary participation, having certain rules, different
industry. Research on gamication is emerging with only a few parties may have conicts and usually generate unequal results.
academic papers discussing the use of gamication for marketing Although different denitions have been used, researchers agree a
and service industry (Huotari & Hamiri, 2012; Lucassen & Jasen, set of game characteristics can be used to dene games, such as
2014; Xu et al., 2014). Academic research on the use of gamica- rules, uncertain outcomes, conict etc. (Juul, 2003; Salen &
tion in tourism context is still limited with only a few exemptions Zimmerman, 2004). After reviewing several denitions of
(Sigala, 2015a; Xu et al., 2014; Correa & Kitano, 2015; Negrusa, games, Seaborn and Fels (2015 p16) summarize that the charac-
Toader, Soca, 2015). The recently published book on gamica- teristics of games usually include rules, structure, voluntary play,
tion in tourism (Bulencer& Egger, 2015) is a welcome addition to uncertain outcomes, conict, representation, resolution, etc..
the theoretical development. Rules build up boundaries and set up instructions of game play.
The aim of this study is to investigate how gamication could Conict includes both competition and cooperation between
support tourism marketing. The objectives of this paper therefore different parties and the game system itself (Xu et al., 2014). The
include: 1) systematically review the concept of gamication; 2) uncertain outcome refers to winning, losing or scoring against the
explore game design elements that are applicable in the tourism game goals or other players (Crawford, 2011; Reiser, 2012). Some
industry; 3) review best case practises on the adoption of gami- games include an element of luck as a random value determining
cation in the tourism industry; 4) discuss the benets of gami- next movement of the process, while other games are driven by
cation for tourism marketing. preference, knowledge, skill or collaboration between different
In order to investigate how gamication can benet tourism players. Gaming can be very addictive as players are motivated to
marketing, this research has been conducted with an exploratory reach a higher goal, to score points against each other and gain
research nature based on mini case studies. A case study is a either material or non-material gains such as inclusion to the hall
research strategy which usually studies one or multiple cases, often of honour (McGonigal, 2011).
used when research is still in its early formative stage (Punch,
2005). Gamication is a new research eld with multidisciplinary 2.2. Conceptualizing gamication
attention, although some scholars have focused on this topic, this
eld is still new. In addition, this eld is typically characterised by Although there is no universal denition of gamication,
the constant change in innovation and technology (Boes, Buhalis, & Deterding et al.'s (2011) denition is widely accepted that refers
Inversini, 2015). Therefore, the case study method enables re- gamication as contextualizing game design outside its original
searchers to gain knowledge and to explore how the established domain. Zichermann and Cunningham (2011) suggest gamication
cases use gamication for tourism marketing. A multiple case study is to establish brand, engage users and inuence their behaviour by
research strategy has been used (Yin, 1994) as it enables a more using game mechanics in areas other than traditional gaming
general overview of the results. context. As Deterding et al. (2011, p10) suggest gamication in-
From Feb, 2014 to April, 2014, the researchers used search volves applying elements of gamefulness, gameful interaction, and
engine Google ( and Android (UK market) and Apple gameful design with a specic intention in mind. For example,
(UK market) app stores, and academic resources (Elsevier dataset) designing a treasure hunt in a tourism destination will help visitors
to check tourism/tourist games. Key words tourism game, travel to explore various areas and to collect points, photos, memories and
game, gamication tourism gamication location based game experiences but may not have winners or losers. Seaborn and Fels
treasure hunt game augmented reality game gamied app were (2015 p16) further explain gamefulness refers to the lived expe-
used. Then a careful screening of each game/app was carried out, rience, gameful interaction refers to the objects, tools and contexts
only those related to tourists/tourism games were saved. A content and gameful design refers to the practice of crafting a gameful
analysis was used for the case studies. A coding scheme is experience. The end result of gamication may or may not be a
developed based on the analysis of secondary research on gami- fully-edged game and players may use it in a different way.
cation and gaming elements. Each game was then coded by each Gamication is more about motivating people to take actions
researcher respectively based on the coding scheme. There was no (Deterding et al., 2011) perhaps in a structured way and follow
obvious disparity at this stage and any ambiguity was discussed specic rules to achieve variable outcomes. Games are more about
between the researchers. Key gaming elements were identied for fun and entertainment, although they share the same concept of
each case. This process is followed by a cross-case examination funware (Azadegan & Riedel, 2012). However, Seaborn and Fels
and within-case examination along with literature review to (2015) argue that sometimes it is not easy to identify game ele-
develop coding clusters and to support external validity. From the ments. Therefore, it is inevitable to subjectively differentiate a fully
nal results, best practices are based on the following criteria: 1) edged game and a gamied system which uses some game me-
respond not only to the extrinsic elements but also to the intrinsic chanics but not to create a whole game. Nevertheless, gamication
elements; 2) use at least three gaming mechanism; 3) been differs with games at the purpose of play. Gamication focuses on
awarded best gamication application or recommended by other changing players' behaviour, engagement with their environment
researchers. and co-players who may also be fellow customers or service pro-
This paper starts with a discussion of the gaming theories, the viders towards achieving meaningful interaction and engagement
concept of games, serious games and gamication, game design and potentially achieve rewards. In contrast, games focus more on
elements and framework. The second part includes how gamica- entertainment and pleasure.
tion has been used in the tourism context with case practises to Alternative terms have also been used to gamication, such as
explain how gamication may benet tourism marketing. Finally, game based learning, serious games or pervasive games (Bogost,
the paper ends up with a conclusion and possible research direction 2007; Kapp, 2012). This also makes it difcult to differentiate the
in the future. concept of games and gamication. Serious games often focus on
246 F. Xu et al. / Tourism Management 60 (2017) 244e256

