We’re all doing a happy dance knowing the steady growth in global tourism over the past 5 years is expected to continue. The challenge lies in how we synchronise our business objectives as suppliers of travel with the demands of the modern traveller occupying a buyer’s market. Just how demanding is your traveller?
The desire for novel, unique experiences that surpasses the need for a place to sleep or conveyance from A to B requires us to change how we plan to win their business. Their insistence upon having their special interests catered to requires us to re-align our objectives from providing cookie-cutter holidays to memorable, personalised experiences. Their technological sophistication sets expectations for us to meet if we even hope to get a second glance before they run off to the competition. The reliance of consumers on Social Media (SM) demands that we care more about how we engage with that space. Pop culture dictates to us in deafening tones: IMAGE COUNTS. And what we put out there is what comes back at us – with the power to hold our balance sheets to ransom.
Whether you sell accommodation, day tour, cruise, train travel or activity, what the modern traveller wants, needs and expects starts and ends with Customer Service. I’m not sure why this is such a big deal in 2016 but believe it – it’s huge. What I can tell you is that travellers now appear to be far more emotionally-charged.
The days of herding tourists en masse through the same holidays have long gone. And treating them all the same is travel supplier suicide.
In 5 years’ time you may want to see your brand synonymous with outstanding customer service that exceeds traveller expectation and keeps those happy campers coming back for more. In that case, your service has to be end-to-end on point!
Rate strategies can be automated but service is an art – one that starts from the very first interaction.
Service, as you know, is about relationships, response times, convenience, ease and comfort; it’s about accuracy and honesty; about effective communication making life easier for your client, not painful..
The traveller’s first point of contact with your product(s) will be the Internet – on your website or on SM. If they find you on your website, it’s absolutely imperative that it’s optimised for mobile. Responsive web design with 1 click booking facility compatible with desktop and mobile devices, a seamless omnichannel experience of your website and other digital platforms, is pretty much standard. If you’re not there yet, you’re missing out and must plan around that demand. Travellers may research on mobile devices but book on laptops, and continue to engage with your sites during and after travel. Kick that awesome customer service up a notch by empowering visitors with a Click-to-call option to contact your company directly as they’re browsing your site.
68% of hotel guests report that it is extremely important to be able to call a hotel during the purchase phase & 58% are very likely to call a hotel if the capability is available in a smartphone search.
It’s how you beat the machine 😉 Work with it, let it work its charms, then put a warm, human voice/face behind it to show you care more about your guest than the sale.
Our expectation of instant gratification is exacerbated by the speed of technology spoiling consumers rotten. What’s reasonable response time, you ask? Heed the research, take a realistic stance and communicate your standard response time to clients and staff alike.
Based on a SKIFT study of how long people are generally prepared to wait for a response to an enquiry, the average waiting time ranges from about 12 to 27 minutes depending on the format of submission. Travellers depend even more heavily on their smartphones during travel for just about everything from navigation to ordering food to booking pre-stay services at hotels. You’d do well to provide some sort of digital concierge service to accompany them as an extension of your service.
Instant messaging like WhatsApp and Messenger is a crucial investment for your customer service – it’s about being available to your client. It’s real-time, direct and personal communication on mobile devices and it enables you to be truly helpful to clients with instant solutions. The quicker your response to a request or problem, the more motivated your client will be to remain loyal to and advocate your brand. And think of the benefits of having a continuous stream of feedback from your client. People love to be heard and you want them to feel you’re listening.
Going public with that feedback, compliment or complaint, puts a slightly different spin on things. Because we do see an awful lot of (sometimes, yes, over-) sharing on SM, it’s a brave world for any brand that puts itself in the firing line, so to speak. But you need to be there. In fact, you should plan on having a strong SM presence with a strategy to portray your brand values.
Customers are 44% more likely to share their experiences…after receiving a response…on Twitter. Further, they are 30% more likely to recommend the business & respond an entire point higher on customer satisfaction surveys.
Social Media Today
If you meet your clients halfway with SM and messaging because that’s important to them, then you’ll consider the need for tech to make travelling (and buying your product) easier for them. Safer too. A live availability option and a well-placed ‘Book Now‘ button should be standard features on your website. Innovations by Nightsbridge and ResRequest meet those demands and will lend your website credibility. The option to confirm a booking right at the point of decision-making should come with a simple process that reassures even the least tech savvy traveller. Finally, providing a secure online payment facility would complete the convenience of one-stop shopping that consumers love.
You want to increase room revenue, put bodies in beds and bums on seats. A business should be profitable but what to do about all that competition out there?
There are OTA’s and non-traditional suppliers of accommodation, home exchanges, etc. targeting the same bodies as you. As much as OTA’s help sell your product, they also threaten to ‘own’ your guests when they withhold guest data from you. The data you lose is what’s meant to help you identify and retain those repeat guests.
