The new definition of luxury is service. Hospitality and travel brands wondering how to differentiate their offerings will find answers inside the nature of the modern traveller. In the search for brands to be loyal to, give repeat business and referrals to, travellers have shifted expectation from having little more than the basics covered to wanting an easy experience that’s memorable for the right reasons. Service is an end-to-end experience, with content guiding it, technology driving it, and the human element sealing the deal. Luxury is about convenience and travellers are quite willing and able to pay more for it.

Servicing expectation

You have basic needs to meet as hospitality and activity suppliers that are considered standard mod-cons: accommodation with online check in/out options; electronic keys; free WiFi; and having dietary requirements and special needs met. For day tour and activity companies, mobility is an important consideration and includes access for disabled travellers.

Response times, both to booking enquiries and issues arising in-destination, are key service expectations.

The perception of value will be determined loosely by what’s included in the price vs what travellers expect to pay extra for.

If a brand can anticipate requirements or preferences, meet those and give the impression it’s free, then their clients will be celebrating the value for money they’re getting.

That is of course the polar opposite of costing a travel product and then surprising the client later with hidden costs. Nobody likes that.

The customer experience is the next competitive battleground.

Jerry Gregoire, Dell Computers

Value goes deeper still when we realise that those brands travellers are looking to support, need to share their values too, whether it’s about sustainability or as ‘simple’ a thing as integrity. Real human interest and the desire to service the client/guest are extremely valuable. Travellers now expect the human touch right throughout – to include personal contact with staff and opportunities to interact with locals (both service providers and host community) as part of the immersive experience.

It’s a powerful way to generate trust.

A smile, a show of warmth, using the client’s name, and then remembering to have their favourite newspaper waiting on their next visit; offering rewards, specials, newsletter updates, or general after-sales attention. These soft touches are great currency that can covert a cynical, jaded traveller into the hero of your brand story.

Brands are about making people make choices emotionally instead of some by-the-numbers approach.

Frits van Paasschen

Servicing the experience

The nature of the traveller is to desire and demand a fully immersive travel experience that is personally and socially transformational. They want to live out their values on holiday; at least they need guilt-free experiences. Brands must reflect this in their products if they hope to attract the modern traveller, and their operations must be similarly aligned.

Trends in travel exist for a reason: the head-in-sand approach based on what’s always worked in the past will leave you there – in the dust in the past, while your competition embraces the new. And servicing the experience is about walking and talking the talked about trends.

Got your carbon footprint down? Got USB ports conveniently located for your Millennials? Got in-room popcorn machines and movie treats for travelling kids? Maybe you have Spanish-speaking staff available. Or you’ve got your finger on the pulse of local events and festivals. Whatever your unique experience entails,  it! You have multiple options from website to social media to email marketing to make that association between your brand and the experience travellers are looking for.

Featuring hugely in the travel experience is engagement with travellers – whether they’re existing or potential guests, your service will be especially memorable if they can have reliable access to you and an easy relationship with you.

Maintaining contact with them throughout their buyer journey is key.

They’re ready and waiting for you on Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, and they’re definitely open to your using social media as a kind of digital concierge service.

They’ll want to tweet their queries or direct message you, because that reassures them that you care about their needs.

Service the experience to let your clients know your business revolves around them – make them the stars of your show.

Service with content

Travellers looking at your brand will need persuasion on two accounts: if it’s going to be easy to buy into your service; if your products match their requirements. The right content at the right time will do the trick. Novices want as much info as possible, including such details as rooming options, facilities and amenities, and in-destination information. The budget traveller will need to justify their spend. Seasoned travellers will be more selective and want personalised content that reflects their specific needs rather than vague, generic content.

Whichever segment they fall under, modern travellers are most inspired by visual storytelling; so to hook them, give them a virtual experience of your property or activity and the destination as a whole. Whether you’ve got food experiences to showcase, pampering to feature, or any value adds as unique selling points, the way to tell the stories of your experience(s) is via vivid content.

Video will prove to be an effective form of content precisely because moving imagery attracts the human eye – its emotive power appeals to sight and sound, providing stronger stimuli to the imagination.

Since studies have identified the appeal of the mouse click, it makes sense that interactive content is super effective at engaging viewers en route to travel discovery.

Increasingly, they’ll want to access virtual tours, so they can feel themselves ‘in’ the experience.

Finally, having your content visible in lots of places makes it easier for the traveller to discover your brand – so blog it, plaster it all over social media.

Wherever you pitch it, make sure your potential client can see themselves in your content as the hero of your story.

Your traveller may have become a bit cynical and overwhelmed by the amount of content online, in the media. They really need some social proof that they can take you at your word, so to speak, that what they see is what they’ll get.

Trust comes from having your brand and content endorsed by other travellers, influencers and bloggers. Reviews from existing clients, your staff stories told online and other forms of UGC (pics and videos) effectively vouch for the brand.

It’s third-party proof that you care about your client – travellers want to see this and they’ll hold you accountable. Images of fun counterbalanced by evidence that you’ve responded well to complaints and crises, and helped create some lifetime memories, will all be a huge credit to you and your brand of service.

Servicing the tech savvy traveller

They’re naturally going to be more trusting of brands with a presence in the digital space than with those that are off the grid, mostly because they understand the front-runners and ‘early adopters’ of innovation are usually the ones who are in it for the future of tourism. For one thing, they’re very aware of technology (and comfortable using it); so they’re less likely to take brands seriously that haven’t embraced tech.

They’re doing more of their travel research online and prefer to book directly on brand sites, and cut out intermediaries.

Another expectation is the service element that tech brings to the experience.

Travellers want to be able to check live availability, to book immediately upon reaching a decision, make direct payment online, and track the process, all done securely.

Of course the tech is meant to serve and reduce friction, not complicate life.

That is streamlined service – simplifying access to accommodation and activities puts the power of travel planning back into the traveller’s hands.

That’s what they like.

The digital space is where content lives: when you service these elements together, it adds tremendous value to the client as they’re guaranteed 24/7 access to your info as needed, wherever they are.

They’re also encouraged to play their part in endorsing your brand and service by sharing their experiences online. As vocal and active as they are online, as complimentary and defamatory they can be to your brand.

Social sharing is the new word-of-mouth.

So when they’re sharing your content on social media and you acknowledge them, that’s the affirmation they and your potential clients need of your commitment to service.

When your brand is visible across digital platforms and accessible throughout the travel buying journey, it proves that you’re plugged into the digital space and reliably savvy too.

It empowers your traveller, which in turn, makes your brand more competitive!

Everyone wants a taste of luxury; we all deserve some. Until now that has been the sole privilege of the wealthy. Now travellers know their power to command the ultimate luxury in travel: service. Holistic and streamlined, glamorous customer-centric service, with a generous serving of humanity threading the experience together. And this is something all travellers can equally expect. It’s the value they’re prepared to spend a bit more money on, and they know they have the power to demand it or go elsewhere.

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