changing behaviour and inuence the user. Researchers consider Zichermann (2011) points out some commonly used rewards, such
those serious games as alternative reality games (McGonigal, as money, can de-motivate the player. Moreover, Werbach and
2011) due to the fact that reality has been added into the fantasy Hunter (2012) criticise rewards may increase short term activity,
world (Seaborn & Fels, 2015). The incoherent use of the terminol- while intrinsic motivation contributes to long term engagement
ogy needs more academic clarity, particularly on how to differen- and enjoyment. Hamari (2013) reports that extrinsic motivation
tiate gamied systems and fully-edged games. such as reward has no effect on increased playing activity. Re-
searchers suggest both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation need to be
considered to create a meaningful gamication experience.
2.3. Theoretical foundation of game design elements

The MDA model (Mechanics-Dynamics-Aesthetics) can be used 2.4. User input in gamication
to explain game design from a systematic point of view (Hunicke,
Leblanc, & Zubek, 2004). It divides game systems by breaking User Centred Design (UCD) approach is a widely used approach
them into three different components, Mechanics, Dynamics and in game design. It considers the end user's needs and wants,
Aesthetics, which work together to create functional and hedonistic identies the player's interests, emphasizing user involvement in
value of the game play and inuence player's experience. the design process (Nicholson, 2012; Norman, 1988). Emphasizing
Hunicke et al. (2004) dene game mechanics as game tools user input, the carefully designed gamication system should
which describe the specic components, which usually include identify the individual player's needs, wants, abilities and limita-
achievements, collections, badges etc. Game dynamics connect the tions, and lead to the change of player's behaviour.
player with the system, such as the freedom of making choices, The intrinsic motivation of game play refers to playing games for
progression to the next level, team work or competition with other the pure enjoyment of game play (Ryan & Deci, 2000) and for the
players. Serious games include competitions against other players hedonistic value of game play. Successful gamication should
as part of the gaming experience whilst often concentrate on in- address this intrinsic motivation by using game mechanics to
dividual experience. Game dynamics work together to create a respond to the players' inner call, attracting them to the pure
meaningful game experience, or in other words, aesthetics enjoyment of the activities; to the hedonic function rather than the
(Werbach & Hunter, 2012). Aesthetics describe emotional re- utilitarian function of gaming. Holbrook and Hirschman (1982)
sponses from the player, such as feelings (fantasy, sensation), propose that goods and services have both utilitarian and hedon-
emotions, and fun. The MDA works together towards the range of ic functions. From a marketing point of view, consumers can be
meaningful game experiences. Players experience game play from divided into two groups: 1) people who look for the utilitarian
aesthetics which is inuenced by game dynamics, which in effect is function of the product; 2) people who search for hedonic value of
guided by game mechanics. From another point of view, through a the product, such as fun, enjoyment, fantasy feelings and sensory
set of carefully designed game mechanics, game designers can simulation. Utilitarian functions focus on what the product does,
create the game dynamics, which will in turn generate unique whereas, the hedonic function represents the aesthetic, intangible
game experiences for players. See Table 1. and subjective aspects of consumption. Meaningful gamication
Game dynamics, mechanics and components constitute game focuses on the hedonic function of gaming, addresses the intrinsic
elements (Seaborn & Fels, 2015; Werbach & Hunter, 2012). A set of motivation of a person, leading to deep engagement and great
game elements have been proposed by Cunningham and satisfaction (Deci, Koestner, & Ryan, 1999; Ryan, 2012; Schell,
Zichermann (2011) such as presents, collection, achievement, 2008). Zichermann (2011) suggests that both intrinsic and
team work, feedback etc. However, these mechanics have been extrinsic motivation should be considered in gamication and both
criticised by other researchers about whether they are crucial monetary and non-monetary incentives should be used. To achieve
(Robertson, 2010). Some researchers conrm achievements, ava- a deep engagement and high satisfaction, gamication needs to
tars, badges, leader boards, levels, points, team working, unlocking respond to the players' inner call (Nicholson, 2012).
and virtual goods are common game elements (Robertson, 2010; Xu Three groups of intrinsic rewards have been identied according
et al., 2014). Due to different types of games, some components to self-determination theory (Ryan & Deci, 2000): namely relation,
may be more powerful than others (Seaborn & Fels, 2015; Werbach competence and autonomy (McGonigal, 2011; Schell, 2008).
& Hunter, 2012; Xu et al., 2014).
However, some researchers state extrinsic gaming elements, 1) Relation involves interacting and connecting with other players
such as points, badges and other rewards may de-motivate people. (Schell, 2008). Groups, messages, blogs, chat, connection to