Hotels now require data to effectively market to past guests & access to this data will play a role in how hotels & OTA’s move forward. Train front desk staff to collect key data from guests at check in & focus on growing the direct channel…to ensure that the guests are ‘yours’ rather than the OTA’s.
That’s why you need a user-friendly, easily navigable website. You’ve got 14 seconds to engage any new visitor with your fabulous content, then it needs prominent Calls to Action and short forms to complete. Gear towards the shorter attention span and the visually stimulated user, and you’ll have most Internet users covered. Track the drop-off, bounce rates, and devour that delicious data to help plan future strategies.. more importantly, make your new client’s acquaintance.
There’s more you can do to compete. Differentiation holds the key. To guarantee your fair, even increased market share, get creative with your guest loyalty programmes, specials and promotions. Use the power of word-of-mouth with a customer referral scheme – sell special deals with promo codes, which gamifies the purchasing experience and makes it fun. Get your staff involved and engaged in maintaining superior pre- and post-stay service levels. It’s a great idea to implement reward systems and performance-based incentives, and invest in regular staff training. This should be a major objective for your business to play its part in tourism development anyway, upskilling staff and promoting a culture of good customer service and ethical practices in travel.
Happier staff takes better care of your clients. And it makes yours look like a rock star company to work for and associate with. After all, your staff and your service form part of your brand..
Underscoring your reputation as a business that understands and differentiates to match particular client needs and tastes, is this question: What do travellers actually want? It starts with simple value-adds: complimentary WIFI; special dietary requirements; kids activities; free transfers; tickets to events; tastings/pairings; cinéma privée experiences.. But it doesn’t end there. Networking and collaborating with tourism companies in your vicinity is the way to diversify your basic offering. The benefits are mutual. Referrals can be reciprocal. The client scores a better travel experience and the convenience of 2 or more travel products purchased in 1 go.
Of course you’d have to tap into whatever interests your clients have expressed. New markets trending in 2016 are health/wellness travel, ecotourism, voluntourism and food tourism. Get a yogi to conduct yoga or meditation sessions on your premises; hire a masseur/se; sell wellness products or eco-friendly merchandise as souvenirs. Organic produce on your menu, the use of LED bulbs, the recycling you do, etc. all reflect your values to the like-minded traveller.
They want that authentic experience; so invite guests to participate in any conservation activities you’re involved in, or get them interacting with members of the local community; involve them in cultural activities like learning to cook local foods; get local experts to do talks about the history of the area.
I have clear memories of a hotel in Santiago, Chile, being entertained with a Salsa dancing display, followed by a lesson from professional dancers. Local wine tasting followed on another night. Elsewhere in the South African countryside, I saw my horse-mad niece treated to a ride through olive groves. But the glorious week I once spent on a Greek island holds no memories of the hotel I stayed in. I remember the sightseeing I arranged independently but the hotel offered only a bedroom and breakfast. Utterly forgettable.
You want to be unforgettable.
To that end, plan to promote your brand as one of quality and integrity with content to fit the part. Be consistent with it, from what you put on your website to your marketing across the board. Presenting the experiences you’ve chosen to sell via storytelling is the most visually and emotionally persuasive tool in your sales kit. Take that storytelling a step further on SM by empowering clients to collaborate with you: their positive UGC, combined with content based on your intimate knowledge of your own product(s) and destination, well, that’s just marketing dynamite. There’s nothing like putting the traveller into the story with video and subjective photo narratives. In-the-moment, unpolished accounts of what travellers can expect to experience work just as well as the more professionally shot video works of art that promote destinations and experiences.
Modern consumers love digital, easily consumable moments that promise what they may experience, have experienced and would want to experience again – like the LatestSighting App with its raw footage of real firsthand travel experience. Travellers want to see stuff like this. I watched this 5 times in 1 day and shared it with my family. Still hoping to catch sight of a leopard myself. Soon.
Put your content together like digital scrapbooking, then put it out there. Why not try Twitter Moments, which enables you to weave together your favourite tweets on one ‘page’?
Embedded Twitter Moments are ideal for social storytelling and turn hospitality landing pages into appealing tourism brochures.
Upselling adds value and drives room occupancy, and yes, boosts your profit. But there’s a bigger picture: the partnerships you enter into with other businesses and the local community serve to promote the entire destination, not only your product. It invites the traveller to experience your way of life and see your humanity. Prove it throughout with impeccable service, sustained by technology, and you’ve got a plan that works. That’s what the modern traveller craves – human connection. Make it your explicit objective to be that travel supplier that connects with travellers, and it’ll put you miles apart from the forgettable rest and first on your guest’s list.