How Hospitality Can Save Tourism


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    How Hospitality Can Save Tourism

    Travel experience experts need to remember why people travel. For most tourists, it is all about the destination. The destination is why you leave home. Before you make the decision to travel, and long before you arrive, you have a desire to go to a particular place. Because you know about a place (its food, culture, art, history), you want to experience it. Often, tourism marketing for a particular destination sparks that desire.

    Expectations Prior to Travel

    Effectively, a travel destination is a brand. As travelers, we develop internal and external associations with a place the same way we do with any brand. Stories about the destination, our knowledge of history, and the travel and tourism marketing we encounter enrich our idea of the destination. And they elevate our expectations. Depending on the destination, those expectations, honed by tourism marketing, can include crystal blue water, white sand beaches, five star dining, or superior hospitality. Think the Caribbean, France, Italy.

    In fact, these expectations fuel travel preparation time (shopping, packing, planning). And that process further heightens experience expectations. In a study by the Institute for Applied Positive Research, 97%  of respondents said having a trip planned increases their happiness level. That sense of joy builds as you pack and prepare for travel. So, when you finally arrive at the destination of your dreams, expectations are at a peak.

    Expectation vs. Actual Experience: Hospitality Pillar 1 People

    But how does this compare to the actual experience? Once you arrive, there is no distance between you and the destination. The experience becomes the people you interact with, and the hospitality they extend. The daily sequence of emotions along your travel journey depends largely on those you meet along the way.

    This is our first Pillar of Hospitality: People. For the guest, the destination did its work to get you there. Once you arrive, the accountability and ownership of the experience shifts to the people who provide service. And this is what drives ROI. But as a Tourism Board, a hotel operator, or a restaurant, you can look at ROI two ways here. How you look at ROI changes whether or not you invest in training your teams to deliver world-class experiences.

    One and Done Approach vs. Lifetime Value Approach

    You can have a low-level ROI from one interaction. The guest arrives, and experiences their dream destination. The guest is underwhelmed and does not return. Bucket List trip. Mediocre experience. Done.

    This is the mentality of some tourism and hospitality managers. They say, “I don’t need them to come back; the location is enough to attract a steady stream of one-time travelers.” The mentality is, there are so many people in the world I don’t need anyone to come back. I only need them to come once.

    Or, you can leverage those high expectations that prime a traveler to fall in love with your place. You deliver a personalized, memorable guest experience, and  create loyalty. You build a real relationship with a high lifetime value traveler, and you cement your brand (your destination) as an essential part of their life.

    This tourism or hospitality manager wants to create a relationship with a tourist. They have pride in showcasing culture, cuisine, history, and identity. That pride drives hospitality in travel. Here, we get to the psychology of the place. In a hospitality-driven environment connected to the ethos of a destination, tourists experience the feeling of the culture, not just the physical space. In this environment, you feel the level of pride and the power of traditions of the place. You are more than an observer or consumer. You are welcomed and embraced.

    This is where the ROI of tourism actually lies. Tourism associations and boards can either create revenue and ROI for the location, or they cannot. The gap in revenue corresponds with the level of care for the tourists, and the passion with which you interact with guests and share your culture.

    Experience Expectations vs. Reality in Playa del Carmen and Paris

    For example, let’s compare my journey as a tourist in Playa del Carmen, Mexico and Paris, France. Start with commonalities. Every trip includes transportation experiences. Last summer, my friend and I arrive in Mexico. Our cab driver immediately tells us about the resort, the good, and the bad, with honesty and enthusiasm. He is so proud. Our cab driver is a de facto tour agent. And he is building my expectations for the rest of my trip, and going above and beyond my expectations for a cab ride.

    This summer, we arrive in Paris. The Uber driver yells at us because he is 10 minutes late thanks to city traffic. Maybe it’s not fair to compare a beach town to one of the busiest cities in Europe. So, let’s use the Paris subway as an example. There are not enough elevators and escalators, and they do not connect the end-to-end subway journey.

