No wonder tourism is one of the fastest growing employers in the world. It’s an industry currently comprising a compelling mixture of geography, yes, creativity, psychology and now, inescapably, technology. We look back at the lessons learnt over a year of research, observation and learning to remind ourselves of the momentum we’ve built and what we need to maintain to keep growing our business and pleasing our clients. The work of a tour operator/DMC/travel agent just got interesting.
Relevance Far from shoving anything down any traveller throats, we discovered the trends that currently dictate international tourism require us to rethink how we package our products. Once the traveller persona is established, we can delve a little deeper into the individual to understand what motivates them to travel, how they wish to travel and with whom. All of these are ingredients in the perfect travel experience we’re responsible for creating.
They could be a group of young professionals desiring a cultural and learning experience in an Asian destination, with local customs and cuisine of particular interest to them. They’re keen to try the local transport, interact with the locals, but they can afford a bit of luxury in their accommodations. Being relevant means tapping into the data that teaches us who our clients are and how the area we operate in can accommodate their desired travel experiences. And then communicating clearly.
Content Strategy We’re actively pursuing an emotionally-driven modern traveller. Our marketing needs that altruistic edge to it with a bit of free advice, the invaluable ‘add-on’ value, the answer to the traveller’s question: “But what’s in it for me?” By using a strategy that steers clear of the constant hard sell, the unspoken message we convey to travellers is that we care about them and how they experience our product/service. We value their time. We value their money, for sure, and wish to give them good value for what they spend. And we value their loyalty – if they give it to us, it’s because we’ve earned it.
Above and beyond whatever our competitors have to offer, we give our client that extra something that can loosely be labelled TLC. And we give it to them in the form of travel content with a strong visual bias: emotive imagery supported by emotive language/descriptions, all depicting a personalised experience as if we were telling a story with our client as hero. It’s the picture of a pretty landscape vs a video showing people enjoying a destination doing various activities with dramatic music to wake up the wanderlust. That’s being strategic with your travel content.
Travel buyer experience The holistic trend in travel asks the question: how much service can you pack in? A real, growing expectation among modern travellers is for you to be accessible before, during and after travel. There are different ways of effecting this but the real-time solution has to do with direct messaging. Offering this as a service makes you 10 times more attractive than your competitor who offers a similar experience to yours without the messenger service. It may mean laying on some extra labour resources, but it’s absolutely worth it in the end to offer assistance as and when clients need it. It saves your client the trouble of sorting out their own messes or having to wait for you to respond to an emailed enquiry, or an out of office hours phone call.
Spare your client further frustration by offering ancillary services in partnership with 3rd party providers like restaurants, transfer companies, day tour operators and such. The traveller essentially books with you to avoid as far as possible having to do it themselves in-destination; so it’s worth the effort to provide that end-to-end service they desire.
Then you’ve got to ensure you make your travel content, reservations facility and travel documents easily available in a way that inspires them to travel. Streamlining your processes throughout is what ultimately provides your client with a better travel buyer experience.
Efficiency There’s really no reason to complain that there aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done. The gurus of travel tech have made our jobs far easier by developing tools that empower us to generate proposals of high quality, quickly and efficiently – it’s just a matter of doing your homework to see what’s out there to suit your business.
There are integrations of systems that support and enhance each other for itinerary building, quoting, booking and payment. Everything can happen digitally, centralised, so there’s no need to work off different systems and waste precious time. Another key component in eliminating time wastage is the sourcing of quality content. Are you still digging around the Internet for hours trying to get your hands on some decent travel content? That’s so last decade. Cloud computing leads the way here and your best hack is to get your preferred Suppliers on board – they really should be the ones managing their own content, not you. They know their products better than you do and besides, you just don’t have the time.
Speaking of streamlining processes, a good dosage of business intelligence goes a long way to fixing up a slow day at the office. Being able to share expertise internally, colleague to colleague, conveniently with easy access, means saving loads of time searching for information on either a repeat client or an alternative supplier. Being more efficient in your business practices and processes also translate into your having more time to spend on your client, which is what they want.
Collaborate Networking in tourism is nothing new, but now you can do it virtually constantly in the cloud. Cloud computing enables you to pool resources with your trade partners provided they share and operate in the same space. You and your trade partners can collaborate on offerings in order to enhance a particular travel experience. By facilitating mutually beneficial sales/marketing efforts, you effectively reunite a fragmented, flawed trade. You operate your tours in a number of areas with specific sites of interest – your partners in the vicinity should be partnering with you to promote this area as a destination together with the particular stories that can be told by the experiences on offer.
If your preferred suppliers have specials running, you should be able to incorporate those easily into your offerings; but it needs to be simple to identify the right special for the right itinerary/client. Or if you happen to target a market of predominantly Spanish speaking travellers, it would certainly help your cause if the content you wish to use in your itineraries could be made available in Spanish, por supuesto.. Effective collaboration makes all this happen and, along with any training and internships you offer, contribute significantly to the development of tourism. Everybody wins, especially the traveller.
Death to the tech dino Seriously now, it’s time to embrace tech wholeheartedly and banish the fear of it to the past. You see, the world has moved on, it’s not just moving. Travellers have lead the way with their tech sophistication and expectation. They live their lives increasingly glued to a mobile device, consuming on the go. The paper itinerary is slowly becoming passé. People like the novelty of being able to engage and interact with travel content, trying to imagine themselves inside that story you’re trying to sell. As such travel research needs to be simplified, streamlined and comprehensive, rather than all over the show in various formats, possibly inaccurate and outdated. Technology kicks that butt.
Think about the App culture as a warning of more to come, whether you invest in a messaging service a la chat bot or embed a content widget onto your website for simpler distribution of your travel content, you’ll find tech is a good friend to the travel marketer.
Don’t you be that tech-fearing dinosaur that gets left behind as the world continues to move on and the way travellers demand to consume content (digitally, make no mistake) continues to evolve.
Brand presence If you’re not building or improving your brand presence online and on social media (SM), then to most travellers you simply don’t exist. Your presence is a solid investment in consistent brand representation and reputation management across platforms. It’s now important to dress your content and brand the same whether you’re displaying it on your own website, 2nd or 3rd party sites, or on your SM platforms. It says to potential clients that you’re no Mickey Mouse outfit. And any online commentary and reviews can be clearly associated with your brand.
When you engage with travellers online, it becomes an extension of customer service – it makes your clients (existing and potential) feel important and noticed. Show you’re not afraid to put yourself on(the)line, and you’re ready to address complaints in a transparent manner. When you’re present, you get to enjoy the powerful exposure earned from positive travel reviews.
User Generated Content is also pretty powerful so you want to invite as much of that onto your SM platforms: happy clients posting their travel pics on Pinterest, Instagram, or Facebook, or remarking how awesome their experience was on Twitter or Snapchat; even YouTube can gain you some interest if a client posts a travel video of theirs. Then there are SM competitions you could conduct to gain traction among a new target market, all done with punchy text and persuasive imagery.
People need to know who they’re dealing with, so get your staff involved, seen and engaged in the process.
It’s a big nutshell, but these are the ways in which we have grown this past year as Operators/DMCs/Agents. Some may have invested more energy improving 3 or 4 areas and perhaps not so much in others, but recognising the correct path to follow is the first step. Researching and identifying the tools to get us going is the second, and the rest will surely follow.
As one year ends and another begins, we’ve come far and still have loads to do. As long as there’s goodwill and we keep that open mind, 2017 promises to be an equally exciting year of growth. Bon voyage..