An efficient operation doesn’t just get the job done sooner, it yields a quality result you can proudly associate your brand with. In travel, it means using what you know, adapting knowledge to need, and sharing the love liberally among your team. After all, a shared goal is a winner’s approach to teamwork – that’s the purpose of managing your collective intellectual capital, destination knowledge and industry expertise in a way that serves the brand, and ultimately your clients.
In search of the travel content unicorn
As I research a trip, trying to ascertain how many days to allocate to a particular destination, I really prefer to have as much information, if not all I need to know, on that destination to help me decide. That just makes it easier for me, saves me time and the headache of searching the Internet or my email archives for that fact sheet a supplier sent me ages ago, with a million tabs open on my laptop to get back to later..
Like most modern consumers, I quickly suffer from research fatigue.
The dream is to land early into my search on a site that’s comprehensively curated with up-to-date content that reassures me of covering all bases quickly and reliably. If I happen to encounter the same info repeated in part somewhere else, that’s reinforcement that I’m on the right track.
But those trustworthy sources can be hard to find, and there’s always the risk of deviating from your brand by picking the wrong sort. Travellers need you to navigate those murky swamps for them, so they don’t have to. And from a tour-building point of view, I’d say the travel professional needs an intelligent approach to selecting the right products at the right time to design a personalised experience for their client.
Towards a more detailed approach
The nitty gritty of content is extensive and it goes deep. There’s a lot the traveller needs to know during planning stage and then at travel stage, that you need to include in your proposal – like the climate, for example, and then the weather conditions around time travel; dining options according to budget; special activities for teenagers; level of luxury; and so on.
That requires a great deal of destination knowledge and can entail an awful lot of time-consuming work picking exactly what is right for that particular itinerary. Given enough time, you will eventually find the products to match the client IF you were lucky enough to have 1st hand experience of said products.
I remember visiting a game lodge once where I met a ranger named Forget. He was amazed to learn that I’d sold their lodge numerous times without actually having experienced it. I felt a bit sheepish – he was right.
How do you sell something you don’t know?
Of course it was a preferred supplier – a colleague had been there once before but testified to its magnificence without much by way of explanation. I only truly understood how to sell this product and to whom, after experiencing it myself, dining there, viewing different accommodation units and facilities, and enjoying the wildlife activities on offer.
The difference lay in the detail – between what hadn’t been shared with me and what I then learned on my own. For instance, getting there required some off-road driving, not comfortably suited to the average sedan vehicle, an oversight that would’ve been good to know when planning a self-drive itinerary. Doing that site inspection was lucky – communicating what I’d learned to my colleagues amounted to telling them in person, possibly writing it down in my note book. A smarter way to work would’ve been to make detail like that available to everyone who needed it in a format that didn’t stretch the memory – it would serve the client and make us look like we knew our stuff.
Business Intelligence for travel professionals
The body of work that goes into the pre-planning stage of a client itinerary can take up a huge amount of time for it to be thorough. It entails identifying the traveller type, the trends that influence their choice of destination or type of holiday, and their special interests. There’s budget, time of travel and logistical logic. Then you colour in the experience to personalise the client itinerary accordingly by choosing tried and tested, suitable products.
Pre-planning makes the ultimate task of itinerary creation a smoother one if you have your ducks in a row, having identified the parts that make up the whole. Perhaps your clients are a multi-generational family returning to a favourite destination to attend a festival and visit some new sites en route with at least 1 adventurous activity never done before to bond over. It makes designing personalised tours easier and marketing to similar prospects much more targeted.
Organising the detail also serves an operational purpose – in that context, BI in tourism potentially enables better business decisions, improves the quality of your proposals and content, improves customer and employee satisfaction, reduces labour costs, increases revenue and competitive advantage, and generally improves efficiency.
The term Business Intelligence refers to technologies, applications & practices for the collection, integration, analysis, & presentation of business information…to support better business decision making.
That’s a fancy way of suggesting that it’s super smart to develop and espouse a system that makes knowledge about clients (and client types), supplier products, processes, trends, and trade partners available in a meaningful way to everyone in your team.