    While the insufficient infrastructure is only one aspect of a journey filled with broken experience expectations, it is important to call this out now. Keep in mind, Paris is hosting the next Summer Olympics. If they are not set up to deliver on transportation expectations from one travel-savvy tourist, how do they possibly expect to manage the Olympics without a risking a total meltdown?

    Broken Transportation Experiences: Hospitality Pillars 2+3 Processes and Technology

    You will remember we have been defining hospitality as people, processes, and technology (our 3 Pillars of Hospitality).

    I am thankful for my story of the Paris Subway Train Ticket because it gives me the chance to share an object lesson for Hospitality Pillar 2: Processes. And it shows what happens when you fail to link People, Processes, and Technology in service of guest experience.

    So, I arrive at a Paris train station. I buy a ticket. The turnstile does not work, so it does not accept the ticket. This happens all over the world. No big deal. So, I tell the agent. He demands I show him my receipt for the ticket. He asks, “where is your proof that you bought this ticket?” As a New Yorker and a frequent traveler, I do not make a habit of saving receipts from subway ticket purchases. I rely on the ticket as proof I have a ticket.

    I explain to him that I did not know I needed to have proof of ticket purchase, and that his colleague from whom I purchased the ticket, did not instruct me to retain my receipt (for 48 Euro). We can write this off as a misunderstanding, a tourist who does not know the ins-and-outs of a transportation system different from the one at home.

    But, we also need to look at it for what it is, a missed moment for a positive hospitality experience. Both process breaks and hospitality training/mindset breaks created this tense moment.

    The failure of this interaction is not just the inconvenience of delaying my access to the train I paid to ride. It is the way in which it colored my experience of Paris. The way the real experience radically differed from my expectations for the destination.

    Processes and Technology Empower Trust

    As a New Yorker, I am accustomed to being trusted. In the US, by and large, a train agent will believe you. They will assume, if you tell them your ticket is good, it is good. But, this goes back to process. They are also be able to verify that trust. They have systems in place to check the balance on a MetroCard, and a process that outlines how to do it.

    And that brings us to Pillar 3, Technology. In the Paris Train Ticket example, they do not have the technology to check. So, this is a failure of technology, process, and people. There are many reasons for the breakdown of hospitality at each of the three pillars in this case. Yes, it was Paris in August. Yes, there are the complexities that arise with unions. And yes, training and motivation is difficult to sustain, especially in complex urban environments.

    But, at the end of the day, there are basic hospitality expectations that can make or break tourist experiences. The train attendant who saw me struggling with a broken machine, in an otherwise empty station, and ran away instead of helping me is a clear example. Hospitality tells us to approach a guest in need. Not to run away.

    Expectation vs Reality: Hospitality and Attractions

    The Louvre is my favorite museum on earth. But it is mayhem. Now, let’s do a quick disclaimer. I have no problem with crowds or waiting on lines. And the entrance line for the Louvre is long!

    When I finally get to the front, I tell the agent I have tickets for a guided tour (a higher priced ticket than the standard entry ticket). She responds, “Yes, but your tour is at 3:00 and now it’s 3:30.” I explain we arrived long before 3:00, but were stuck in the line. Keep in mind, there is no dedicated entrance line for guided tours, and no instruction during the ticket purchasing process regarding arrival times for tours. When I ask if she has a tour at 4:00, she tells me she does. Then, when I ask if we can join that tour, she says no, because our tickets are for 3:00.

    Think about this from a logistics point of view. If I arrived early for a 3:00 tour and cannot enter until closer to 4:00, won’t those arriving for the 4:00 tour make it to the entrance closer to 5? If everyone is getting bumped an hour, get the guests through the door, and focus on delivering the experience they have been promised.

    Lines at major international attractions are always long, and guests’ energy and expectations are always high. Given that there is a process failure here (no dedicated line, etc.), there is even more of a hospitality opportunity on the part of people. In this moment, hospitality calls us to go the extra mile. A well-trained employee has the mindset and the autonomy to deliver a creative, helpful solution (like joining the next tour, or even refunding the money).