Table 1
MDA (mechanics-dynamics-aesthetics) framework of game design.

Name Dene Examples Literature

Game describes the particular components of the game, at the challenges, chances, competition, cooperation, feedback, resource Hunicke et al., 2004;
Mechanics level of data representation and algorithms acquisition, rewards, transactions, turns and win states. Werbach & Hunter,
Zichermann &
Cunningham, 2011
Dynamics the run-time behaviour of the mechanics acting on player Challenge, under time pressure, expression, dramatic tension Werbach & Hunter,
inputs and each others outputs over time 2012
Aesthetics desirable emotional responses evoked in the player, when Sensation, fantasy, narrative, challenge, fellowship, discovery, Hunicke et al., 2004;
he/she interacts with the game system expression, submission Xu et al., 2014

Source: Hunicke et al., 2004; Zichermann & Cunningham, 2011; Werbach & Hunter, 2012; Xu et al., 2014.
F. Xu et al. / Tourism Management 60 (2017) 244e256 247

social networks are usual representations of relation usually includes the following aspects: fantasy and fun (Holbrook &
(McGonigal, 2011). In the tourism context, relation associates Hirschman, 1982), escape and relaxation (Beard & Ragheb, 1983),
with socialization as an important motivation for tourists entertainment (Farber & Hall, 2007; Pine & Gillmore, 1999), novelty
(Pearce & Lee, 2005). Tourists go on holiday to socialize with and surprise (Dunman & Mattila, 2005). Tourist experiences are full
friends and family, to develop new friendship and share their of individual signicance and can be emotional and subjective
experiences or memories with friends connected via internet. (Uriely, 2005; Kim, Ritchie, & Mccormick, 2012). Therefore, the
This is similar with the intrinsic reward of relation in gaming design frameworks need to consider different dimensions of tourist
experiences. Players can interact with co-players and share their experiences.
playing experiences with connected friends in the gamication
system. 3. Gamication in the tourism context
2) Competence usually includes game player's feeling of having the
ability to master the system and achieving goals, such as instant The wide use of gamication is evidenced in education appli-
feedback, progression, leader boards and levels cations (Denny, 2013; Domnguez et al., 2013), health industry
(Csikszentmihalyi, 2008). Similarly, tourists' leisure motivation (Cafazzo, Casselman, Hamming, Katzman, & Palmert, 2012; Hori,
also includes challenge and mastery (Beard & Ragheb, 1983). Tokuda, Miura, Jiyama, & Jirose, 2013), business training and mar-
Tourists go on adventure holidays to look for self-challenge and keting campaign (Barata, Gama, Jorge, & Goncalves, 2013), sus-
tourists go on special holidays to learn new skills and abilities. tainable behaviour applications (Gnauk, Dannecker, & Hahmann,
Through gamication, tourist players can also gain competence 2012; Negrusa et al., 2015) and tourism industry (Sigala, 2015a;
virtually and have the feeling of achievement in the gamied Xu et al., 2014; Correa & Kitano, 2015).
system. WTM (2011) predicts gamication as a popular trend for
3) Autonomy is the personal will to action, such as the use of av- tourism. Chaffey & Ellis-Chadwick (2012) propose gamication as
atars in games (McGonigal, 2011; Schell, 2008). an important trend for marketing. There is an emerging academic