It’s like working off a single script that defines your particular brand of service.
This ‘script’ is both historical (based on cumulative experiences, product education, training and application) and a work-in-progress as your target market expands or changes and new trends in travel arise.
Whether you have a staff of 2 or 20, some consultants will have greater expertise than others, different experiences of a destination or specialised expertise; the knowledge base can be extensive but only serve those individuals in the know. New staff can either bring fresh knowledge or they might know very little. How you bring all this knowledge together in a way that benefits your entire organisation is a key BI component. On the road to collective success, the best route is always: 2 heads are better than 1.
According to Wikipedia, Forrester Research refers to data preparation and data usage as 2 separate but closely linked segments of BI. Applied in the travel context, say you’ve identified the levels of luxury, supplier brands, activity types, restaurants, guides and ground handlers that best represent your brand and service you wish to promote; now gather that wealth of knowledge among your team, organise, label and annotate your aggregated data into a format that’s simple to access and use. Tech is your friend here, so bring your data into digital focus and let your business take a strategic place in the information age.
Product knowledge shared is an asset
The value a travel professional brings to the sale is the sum of passion, skill, dedication to service, and knowledge. You train your staff in order to bring everyone in line with the type of travel you wish your brand to represent.
Picture a regular day in your office: a consultant needs to know if there’s a reliable French-speaking guide your company uses to do Meet & Greets in a particular destination but the only one who knows the answer is off sick. Should the enquiry wait until the expert is back at work or perhaps risk using an untried and untested alternative? It’s a detail that can mean the difference between a bad, or average, or fabulous reception for the client. It also means delay.
Destinations and products are multi-dimensional: there could be different ways to enjoy and then sell those experiences to different traveller types. What’s your preferred accommodation supplier for a luxury island honeymoon and the most suitable alternatives? Your alternatives are as important as your 1st choices if that’s what’s going to end up in the final itinerary, not something that’s wise to leave up to chance.
Staff that shares intelligence is an invested staff.
They can see their expertise at work, growing the shared knowledge base, educating colleagues, and shaping the brand. In the final analysis, you collectively produce a richer client experience with quality assurance built into your proposals, and your staff can use the time they save digging around for info to consult with clients.
Captured knowledge is a business asset
Take your collective knowledge out of individual heads and put it somewhere tangible. It can be acquired once and referenced multiple times in more proposals and sales.
Collateral for marketing is based on elements from actual itineraries successfully sold and travelled, adding to the authenticity of your offerings. It supports accuracy and consistency in brand representation with the same content available for whatever purpose required.
What about that lodge you always sell that closed for a few months of refurbishment? This is essential info that often sits in someone’s email inbox to be forgotten.
Capturing the knowledge is a huge help when you’re considering product development – you have a proven record of what you’ve sold (and how you sold it), what works very well and is worth building on, and what needs to be dropped from your product inventory or flagged (because it’s currently unavailable). It’s a smart way to do quality control of the products you sell and the presentations you make to the travelling public.
Access and Detail close the deal
Wherever it sits, in whatever format, to become an effective operational tool, your knowledge base must be quick and easy to access.
A simple, methodical process of first listing, labelling, annotating, rating and highlighting, and then filtering, sifting and matching to get the required info wins best practice hands down.
You could do that on paper in folders and files, but those are hard to update and have to be passed around to share.
Digital access on the consultant’s own computer would likely prove to be the most economical with time and energy. And when you have a truly efficient system, it leads to a more productive staff who get more done in less time with fewer resources spent in the process. It means pre-selecting products in the planning stage, which speeds up the actual itinerary building stage; and it means quickly choosing alternatives as when clients request itinerary revisions or with availability problems.
Knowledge is power and this cliche gains respect as we realise that in the business of travel, access to organised aggregated industry knowledge is as empowering as attractive content is to the sale. You spend too much time and effort gaining all that you know about your trade, your clients, and your industry, developing your team and defining your brand, you might as well put all that passion and experience to work for you and your future prospects.