By Dr. Peter Tarlow
At its very essence tourism is a business and to be a successful business there needs to be a balance between the needs provider’s (merchant’s) needs and those of the receiver (the customer). If the product is too expensive then people will find alternatives, and if it is too inexpensive than it loses prestige or there is no profit to be made.
-Find ways to spend the least but give the most value. For example, many governments see tourism as an easy industry to tax. High taxes eventually drive tourists away. Visitors are not ignorant and they may pay a high tax rate the first time but they may not be back a second time. If there is no way that taxes can be kept in line, advertise “we refund your taxes” by either lowering the basic cost or by providing special tax absorption discounts. The key is to make the customer feel that s/he is being given good value for cost. Here are a number of other ways to show that your tourism product is a good value while still making a profit.
-Adjust hotel check in and check out schedules or create flexible hotel schedules. Currently most hotels have a one-schedule-fits-all policy. Most hotels have a check-in time in the late afternoon and a check-out time at noon or before. Not only does that mean that a day’s stay is less than 24 hours, but often the times are simply inconvenient for guests. Provide check in and check out options an charge for the convenience of a guest choosing the times that match his or her schedule.
-Show both guests and community members that you really a true community player. By being generous and altruistic tourism industries prove that they are not solely for the rich, but that they are an integral part of the community. Being part of the community creates numerous benefits that you may never have noticed before. One area where the tourism industry has become a clear partner is in environmental protection. Tourism cannot exist in a location filled with garbage, offering contaminated water and polluted air. This means that travel and tourism must not only be responsible for its own businesses but also for the locales in which it operates. Visitors do more than merely breath the air provided for by the hotel!
-Be a good employer. In many parts of the world the tourism industry is known for low wages and long hours. This “employee abuse” tends to build resentments and hurts the quality of customer service that we offer. Poor customer service than hurts return visitation and a locale’s reputation. Because tourism is international, its employees cannot be purely unskilled laborers. They need to speak various languages and know how to navigate through the market place of cultures. The better one treats one’s employees the more balanced is the local tourism industry or product.
-Do not allow technology to homogenize your tourism product. There are many advantages to technology and in many ways technology can be both a cost saver and at the same time can produce increased efficiency. The problem is that tourism is all about memory creation and building interpersonal relationships. It is essential to find the right balance between efficiency and the personal. Machines do not smile and the more homogenized the tourism experience the less unique and memorable it becomes. Technology also impacts the way we charge. Today’s tourist rarely uses the house phone, probably almost 100% of travelers have a cell phone, demands free internet, and resents add-on charges such as a mandatory “resort fee”. Ad-ons and the additional charges imposed by many legacy airlines has caused frequent and savvy travelers to find new alternatives and has resulted in greater airline revenues but much lower customer satisfaction.
-The cruise industry has done a good job of balancing cost, pleasure and memory creation. It behooves other parts of the tourism industry to study where cruising has been successful. Riverboat cruises have created cost contained unique experiences without some of the physical challenges that come with ocean voyages. This may be the reason why in some countries canal boating experiences have become as popular as amusement parks or other one-day expensive land experiences.
-Nothing is balanced if it is not safe. Crime and terrorism can destroy a highly successful tourism industry. No matter how good your customer service is and how well you market, if your locale is not perceived as safe, in the end you will lose customers and investment opportunities. Simply putting police on the street who are not trained in TOPPs or tourism security can be counter-productive. Around the world we not only have to worry about issues of drugs and terrorism, but also forms of organized violence such as gang warfare. It is always best to remember that when it comes to crime and terrorism, the best form of crisis management is to avoid the crisis. We cannot always manage this, but the better the balance between crime and terrorism the more successful your tourism industry will be.
-Balance regional promotion with local promotion. Most communities do not have enough attractions to fill up a three-day stay. For this reason a regional approach allows a number of communities to create a joint marketing plan. However, although joint marketing is important no attraction of community wants to lose its own identity and if the entire region is the same, then in the end you defeat the purpose of regionalization. Create a balance, be part of a region but do not lose your own community’s or attraction’s uniqueness.