attention to this topic. A new book Gamication in Tourism has
Table 2 summarizes the extrinsic and intrinsic gaming elements. just been published (Bulencer & Egger, 2015), and discusses how
gamication can contribute to memorable tourist experiences.
2.5. Gamication design framework Vargo and Lusch (2008) introduce the customer's role in value
co-creation. Tourism experiences are co-created by both the tour-
nchez, and Montes (2012) develop a frame-
Aparicio, Vela, Sa ists and the service providers (Neuhofer, Buhalis, & Ladkin, 2012).
work of gamication using those intrinsic motivational forces. They Tussyadiah and Fesenmaier (2009) believe these experiences can
suggest four steps, 1) identify the reasons of using gamication; 2) be mediated by technology. With the fast development of new
nd out what intrinsic motivation can be addressed; 3)identify technology, tourists are now seeking more personal, unique and
useful game elements; 4) consider evaluating the framework in memorable experiences, which require a deeper engagement and a
applied system. However, as Seaborn and Fels (2015) point out the multi-sensory stimulation. New technology such as virtual reality
framework has not been applied yet, therefore, more research work (Gretzel & Jamal, 2009), augmented reality (Yovcheva, Buhalis, &
is needed. Burke (2014) proposes player experience design process Gatzidis, 2013), offer technology mediated experiences, making
which consists of seven steps, namely 1)business outcomes and experiences richer and more participatory. Neuhofer et al. (2012)
success metrics; 2)potential user; 3) player goals; 4)engagement discuss how technology including gaming can help co-create ex-
model; 5)play space and journey; 6) test; 7) repeat. Werbach and periences, a term as technology enhanced tourism experiences. A
Hunter (2012) suggest a design framework with Dene- number of tourism destinations and organizations have already
Delineate-Describe-Devise-Deploy. Yet, the above mentioned experienced gamication for marketing, sales and customer
frameworks have been criticised by Bulencer and Egger (2015) as engagement. Research on gamication suggests it can inuence
they argue that gamication design should not be a linear process. user experiences at the following aspects: social, emotional, and
They argue (p58) It should rather be a multi-stage design approach create an immersive experience of the user (Xu, 2011). Sigala
that aims to enhance experiences as the nature of experience (2015b p202) veries these functions through a recent question-
design process is non-linear and unclear. This view is supported by naire survey with users of Trip Adviser, proving that gamication
Tung and Ritchie (2011) that the formation of experiences is a can enhance tourists experiences by getting tourists immersed
complicated process. In recognition of the complicated formation into a simulated travel world , which is fantasy and fun in nature.
process of experiences, Huotari and Hamiri (2012) argue designed Gamication can benet tourism marketing at the following
experience can not be assured for everyone. areas:
Nevertheless, more attention should be given in exploring the
design framework of meaningful gamication, particularly the 3.1. Raise brand awareness
application and validation of those frameworks, considering the
nature of tourist experiences. Research on leisure experiences One of the biggest areas in tourism gamication is destination

