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Design Thinking ICM512

Booking Travel in China

An Exercise in Journey Mapping

This week, I observed and interviewed my husband as he booked a trip for us through a tour company here in China. It was a strange and uncomfortable feeling deciding to travel again when the world is overwhelmed with more serious concerns. But, we spent all of 2020 in the U.S., only leaving the house to buy groceries or pick-up takeout. Then, in February 2021, we returned to China after an entire year away.

Upon landing, we were covid tested (again) then shuttled from the airport directly to our hotel for a mandatory two-week quarantine. After daily temperature checks and one more covid test, we were officially released back into society. Now we can safely and freely move around the city and travel to other destinations within China—so long as we follow all travel precautions. Since we are unclear about all of the new travel processes put in place due to Covid, we decided to book through a tour company, like Lost Plate, to manage the logistics for us.

Since we are unclear about all of the new travel processes in place, we decided to book through a tour company, like Lost Plate, to manage the logistics for us.

About Lost Plate Food Tours

Booking through tour companies provides convenience, sometimes at the cost of a lower quality experience. If the agenda, tour guide, or group are not a great fit, it could leave the traveler regretting his/her decision. Lost Plate Food Tours have carved out a niche for themselves as a travel agency that provides high-quality, authentic tours for small groups.

Visit Lost Plate’s Instagram page to explore their adventures vicariously.

As they describe it “This is not your standard ‘go to a market and then a street-food stall’ experience. We’re way beyond that. In each city, our tours take months to research and develop by people who are actually from there…so you can experience the very best food and culture through a local lens.”

“This is not your standard ‘go to a market and then a street-food stall’ experience. We’re way beyond that. In each city, our tours take months to research and develop by people who are actually from there…so you can experience the very best food and culture through a local lens.”

Sourced from the Lost Plate Food Tours website

The company celebrates traveling “off-the-beaten” path. Prices are on the higher end but worth it for the intimate, personal, authentic, and educational experience. They have incredibly high ratings on trip advisor, and the comments on social media left by prior customers are very positive. We did their food tour in Xian, and it was excellent. Now they are doing extended, week-long tours to more remote areas of China too.

Elements of a Journey Map

After a few days of documenting the booking experience, I decided the best way to make sense of the data was through a journey map. A journey map is a visual form of storytelling that provides an overhead view for stakeholders that reveals how and where user-segments interact with their brand, product, or service. A journey map aims to uncover useful insights and opportunities that companies can use to build better strategies with their customers in mind.

Just like life, no two journey maps are identical. Each will be unique based on the persona and their interaction with the product. However, there are certain elements that every journey map should include for maximum benefit.

  1. Persona
    Also known as the “actor”, this is the user or user segment’s journey your map is representing.
  2. Scenario, Goal and Expectations
    Every journey map should provide a little backstory, and specify a goal (with a clear start and end-point), that your persona is trying to accomplish, as well as any expectations they may have prior to starting their journey.
  3. Actions and Touchpoints
    This is what your persona is doing. What are the steps they take to accomplish their goal? The touchpoints refer to the moments the persona and your brand interact. For example, talking on the phone with customer service, shopping at the store, reading a newsletter, etc.
  4. Thoughts and Sayings
    While they are going through the process, what are they saying or thinking about the experience?
  5. Feelings
    What are their emotions throughout the journey? Are there moments when they are happy, sad, frustrated, angry, excited, or confused for example?
  6. Channels
    Channels are the places that the persona interacts with the brand. For example at a store, on a phone, through an advertisement on tv or social media.
  7. Insights and Opportunities
    What are your observations and insights have you gained from documenting the persona’s journey? Where are there opportunities for a company to improve the user experience for their customers?

The idea of journey mapping can be summarized with one question: “What happens next?” As you deconstruct how a user gets from point A to point B, continue observing and asking yourself what’s happening? The breakdown of mini-moments adds up to an entire experience. It is where insights and opportunities become visible.

As you deconstruct how a user gets from point A to point B, continue observing and asking yourself what’s happening now? The breakdown of mini-moments adds up to an entire experience. It is where insights and opportunities become visible.

Building a Journey Map

Identify a Goal
Your journey map should include a specific start and endpoint. I decided to focus on the experience of discovering and booking a trip for a Lost Plate returning customer.

You only get so much time and money
to travel, and you don’t want to waste it.

David S.


Conduct or Gather Research
Journey maps should incorporate research. Determine what type of research you will conduct and how you will do so. I combined qualitative, ethnographic studies of the user with a quantitative investigation of Lost Plate’s online presence and following. I used an empathy map to capture my ethnographic observations.

Building an empathy mapped helped me record my observations throughout the exercise. This was especially useful since a journey map should incorporate the persona’s actions, thoughts and sayings, and emotions.

What Happens Next?
Document the actions a user takes, recording their touchpoints with the brand and through which channels. I gathered my empathy map and scribbled notes, and constructed a timeline of events on my wall to reflect this information sequentially.

Building a timeline of post-it notes synthesized all of my research and helped me jump into design with a much clearer understanding of the whole story.

Design Journey Map
I synthesized the data from the previous steps and created my journey map.

Since the content of the journey map dealt with topic of travel, I decided to design it thematically, as a trail map from one tourist destination to another.

The journey map I created for booking a trip with Lost Plate food tours—with many, many mini-moments—was incredibly insightful. Although Lost Plate has a positive reputation and devoted fan-base for their actual trips, there are opportunities to improve their booking experience.

By preventing moments of customer frustration or confusion, Lost Plate can continue growing their business while investing more time explaining their trip’s value (especially with their higher price point) vs. directing their customers on where and how to book.

So, what happens next? Now I wait in anticipation for our trip to Shangri La in May. Maybe I”ll make another map documenting the journey itself.

References & Resources

Journey Map by Stanford d.school

How to Create a Customer Journey Map by UX Mastery

Use Customer Journey Maps to Uncover Innovation Opportunities by IdeoU

Introduction to Customer Journey Maps by Miro

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