Gabriela Ilies, Marin Ilies: The map of the Upper Mara Valley – A storytelling map

The map of the Upper Mara Valley – A storytelling map

Gabriela Ilies, Marin Ilies | Babes-Bolyai University, Faculty of Geography, Extension at Sighetu Marmatiei, Romania

Keywords: storytelling map, experiential, Maramures

1 Introduction

Storytelling maps are often used to document past experiences in order to reach a certain audience. This particular map is designed to enhance tourists’ experience during outdoor activities in a mountain area with relatively accessible infrastructure and scenic physical features: Mara Valley and Creasta Cocosului (Maramures, Romania). The region is the first Romanian ecotourism destination, established in 2014 by the Ministry of Tourism, overlapping seven important nature preservation sites and traditional villages. The nomination triggered the development of basic ecotourism services, mostly managed by the association leading the project (Ecologic Maramures) and WWF ( More complex tourism activities are carried out by travel agents in Maramures, Transylvania, and Bucharest. They capitalise on the Maramures tourism brand, using basic cartographic products for hiking, cycling, walking around the villages etc. Moreover, the Romanian tourist profile for the region, according to data provided by the tourist information centre in Sighetu Marmatiei ( reveals that they rarely use maps for routefinding, due to a chronic map reading illiteracy. In contrast, the same study shows that foreign tourists (Polish, German, French tourists) request good maps, even if they are well documented/prepared at arrival.

The availability of the cartographic products for the study area ranges from printed general maps, at 1:100000 and their on-line counterparts, smaller scale printed mountain maps for Creasta Cocosului or Ignis Mountains area, climbing sketches, and trailhead signposting. Tour operators use these materials rarely because they have a very limited availability. Business portfolio maps and commercially-produed maps are unavailable. That is why we tried the storytelling map as teaser for tourism product marketing, and as a teaching tool. The general objective of this paper is to look at the features of storytelling maps in order to enhance the tourists’ experience during outdoor activities in mountain areas. The main research questions revolve around the experience design. (1) What is the role of the story told by the map in the management of tourists’ experience? (2) What are the main features of a tourist map that could trigger co-creation of experiences? (3) If used as teaser, could it ruin multisensory experience?

2 Material and methods

The research is based on designing and testing a specific storytelling map in experiential mountain tourism. Therefore, the main stages of development are the map and the experience design. Firstly, the map is a special mountain map, conceived as teaser, as a marketing tool for mountaineering services (guided tours), and teaching. Focusing on a complex geographic locale featuring volcanic relief and rich heroic narratives, it tells the story of the mountain by tracing a parallel between the geological features and a national legend. Finally, a graphic design process was applied. Multimedia files were incorporated in order to facilitate the process.

The map scale is 1:10000 printing on a 50x70cm sheet. There is also an online
version. The area covers a part of upper Mara Valley, from 600m to 1444m in elevation. Secondly, the research on tourism experience involves the design of testing tools in order to understand what is the role of the storytelling map in the multisensory experience, what are the needs of the customers, and to avoid a certain staged experience. The pre-testing tool focuses on the most interesting elements of the story for inclusion on the map, and on the needs of young customers regarding mapping products. The second tool was designed to assess different types of usage for the map, during guided tours.

3 Results and discussion

3.1 The role of the story told by the map in the management of tourists’ experience

Rigorous documentation and tasks related to new tourist products outlined stops and milestones, some with an impressive look, some common. Experience-centric management perspective was used frequently in the economy starting in 1990 (Pine, Gilmore, 1999). It was defined as opposite to product management, due to believe that travelling is more about experience and fulfilment. Nevertheless, the experience enhances active participation and triggers innovation. Depending on the engagement level, tourist activities can be approached either passively or actively (See table 1)

Table 1: Results of the pre-testing activity: most relevant elements to be included in the mapping process.

Level of participation Type of suitable tourist activity Type of story Map feature
Passive absorption Entertainment Drama Relevant stops

Plot twist Multimedia

Active absorption Education Documentary Visualisation enhancers


Integrating on-line

Scientific accuracy

Passive immersion Aesthetic gazing Artistic Spectacular viewpoints

General aspect

Active immersion Escapist / dreaming Fantasy Path developed with the structure of a fairy tale: Characters, challenges, happy ending

New characters and trails as bonus

Storytelling maps or story maps combine maps with other digital content in order to tell a story, in a new creative way. It is not only about GIS, data visualization, or decision making; it is about us as story-consumers. Therefore, a good conceptual frame-work is essential.

3.2 The main features of a tourist map that could trigger co-creation of experiences

The tourist is co-creating an experience with other tourists and service providers (Ritchie and Crouch 2003). This has become a research subject for tour guiding papers (Weiller and Black, 2015). Tour guides often use digital media to facilitate access by tourists to specific content, including maps. The map is an easy tool for co-creating experiences, due to its flexibility and accessibility. The needs of mapping products were revealed in pre-testing. Pre-testing consisted of a simple quiz with items organised to evaluate various criteria such as general aspect, layers, multimedia, etc. If used as teaser, the effect of the storytelling map on the multisensory experience is inconclusive.


Pine II BJ and Gilmore JH, 1999, The experience economy: work is theatre & every business a stage: Harvard Business School Press, Boston.

Ritchie JRB and Crouch GI, 2003, The competitive destination, a sustainable tourism perspective: Cabi Publishing, Cambridge.

Weiler B and Black R, 2004, Tour guiding research. Insights, Issues and Implications: Channel view.

World Wide Fund for Nature, 2018, Website: (accessed February 25, 2017).

Tourist Information Centre Sighetu Marmatiei, 2017, Website (accessed March 5, 2017).