Table 2
Gaming elements.

Gaming Elements Examples Literature

Extrinsic Gaming Elements achievements, badges, rewards, gifting, feedback and reinforcement; pattern Cunningham and Zichermann (2011); Deterding
recognition, collecting etc. et al. (2011)
Intrinsic Gaming Relation groups, messages, blogs, chat Schell (2008); McGonigal (2011)
Elements Competence feedback, progressive bar, levels, leader board Schell (2008); McGonigal (2011);
Csikszentmihalyi (2008)
Autonomy proles, avatars, privacy control, notication control Schell (2008); McGonigal (2011)
248 F. Xu et al. / Tourism Management 60 (2017) 244e256

marketing. Celtek(2010) discusses how games can contribute to Discover Hong Kong city walk is a gamied mobile app that offers
advertising: (1) Specically designed advergames. They are created city walks structured around four different topics, such as travel
to promote the brand, aiming at the association and recall of the through time, adventure in architecture, etc (Bulencer & Egger,
brand (Celtek, 2010; Sigala, 2015b). Irish National Tourism Devel- 2015). Tourists will be encouraged to take these city walks and
opment Authority is the rst national tourism organization to will be awarded a stamp when they nish at least 50% of their walk,
sponsor an advergame based on social media (Correa & Kitano, which can be shared on Facebook (Stadler & Bilgram, 2016). This
2015). Ireland town is a game based on Facebook, where poten- app is one of a few mobile apps initiated by Hong Kong Tourism
tial tourists can explore Ireland's tourist attractions, complete Board for the purpose of promoting sites and encouraging tourists
challenges based on given tasks and win trips to Ireland; (2) Inte- to visit more places in the city.
grating the brand with a live game. The brand becomes part of the Besides, these games can also be used as a virtual community
game (Celtek, 2010; P269). Foursquare has successful partnerships between players to communicate information about the destina-
with many brands, such as Starwood, Pizza Hut, which promotes tion. The effect of online communities can not be ignored due to
these brands during the game play for check-ins and share their their inuence on the world of mouth marketing (Buhalis & Law,
experiences via social media (Xu et al., 2014); (3) On-site adver- 2008). Researchers suggest the benets for service providers of
tisements refer to banners and other media in games to remind using online communities maybe include brand awareness and
users of the brand to recall a message. Research suggests people feedback collection (Buhalis & Law, 2008). In fact, the online
who choose the brand in the game tend to make a purchase for the gaming community of second life has been used by Starwood
same brand in the real world (Celtek, 2010). This work is on car Hotels to test their new hotel brand W- hotel as a platform to collect
purchasing behaviour and therefore further investigation is needed game players' opinions about the hotel design (Huang, Backman,
in the tourism context. Afshar, Jones, and Banerjee (2004) suggest Backman, & Moore, 2013). After reviewing 10 advergames in
compared with traditional forms of advertisements, mobile tourism related context, Celtek(2010) suggests the advantages of
advergames are non-intrusive, providing a good opportunity for using games for advertising include building brand loyalty and
marketing and branding. Sigala (2015a) observes advergames can capturing data about players, allowing understanding the prefer-
be easily distributed on websites or mobile phones and tourists can ence of the customers. Although currently tourism related games
play them repeated while travelling, fostering an interaction with are still limited, Guttentag (2010) state virtual gaming community
the brand. might become an important form of online community in tourism
The tourism industries may place specic tourism brands when marketing. Gamication, as a new technological tool, could
designing games. In fact, some games are specically designed to contribute to tourism marketing.
raise brand awareness, to encourage travellers to visit a place. The Middleton, Fyall & Morgan (2009) propose experiential infor-
Smiled Land Thailand game is specically designed by Tourism mation can generate interest in marketing. Willliams (2006) and
Authority Thailand (TAT) as part of its digital marketing strategy, Bogdanovych et al. (2007) also suggest virtual environments can
based on the tourism attractions of Thailand. The game aims at provide a stimulating, entertaining and immersive experience
potential young tourists who use Facebook to generate brand when marketing tourism destinations. The widely used technology
awareness of Thailand as a tourist destination (Fig. 1) and also to in gaming, such as virtual reality and augmented reality, provides
increase user frequency to TAT's social networking media and players an opportunity to get to know the destination and experi-
mobile applications. Thailand's iconic attractions, branded restau- ence the destination in the virtual world, contributing to a
rants and shops are set up as the virtual background for players. The memorable experience, and generate visiting interests (Berger
Brazil Quest game was launched by the Brazilian Tourist Board to et al., 2007; Hay, 2008). Therefore gamication as a form of vir-
promote the hosting cities of FIFA (Correa & Kitano, 2015). The tual experiential marketing, offers an opportunity to experience the
images of tourism attractions and brands in each city as well as destination virtually in an entertaining setting, increases the brand
characteristics of local culture are placed in the game. Lufthansa has awareness, provides meaningful experience to market the tourist
developed an online game that allow players to view some of their attractions and encourages deeper engagement for tourists with
destinations (Canada, Thailand, Brazil) virtually and through the destination.
interactive involvement players can get to know the tourism at-
tractions and their brands (Sigala, 2015b). Such an innovative way
of tourism marketing uses some popular gaming elements, such as 3.2. Enhance tourist experiences
avatars, rewarding, gifting, sharing and fun. It also offers an op-
portunity for tourists to experience the destination virtually. In recent years, tourism experiences have become a research
focus. Researchers believe that tourism industry should provide a

Fig. 1. Smile land Thailand game.

