Dr. Peter Tarlow

We began the year by reviewing some of the fundamental principles of a successful tourism business or industry.  Tourism is multifaceted and despite the fact that there is no one form of tourism many of the industry’s basic principles hold true no matter in which aspect of the travel and tourism industry one works.  Despite our cultural, linguistic, religious, and geographic differences human beings are basically the same around the world and the best principles of good tourism transcend cultures, languages, nations, and religious affiliations.  Due to tourism’s unique ability to bring people together if used properly, it can be an instrument for peace.  This month we continue with some of the basics and fundamental principles of the tourism industry.

Be prepared to face both ongoing and new challenges. The tourism industry is part of a constantly changing world.  The year 2023 will see multiple challenges about which travel & tourism professionals will have to face. Some of these are:

  • Climate crises that can impact your part of the industry, including flight cancellations or delays, and irregular heat and cold patterns
  • Economic pressure especially on the world’s middle class
  • Increased issues of crime
  • Higher levels than normal of professionals leaving the workforce due to retirement or feeling underappreciated.  These include police, medical personnel, and other essential service providers
  • Fuel shortages
  • Food shortages
  • Further divisions between the richer and poorer areas of the world
  • Greater numbers of people suing tourism businesses or tour operators due to poor service or not delivering what was promised.

The following reminders are meant to both inspire and to warn.

When the going gets rough, be calm. People come to us for tranquility and to forget their problems, not to learn about our problems. Our guests should never be burdened by our economic difficulties. Remember they are our guests and not our counselors. Tourism ethics requires that your personal life stays out of the workplace. If you are too agitated to work, then stay home. Once one is at the workplace, however, we have a moral responsibility to concentrate on the needs of our guests and not on our own needs. The best way to be calm in a crisis is to be prepared. The Covid-19 pandemic should teach to do good risk management and be prepared for foreseeable problems and “black swan events”.  In a like manner, your community or attraction needs to train employees on how to handle health risks, travel changes, and personal security issues.

Use multiple methodologies to understand trends in tourism. There is a tendency in tourism to use purely qualitative or quantitative analytical methodologies.  Both are important and both can provide additional insights. Problems occur when we become so dependent on one form of analysis that we ignore the other.  Remember people surveyed along with computerized data are not always truthful. Although these methods may be highly valid their reliability factors may be lower than what we believe. Polling errors both in the US and the UK ought to remind us of the principle of “garbage in/garbage out”.

Never forget that travel and tourism are very competitive industries.  It behooves tourism industry professionals to remember that the tourism industry is filled with multiple forms of transportation, hotels, restaurants, tour operators and tour guides and interesting places to visit and shop.  Additionally, there are many places in the world with interesting histories, beautiful scenery and great beaches.

Find a way to make the shopping experience unique. In today’s interlocked world major cities no longer sell only their local products but provide a wide variety of products from around the world.  Basic principle: if you can get it there, you can probably get it here.

Do not forget that travelers today have more information than ever before.  The worst thing for the tourism industry is to be caught exaggerating or lying. It takes a long time to rebuild a reputation and in today’s world of social media, one mistake can spread like wildfire.

Marketing can aid in product development, but it cannot substitute for product(s) development.  A basic rule of tourism is that you cannot market what you do not have.  Remember that the most successful form of marketing is word of mouth.  Spend less money on classical marketing strategies and more money on customer service and product development.

Focus on the unique aspects of your part of the travel and tourism world.  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/locale/country celebrate its individuality?  If you were 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 unique about aquatic offerings.  If, one 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.

 –Travel and Tourism professionals need to enjoy what they do and project this sense of joie de vivre to their customers.  Travel and tourism is about having fun and if your employees are you do not come to work with a smile on their face then it would be better to seek another job.  Visitors quickly ascertain our moods and professional attitude.  The nice you are the more successful your company or local tourism community is going to be.

Be authentic.  Nothing gets unmasked more easily that a lack of authenticity. Do not try to be what you are not but rather be the best that you can be.  Tourism locations that are authentic and natural tend to be the most successful.  To be authentic does not mean only forests or beaches, but a unique presentation of cultural awareness.

Smiles are universal.  Perhaps the most important technique to learn in tourism is the way to smile.  A sincere smile can compensate for many an error. Travel and tourism is built around principles of high expectations, many of which never get met.  This gap between the image and the reality is not always the fault of the industry. There is little that the industry can do to make a rainstorm depart or to stop an unexpected blizzard.  What we can do, is show people that we care and be creative.  Most people can forgive an act of nature, but few customers will forgive a state of callousness or lack of caring.

Tourism is a customer-driven experience. In the last few years, too many tourism and visitor centers have worked hard at driving their customers from human-based experiences to web page experiences.  The logic behind this move is that it will save large corporations such as airlines a great deal of money on wages.  The risk that these companies will have to consider is that tourists develop relationships with people rather than websites. As tourist and traveler corporations drive people to websites, they should be ready to accept the fact that customer loyalty will decrease and that their frontline personnel’s actions become even more important.

Ask yourself if your tourism image is the same as that of your clients?  For example, you may say that you are a family destination, but if your customers view you from another perspective, it will take a tremendous amount of marketing to change the image.  Before launching a new marketing campaign, consider how your destination makes its clientele feel, why people chose your destination over the competition, and what emotional benefits your visitors receive when they chose your destination.

Our customers are not in school.  All too often, especially on guided tours, we have a false notion that our customers are our students.  Guides need to speak less and allow visitors to experience more. The average adult, on tour, stops listening after about 5-7 minutes. In a like manner, too many police departments and security organizations falsely believe that they can educate the visitor regarding personal safety and security. Assume the visitor will pay no attention and develop security programs based on this simple fact.

–  Strive to provide an enchanting travel and tourism experience.  Tourism is not about education or school but about enchantment and the nurturing of the spirit.  A lack of enchantment means 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 the dangers and hassles of travel, if our industry destroys the journey’s enchantment by rude and arrogant front-line personnel?  To help your locale or attraction make money put a bit of the romance and enchantment back into your tourism product.

When in doubt, the right thing to do is the best thing to do. Don’t cut corners because times are hard. This is the time to build a reputation for integrity by doing the right thing. Make sure to give customers their money’s worth rather than appearing to be selfish and greedy. The hospitality business is about doing for others, and nothing advertises a place better than giving that something extra in a period of economic constriction. In a like manner, managers should never cut their underling’s salaries before they cut their own. If a reduction in forces is necessary, a manager should personally handle the situation, present a good-bye token and never be absent on the day of a lay-off.