By Dr. Peter Tarlow
These last two years have not been easy. Tourism professionals have seen tourism industries that just a few years ago were highly successful now needing to fight for their survival. Certainly, world pandemics play a major role in this decline. It would be, however, a mistake to blame all of the industry’s problems solely on the pandemic. Careful observers of the travel and tourism scene were already noting potential problems, from poor customer service to over-tourism just a mere 24 months ago.
Often a reason cited for this decline is the high price of airline tickets and the fact that businesses had begun to find alternative ways to communicate that were less costly and more efficient. Due to Covid-19 the need to communicate without travel accelerated this trend. When we couple travel hassles with weak economies and health issues such as a pandemic it is clear that the tourism and travel industry will have to find new and creative approaches. The travel and tourism industry can no longer be passive. It must cease thinking that things that happen to the industry, and instead become the motivator for new and creative initiatives. If the travel and tourism industry is to succeed in these unusual and challenging times, it must do more than merely see itself as a victim of the economy or other people’s evil; it must also examine itself to see where it too can improve.
Perhaps the greatest threat to the leisure industry (and to a lesser extent to the business travel industry) is the fact that travel has changed the fun of travel into a world of regulations and requirements. During the recent pandemic, former travelers stated too often that they were relieved not to have to board an airplane or take a long road trip In the industry’s rush for efficiency and quantitative analysis the travel and tourism industry might have forgotten that each traveler represents a world unto him/herself and quality must always override quantity.
Especially in the leisure travel industry, this lack of fun and pleasure has meant that there are fewer and fewer reasons to want to travel and to participate in the tourism experience. For example, if every shopping mall looks the same or if the same menu exists in every hotel chain, why not simply stay at home? Why would anyone want to subject him/herself to dangers and hassles of travel, if the journey’s enchantment is destroyed by rude and arrogant frontline personnel? These are deep questions that travel & tourism professionals need to ask.
To help your locale or attraction put a bit of the romance and fun back into your industry, Tourism Tidbits offers the following suggestions.
-Emphasize what your community offers that is unique. Do not try to be all things to all people. Represent something that is special. Ask yourself: What makes your community or attraction different and unique from your competitors? How does your community celebrate its individuality? Were you a visitor to your community would you remember it a few days after you had left, or would it be just one more place on the map? For example, do not just offer an outdoor experience, but individualize that experience, make your hiking trails special, or develop something special about your beaches or river experience. If, on the other hand, your community or destination is a creation of the imagination then allow the imagination to run wild and continually create new experiences. Try to see your community or attraction through your clients’ eyes.
-Be a bit outlandish. If the other communities are building golf courses, then build something else, think of your community or destination as another country. People do not want the same food, language, and styles that they have back home. Sell not only the experience but also the memory by being different from other destinations. Sell yourself and not someone else!
-Create fun through product development. Advertise less and offer more. Always exceed expectations and never overstate your case. The best form of marketing is a good product and good service. Provide what your promise at prices that are reasonable. The public understands that seasonal locations have to earn their year’s wages in a few months. Higher prices may be acceptable but gauging never is.
-Make sure that the people who serve your customers have fun on the job. If your employees hate visitors, then the message they are giving is one that destroys a sense of being special. Often managers are more interested in their own ego trips than in the vacationer’s experience. An employee who is unique, funny, or makes people go away feeling special is worth thousands of dollars in advertising. Every tourism manager and hotel GM ought to do every job in his or her industry at least once a year. Often tourism managers push so hard for the bottom line that their employees are also human beings with aches and pains, aspirations, and needs.
-Assess the areas of your tourism experience that destroy fun, enchantment and romance. For example, are people subjected to:
- lines that are too long
- a lack of shelter from the weather, sun, wind, cold.
- rude service personnel
- personnel that neither listen nor care
- traffic jams and airport hassles
- a lack of adequate parking
- no one who is willing to listen or own a complaint?
If so, these are some of the elements that transform a positive travel experience into a negative one.
-Check for ways that you can create memorable experiences. Work with specialists in such areas as lighting, landscaping, color coordination, exterior and interior decorations, street appearances and city themes, parking lots and internal transportation service. Utilitarian devices, such as the San Francisco trolley cars, can be vehicles of enchantment if they enhance the environment and add something special to a particular place.
-Coordinate festivals and other events with the ambiance of the place. Festivals often do best when they are integrated within the community rather than taking place outside of town. In-town festivals that are part of the community’s genre not only add to the charm but can be a boon to local businesses rather than a reason for money to leak out of the community. Often festivals are held at the convenience of the festival provider without thinking about the festival’s participants. If you are located in a hot and humid place then do not hold the festival in the summer or in a place without shade. Make the festival fun and relaxing rather than tiring and trying.
-Create a safe and secure atmosphere. There can be little enchantment if people are afraid. To create such an atmosphere local security professionals must be part of the planning from inception. Tourism security is more than merely having police or security professionals walking around a site. Tourism security requires psychological and sociological analysis, use of hardware, interesting and unique uniforms and careful planning that integrates the security professional into the enchantment experience. Tourism-oriented communities realize that everyone in the community has a part to play in creating a positive tourism experience and one that creates a unique and special environment not only for the visitor but also for those who live in the community. That means that tourism-oriented locations need tourism-oriented police and private security providers!
-Never forget that we dare not take our customers for granted. The visitor does not have to go on vacation or travel to our destination. When we begin to take people for granted, then in the end we destroy our greatest asset, namely our reputation.
Tourism Tidbits wishes everyone a very happy and joyous holiday season!