F. Xu et al. / Tourism Management 60 (2017) 244e256 249

multi-dimensional and multifaceted experience for tourists (Kim (1999) explain the feeling of getting immersed and emotionally
et al., 2012; Ritchie & Hudson, 2009). Not only can gamication attached to the environment/destination can be part of the tour
bring a new, innovative way of marketing, raise brand awareness, experiences. Kim, Ritchie & Mccormick (2012) suggest tourists'
but it can also be used to enhance tourist on site experiences. immersion within the destination contributes to their memorable
Gamication can add to on site experiences at the following areas: experiences. Through the stimulating of augmented surrounding
fantasy, immersion and fun. environment, the virtual sound, the imaginative stories, and the
The fantasy experiences and the freedom to act in a virtual challenges brought by the game tasks/missions, players could
world are important motives for game players (Xu et al., 2015). In immerse themselves in sensory, challenge-based and imaginative
video games, the environment has been used to stimulate this immersion, which all contribute to a deeper level of personal
fantasy, for example, location, weather, and a specic season, which experiences.
all add to stimulate fantasy emotions (Bulencer & Egger, 2015). In a For example, 3D technology, virtual technology and Augmented
carefully designed gamied system, tourists can choose their ava- Reality as main technology tools in games, can offer a stimulating
tars and have the freedom to play someone else, to enhance their and immersive experience to the tourist players. Some tourism
fantasy experiences in a fun, and more stimulating way, leading to a destinations offer augmented reality tours for their mobile apps
higher level of satisfaction. such as Tuscany, Hong Kong and Scotland. The pop up text, sound
Regensburg is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Germany. In stimulation and the virtual pictures, augmented with the sur-
order to improve tourists' active learning about the history at the rounding environment, encourages the visitor to interact with his
destination, a mobile app REXplorer has been developed (Waltz & surrounding attractions, providing an even more stimulating and
Ballagas, 2007). Using fantasy role play, tourists can act as assistants immersive experiences with the real environment. The foundation
to a virtual gure Rex to explore the destination. Tourists, guided of Hellenic World in Athens (Foundation of the Hellenic World,
by the mobile app, play the game whilst seeing the sights, interact 2016) offers a 3D virtual tour to Ancient Miletus, providing an
with historical buildings and characters. They can take pictures and immersive experience of attractions including theatre, harbour,
receive a personalized geo-referenced webblog of their walk when Tholos etc. to tourists. Through this sensory immersion, a gaming
they nish the game (Fig. 2). This game offers the virtual avatar, enhanced aesthetic experience is delivered to tourists.
allowing tourists to play someone else to experience Regensburg.
The nature of this experience becomes fantasy and personal, and
adds fun to the visitor. Rather than passively seeing the historical 3.3. Engagement
buildings, the game encourages tourists to actively explore the
history behind each building and attraction, to engage with the In the gaming literate, a set of gaming mechanisms work
destination in a fun way, offering a deeper understanding and together to improve the players' engagement with the game system
meaningful experience. (Ermi & Mayra, 2004). Player's high engagement contributes to
The concept of immersion from gaming can also be used to their game experiences (Klimmt, 2003; Jennett et al., 2008; Brown
enhance tourist experiences. McMahan (2003) denes immersion & Vaughn, 2009), and the emotional enjoyment of playing leads to
as the psychological components of concentration, emotion and more engagement of game play. In the marketing literature, re-
cognitive evaluation of the game. Takatalo, Hakkinen, Kaistinen, searchers believe customer engagement with the brand will
and Nyman (2010) propose immersion as an important part of improve brand loyalty (So, King, Sparks, & Wang, 2016). Vivek,
the game experience. Ermi and Mayra (2004) categorize three Beatty, and Morgan (2012) believe a high engagement with the
types of immersion, namely: 1) sensory immersion (the stimulate costumer contributes to the formation of positive attitudes towards
of the game, such as sound); 2) challenge-based immersion (chal- the brand. Engagement is also an important dimension of co-
lenges and abilities); 3) imaginative immersion (imagination, fan- creation in services management. The concept of co-creation
tasy and empathy). In the tourism literature, Pine and Gillmore emphasize the role of tourists, focusing on the user involvement
in the dynamic design process of experiences. How to encourage

Fig. 2. REXplorer app for Regensburg, Germany.

250 F. Xu et al. / Tourism Management 60 (2017) 244e256

tourists to engage more with the destination is critical for desti-

nation competitiveness. Researchers believe that the tourism in-
dustry should provide a multi-dimensional and multi-faceted
experience for tourists (Kim et al., 2012; Ritchie & Hudson, 2009).
Experiences could happen through all contact points (Hoarau &
Kline, 2014). Pine and Gillmore (1999) conclude four levels of
engagement for tourists, such as emotional, physical, intellectual
and spiritual engagement, which is part of their personal experi-
ences. Games provide a means of dynamic interaction through
suggested tasks/missions, and link with surrounding physical lo-
cations (location based games), challenge the player virtually,
providing instant feedback for the player's achievements,
responding to the players emotions in a fun and rewarding way
before, during and after trip.
Goecatching is a popular outdoor game based on the classic
treasure hunt (Fig. 3). Players use GPS enabled devices (such as
smart phones) to nd treasure boxes on site. Initially, it was not
specically designed for tourism, but now Goecatching also
partners with local tourism associations to create special treasure
hunt tours. Based on the location and description provided,
players look for the hidden treasure (Bulencer & Egger, 2015).
Through this engagement, players are encouraged to interact with
the destination on site. Sighter is another location based game
developed by Waterways Ireland. Players select a sight, nd it and
snap a photo of it to win points, they can unlock the sight
description and discover other photos related to that sight. Both
games are typical location based treasure hunt games, providing a
way of vividly experiencing the destination, encouraging tourists
to engage with the destination. Linaza, Gutierrez, and Garcia
(2014, pp. 497e510) suggest tourists could learnin those
games, tourists could learn about the destination when they
follow recommended attractions/treasure in those games, which
will improve their on site experiences. Involving tourism organi-
zations can also create awards such as free tickets, food and
engage local enterprises in co-creation.