    Moments like this can transform detractors to promoters. Resolving an issue quickly actually yields greater customer satisfaction than getting it right the first time. On this day, the Louvre missed those hospitality opportunities.

    Hospitality and Tourism: Food and Beverage

    So much of tourism is driven by the desire to experience the cuisine of other cultures. From a tourism perspective, therefore, cities need to stay open for dining and drinks. Let’s go back to our comparison between Playa del Carmen and Paris. In Playa del Carmen, restaurants and bars are open until 2, 3, 4 am. Paris closes at 2:00 am, at the latest.

    Even accepting that Paris is a city that closes on the earlier side, an establishment committed to hospitality serves guests until closing. It does not refuse service more than one hour before closing because they will be closing soon.

    When we arrive before 1:00 am at a bar that stays open until 2, the server says, “you can’t sit here, I have to close.” Her colleague counters they are still open and she has to let us sit. Two more people arrive. The same thing happens. She tells us we have 20 minutes. She will only give us one drink, and we have to get out by 1:30 am (half-an-hour before closing). My fellow hospitality veterans, if we are not even meeting our hours of operation, where is the hospitality?

    On the other hand, Playa del Carmen set a new standard for our hospitality expectations. I shared this story previously. In a snapshot, we happened into a restaurant called Porfirios.

    In under five minutes, we had wine served through an air diffusor, fresh bottles of water in a cooler with a plate of fruits to add flavor, and olives the staff procured from another location! The restaurant staff considered every detail of convenience and elevated experience. They extended hospitality with reflexive ease, and absolute authenticity.

    The Real Impact of Hospitality and Tourism

    When my friend and I left Mexico, we gushed about how we had received nothing but great hospitality and personalized service. We could not stop talking about one exceptional experience after the other. On our way out of Paris, we were counting how many people were rude to us in five days.

    Yes, in the case of Mexico, our expectations were lower, but the level of authentic hospitality we received reframed how we thought of the destination. And how we want to include it in future travel plans with our families.

    Now, we have all heard stereotypes of Parisian-style attitudes. But, at the end of the day, we had both dreamed of visiting Paris, and experiencing firsthand the beauty, culture, language, and history we have studied and enjoyed for years from afar.

    The disconnect between expectations of Paris and the reality was jarring. If you have a role in tourism in Paris, know that you are putting out a brand associated with elegance and excellence. Inhospitable experiences are more than disappointments. They signal brand erosion. And in a world in which the dynamics of travel and the personas of travelers are changing, you cannot survive on empty promises.

    When the Olympics come, the world will be looking for Paris to live up to expectations. Will it?

    Secure Lifetime Value Guests Before It’s Too Late

    Let’s return to our conversation about loyalty guests vs the one-and-dones. On this trip, my friend and I spent around 5K for tickets, lodging, food and beverage, and attractions.  That’s 5K, one time. Now, both of our mothers are children of communism who dream about Paris. Paris is the place were going to take our moms.

    And we were going to give them their trip of a lifetime. In that case, we’re talking about well over 10K each.  But that 10K is not going to Paris, because the feeling we got is, you don’t want me here. Or, you’re angry I am here. And that is the ROI on bad hospitality.

    Do you want people to come once? Or do you want their loyalty?

    Mexico is becoming our family tradition. This is the difference between giving you 3-4K every year, or getting my 5K once.

    We mentioned the changing dynamics of travel and new personas. That includes the recent trend in US retirees relocating abroad. Purchasing property abroad is a major investment on their part, and a significant ROI for destinations like Portugal (ranked #1 destination for US retiree relocation). All those investments and commitments on the part of a traveler start with their first experiences with a destination. Will hospitality drive those experiences? Or will the opportunity for lifelong loyalty disappear?

    Secure the 3 Pillars of Hospitality

    This summer, we have been providing free resources to help strengthen the three pillars of hospitality in a series of webinars. Catch up on How to Train Hospitality Teams for Superior Customer Experience, and How to Build Processes & Procedures to Support World-Class Experiences.

    Then register for our capstone webinar, Technology Innovations for Hospitality, September 13, at noon ET.

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