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Digital collaboration supporting the development of Norway's travel and tourism

By Maija Varjoranta on Apr 12, 2021 11:58:14 AM , updated on Apr 14, 2021

Innovation Norway is a Norwegian public company that encourages entrepreneurship through grants and financing, as well as offers consulting and education to entrepreneurs. It is the largest institution operating in this area of Norway, and a big part of its purpose is to develop different cities and regions of Norway so that their entrepreneurs work together and support each other, as well as make their local destinations more attractive for travellers.

When the COVID-19 pandemic arrived, two significant things happened at the same time:

  1. Companies working within the travel and tourism sector entered a very difficult period of time with ski resorts, restaurants, hotels, and the like being shut down or working with reduced capacity.
  2. Innovation Norway decided to support them as much as possible—in practice, this meant they wanted to really pump up the volume of learning and development services they offer for the industry.

Sooner or later the world will go back to normal—but until then, the entrepreneurs have more time in their hands and fewer opportunities to do business. So, it made sense to offer them opportunities to make good use of this time and become more skilled and stronger than ever.

 

With the right tools and partner, everything is possible

 

Märit Torkelson, founder, speaker, and facilitator in the training and consulting company Vertskapet Norge (part of Hostmanship Group) is a long-time partner of Innovation Norway. Together with her team, she has organized many programs on behalf of Innovation Norway during the past 10 years.

So, in this novel situation, Innovation Norway turned to their trusted partner and asked if Märit could organize and execute a new large-scale learning initiative for the country’s travel and tourism entrepreneurs. As opposed to earlier, when physical events had been a key part of the journey, this time everything was to be done remotely.

Vertskapet Norge accepted the challenge. It really was a challenge: a lot of people, only a limited number of weeks to prepare, and a pandemic that almost closed the entire country.

And Märit was adamant to keep her high standards in terms of execution and impact. They are best described with "hostmanship" which is a unique term the Vertskapet team has developed to describe the way they help participants and organizations to succeed with creating an inclusive and welcoming culture and—because you should practice what you preach—also how they facilitate themselves.

According to Märit, the simple meaning of the word hostmanship is: the art of making people feel welcome. Quite often, people focus on the product or service only. Hostmanship adds the potential of inter-human connection into the mix with a focus on "the human mindset."

"What impact does it have when people feel included and welcome? Much of our work focuses on how an organization can harbor hostmanship, both in terms of client interaction but also within the work community. We can practice this from a variety of different angles such as compassion, communication, or self-leadership," she describes.

"What impact does it have when people feel included and welcome?"

 

The nut she needed to crack was: how to design a completely digital program around the hostmanship concept including as much participant interaction as possible, as well as how to deliver it in the spirit of hostmanship—in a welcoming and inclusive way. In addition, the solution needed to be quick to learn for both the facilitator in terms of designing the program as well as for the participants to use it because there wasn’t a lot of time.

"A colleague in Sweden had used Howspace, that's how I heard about it. We had a call and he showed me around a bit. I then tested it myself, and yes. I immediately felt that this is the exact tool I need to transform my training from physical to entirely digital. It was such a relief to find it!" Märit says.

Unexpected advantage: new contacts from all over Norway

Prior to the digital workshops, Märit and her team sent out physical welcome packages to the participants that included things such as a workbook for inspiration and chocolate. They also used Howspace's customization features to design a welcome page with the branding already familiar to the participants, inviting them to share pictures before the workshop, for example.

"I've worked with many different systems in the past, and compared to them, Howspace was very easy and intuitive to learn. The best part is that you can start with something and keep improving your design even when the program is already running. If you see that a particular element doesn't gain the traction you are looking for, you can just change it into something else and everything else stays the same," she describes.

"Also, Howspace documents everything you and the participants co-create, which is both a big chunk of manual work of the facilitator's table and a way to make sure that the documentation is really accurate."

Märit says that she was delighted to see how many of Howspace's features help her both harbor and teach hostmanship. For example, polling and voting allow people to feel included as all of their opinions are counted. The participants also explored the concept of hostmanship, after which AI created word clouds and summaries to help everyone see what it means for travel and tourism in Norway specifically.

"We strongly believe that every human being has the right to be met with respect, dignity and genuine care."

She also praises the advantages of Howspace’s recent Whereby video conferencing integration.

"Innovation Norway wanted us to use Whereby, but using it alone would have made it impossible for me to divide people into breakout rooms. And breakout rooms are essential because we need the smaller groups in order to create more silent, secure environments where people can build trust and share things more freely."

According to Märit, another unexpected benefit from going completely digital was that for the first time ever, the participants of each individual course were from different parts of Norway.

"Previously, we always ran training so that the participants were geographically close to each other. People were really delighted to get to know colleagues from all over the country and discuss the differences and similarities," Märit says.

It also has been a success to gather people from different special interest groups and network throughout Norway.

The training is still ongoing but already proven to be a success, predicting a strong take-off for the Norwegian entrepreneurs post COVID.

As for Märit herself, she vows by Howspace now, saying she will keep using it even when the impact of the pandemic wanes and also in her work with local governments and other parts of the public sector.

"Hostmanship is really something you practice and develop long term, and it is so much about that human connection and community. We strongly believe that every human being has the right to be met with respect, dignity, and genuine care. I really feel Howspace is the tool where we can allow hostmanship practitioners to work together, share ideas, practices, and challenges to advance this kind of more welcoming and inclusive societies—where people come first."


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