3.4. Improve customer loyalty

Marketing researchers suggest customer loyalty include

behavioural loyalty, attitudinal loyalty, and composite loyalty
(Jacoby & Kyner, 1973; Jacoby & Hestnut, 1978). Gamication could
improve loyalty programs by adding fun and relatedness, bringing
dynamic interactions between different players through team
working, sharing and between the player and the game itself
through challenge and achievement (Clanton, 1998; Schiano &
White, 1998). By using game mechanism such as points, rewards,
leader board, sharing and competition, gamication can respond to
both behaviour and psychological needs of the customer, link to
both behaviour and attitudinal loyalty, stimulate a more dynamic
and fun process towards building behaviour loyalty, attitudinal
loyalty and composite loyalty.
Airline frequent yer programs are mainly designed to create
customer loyalty by offering advantages if the customer ies

regularly. Air Canada has developed an application earn your

wings to gamify their loyalty programs. Players could get 200
points with each take-off and landing when ying with Air Canada.
To climb up to the top of the leader board, the player needs to y
from designated airports named Pit Stops (http://earnyourwings.
Fig. 3. GeoCaching game. Leader board, progress bar, levels, rewards,

gifting and sharing are used to increase customer loyalty in this
gamied app (Fig. 4).

3.5. Entertainment

Fun is a basic gaming element for every game. Games will bring
F. Xu et al. / Tourism Management 60 (2017) 244e256 251

Fig. 4. Air Canada Earn your wings gamied app.


fun and entertainment to marketing (Zichermann & Linder, 2010). deliver a surprise gift to KLM travellers using data generated from
Games as an entertainment tool, can be played before, during and Foursquare and Twitter (Bulencer & Egger, 2015).
after the trip. From tourists' point of view, pre-trip games are Table 4 identies the benets of tourism gamication. Generally
mainly played to kill time, while during trip games are played to speaking, the benets of tourism gamication include two aspects:
enhance on site experiences particularly those location based the outward function and inward function of gamication. The
games (Xu et al., 2015). Stratford upon Avon, the hometown of outward function refers to tourists' experiences before, during and
Shakespeare, has developed a new app Eye Shakespeare. This after trip. Before the trip, tourism specic games (Online games;
gamied mobile app, uses augmented reality tool to provide the mobile games) feed tourism information to potential tourists,
tourists with a 3D virtual Shakespeare, who introduces his birth generate interests, and stimulate visiting inspiration. Useful
place, shows tourists around and allows tourists to take a photo tourism information may convert to sales/purchases. During the
together with this virtual gure (Fig. 5). Instead of traditional tour trip, location based games as an entertainment tool can encourage
guides, this virtual gure of Shakespear telling his own stories is tourist engagement, enhance on site experiences. After the trip, on
much more fun. By using some gaming elements such as reward, line games can recall memories, invite friends to share experiences
story telling, fun, it provides tourists with a fun, interactive, and and advocate the destination. Rewards/coupons in the game and
engaging experiences. gamied loyalty programs may encourage repeat visits. The inward
function of gamication mainly includes the use of games to
familiarize the employee, and the use for staff training programs
3.6. Employee management such as in the case of Marriot hotel.

Gamication can also be used as employee management and

training tool, an inward function of gamication. 4. Conclusion and further research
Marriot my hotel is a game based on Facebook launched by
Marriot Hotel Group. Players can play as managers of a virtual Gamication has become a focus of attention in an increasing
restaurant in the hotel, ( They can number of elds including business, education, and health care.
create their own restaurant, where they can buy equipment and This paper reviews the trend of gamication, systematically con-
ingredients on a budget, hire and train employees, and serve ceptualizes gaming and gamication in general terms and in spe-
guests. When they proceed, they can also play other roles in the cic tourism elds. Drawn on MDA model, it identies game design
hotel. Points will be given when they satisfy a customer's need. elements, and discusses intrinsic and extrinsic motivational factors
In the end, players will get rewards if they make a prot (http:// that contribute to meaningful gamication. It recommends some of the best practises of gamication in the tourism context and dis-
on-facebook.html). The aim of this game is to get people to cusses the benets of gamication in tourism marketing. Extensive
know the operation of hotels, generate interests to work in literature review demonstrates that gamication is a vital move-
hotels, and stimulate new staff training for human resources (Xu ment for business in general, and it is also emerging as a future
et al., 2014). trend for tourism. A wide range of tourism sectors are applying
Table 3 summarizes some of the best practice cases in the gamication into tourism marketing practices, co-creating tourism
tourism industry. experiences and training employees.
In addition, some of the useful gaming elements have also been A set of gaming elements has been identied, such as, the
used in tourism sectors without developing a specic game. For commonly used badges, rewards, points (extrinsic elements),
example, KLM uses the gaming element of surprise and gifting, to relation, autonomy and competence (intrinsic elements). As
F. Xu et al. / Tourism Management 60 (2017) 244e256
Fig. 5. Eye Shakespeare app, Stratford Upon Avon.
F. Xu et al. / Tourism Management 60 (2017) 244e256 253

Table 3
Some of the best practices of gamication in tourism industry.

Sectors Company Case Description Gaming Elements Recommended Gamication Award


Airline Air Canada Gamied app for loyalty programs, rewards for each take off and landing Leader board, Gsummit GAward
rewards, gifting, Consumer facing
progress bar, points application winner 2014
Hospitality Starwood Partnership with Foursquare to provide customers 250 bonus points per point system, Xu et al. (2014)
SPG program check-in and chances to unlock a hidden Free Resort Night Award. rewards,
badges, sharing
Marriott My Social media game aiming at recruiting new staff for job vacancies and point system, levels, Xu et al. (2014)
Hotel familiarize players with various parts of a hotel. virtual goods
DMO Smileland A game specically targeting potential tourists to visit Thailand, based on sharing, rewards, Xu et al. (2015)
Thailand the tourism attractions of Thailand, the game is aiming to generate brand leaderboard,
awareness of Thailand as a tourist destination competence
Discover A gamied mobile app that offers city walks structured around different sharing, rewards, (Bulencer &
Hong Kong topics, tourists will be awarded a stamp when nish 50% of their walk feedback Egger, 2015;
City Walks which can be shared on Facebook Stadler &
Bilgram, 2016)
REXplorer Gamied mobile app showing tourists around the historical town of role play, fantasy, fun, (Waltz &
Regensburg. Using fantasy role play, tourists play a role as scientic rewards Ballagas, 2007
assistants who help a certain Professor Rex to understand and research ; Celtek, 2010)
Regensburg's perpetual magic.
Partnership Sighter Location based photography game. Players select a sight, nd it and snap Points, sharing, clear (Bulencer &
with a photo of it to win points, they can unlock the sight description and goals, fun, Egger, 2015);
tourism discover other photos related to that sight. Partnership with Waterways leaderboard
sectors Ireland.
Geo-catching Location based treasure hunt game. Partners with local tourism collaboration, clear
associations to create special treasure hunt tours. goals, fun, reward (Bulencer &
Egger, 2015;
Celtek, 2010)

Table 4
Benets of tourism gamication.

When Benets How

Outward Function of Before Increase brand awareness, tourism specic games (online games; mobile games) feed tourism information to potential tourists, generate
gamication inspiration/dream interests, stimulate visiting inspiration, increase brand awareness; Virtual Reality/3D technology as a
Generate interests technological tool supports these functions.
Information conversion to
During Engagement/interact location based games encourage on site engagement with the destination, augmented reality games interact
Enhance experiences the player with the real surrounding tourism attractions; Gaming as an entertainment tool to kill time.
Entertainment tool
After Loyalty/repeat visit Online games recall memories, encourage sharing experiences, inviting friends, advocate the destination,
Share experiences rewards/coupons in the game and gamied loyalty programs encourage repeat visit
Recall memories
Inward Function of Employee management Use of games to familiarize the employee, use for staff training
gamication Employee training
Generate fun interests

intrinsic elements respond to the players' inner call, focusing on the to be used as an innovative marketing tool before the trip or to
hedonistic function of gaming, it is often found to be more inu- share experiences and stimulate repeat visit after the trip.
ential, and will contribute to a deep engagement and great satis- Gamication is emerging as an innovative way of marketing that
faction (Deci et al., 1999; Ryan, 2012). Meaningful gamication can attract potential tourists, build up unfamiliar tourism brands,
should not only emphasize extrinsic elements but also focus on particularly for those less well known destinations. A few best
intrinsic elements (Zichermann, 2011). Based on the self- practise cases show the innovative concept of gamication has
determination theory (Ryan & Deci, 2000), some design frame- been widely used within the industry, including Destination
works of gamication have been proposed (Aparicio et al., 2012; Management Organizations (DMOs), airlines, hotels etc.. Gami-
Burke, 2014; Werbach & Hunter, 2012). cation of tourism can contribute to a more rewarding interactions
Through a wide range of applications and support functions, and higher level of satisfaction, as well as increase brand aware-
the potential of gamifcation for the tourism industry is signicant, ness and loyalty to the destination. Based on game design ele-
such as engaging tourists in experiential co-creation and training ments, tourist players will experience challenges, rewards,
service providers for innovative processes and functions. Gami- competition, story telling, fantasy, role play etc, enhancing their
cation can be used to enhance tourist on site experiences, and also on site experiences at the destination. The gamied system
254 F. Xu et al. / Tourism Management 60 (2017) 244e256

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256 F. Xu et al. / Tourism Management 60 (2017) 244e256

Feifei Xu, PhD, is a professor in the School of Humanities, Jessika Weber, is a PhD candidate at etourism lab in the
Southeast University, China. Her main research interests School of Tourism, Bournemouth University. Her research
include tourism in protected areas, cross-cultural issues in area includes augmented reality games and tourism.
tourism, as well as etourism with a particular focus of
gaming and gamifcation in tourism.

Dimitrios Buhalis, PhD, is a professor and head of Tourism

Department in the Faculty of Management, Bournemouth
University. His research interests include etourism, stra-
tegic management and tourism marketing with speciali-
zation in technology and tourism.