A funny thing happened during the pandemic: our Associate Dean left the department and I applied for, and got, her job.
So now I’m the Associate Dean of the marketing management programs at the BCIT School of Business and Media. My portfolio includes the two-year marketing diploma, with a specialization in tourism (or sales, or entrepreneurship or communications).
Those of you who follow me elsewhere may have noticed I’m a little quiet on the tourism front. But I did manage to get asked my thoughts about the airline industry, domestic travel, and price cuts to stimulate demand.
With an already jam-packed program, an emergency session was added to address industry concerns about COVID-19, a virus that according to some is “poised to be the next SARS” (or worse) for the tourism sector.
I’m going to share thoughts from senior leaders in our industry, who were convened along with hundreds of delegates (a rarity during this health scare) to discuss lessons learned from the SARS crisis of 2003. The session was reassuring for a number of reasons; serving as a reminder that we’ve been through adversity before and that we have sophisticated thinkers from the health and tourism sectors leading the way.
I learned a fair bit from each speaker on the panel. Some information may be outdated by the time I hit the “publish” button, so I won’t bother sharing health-related details beyond saying that as of today, March 4th, there are 93, 090 confirmed cases and a death toll of 3, 198 people.
Please visit the World Health Organization for up-to-date statistics and information by clicking here. For more about the industry’s response, and future outlook, read on.
Greg Klassen: “Play the long game”
First up was Greg Klassen from Twenty31. Greg is the former President & CEO of the Canadian Tourism Commission (now Destination Canada) and helmed that organization when the SARS outbreak in Toronto ground our tourism industry to a halt back in 2003.
Greg walked us through COVID-19’s impacts today. He spoke to billions of dollars in losses for Southeast Asia’s tourism industry, with high season occupancy dropping from roughly 90% down to 25%. He reminded us that iTB, the world’s largest industry gathering, was cancelled on orders from the German government. He showed us ForwardKeys data since January showing a global bookings decrease of 19.3%, with 87.7% of those from Asia Pacific. He spoke to challenges including decreased traveller confidence (fear of flying and the risk of being quarantined in a foreign country), cancellations (which the business events community is feeling most acutely), travel bans imposed by various governments, and digital listening indicating many are concerned about the ethicsof travel during this health crisis.
And yet amongst this data, he says, is something of a silver lining. It appears a higher yield, higher educated and “intrepid by nature” segment is willing to shake off risk in order to travel. Another pattern Greg anticipates based on his experiences is that of a “substitution effect” where travellers swap out shorter-haul vacations for their longer-haul plans. That’s why Canada saw record numbers of US visitors in 2002, as post-9/11 Americans decided we were a great alternative to flying to other destinations.
Greg’s overarching recommendation for the industry is to approach the challenge in phases:
1. Short term: effective crisis management and communication, with a plan to engage in market research that can be acted on as soon as containment is reached.
2. Medium term: recovery efforts immediately once containment is declared, to reach those markets most likely to respond to offers, as determined in phase one. Later during Q&A he explained that Canada’s brand is founded on “safety and solid healthcare” which is a challenge when people want exotic and off the beaten track, but can actually serve us if we remember that this is an innate part of our brand, and something we can build on.
3. Long term: as we chart a path to a new normal, engage in more diversification of markets and ask ourselves what lessons there are to be learned. After the 2003 SARS crisis, Destination Canada invested in a number of initiatives including rebranding and developing EQ profiles as they reconsidered the areas that were being stressed.
Dr. Richard Stanwick: Seek “sources of truth”
Next, Dr. Richard Stanwick, Chief Medical Health Officer for the Vancouver Island Health Authority, spoke more to the health crisis rather than the business crisis. He urged members of the audience to continue to listen to the BC Centre for Disease Control, to implement proven methods like hand washing, using social distancing (staying 2m away from people), and not touching our faces where the virus can gain entry.
Dr Stanwick asked us to amplify “sources of truth” like the BCCDC and the WHO, to consult the 8-1-1 hotline for related local queries, to trust that we are being kept up-to-date, and to allow the health authorities to continue their path of “contain, delay, prepare” in ensuring BC is equipped to deal with cases as they arise. He stressed that there is total transparency and real-time updating taking place, it’s just a matter of going to the right source.
Rick Antonson: “Reputation is all we have”
Third on the panel was Rick Antonson, who was President & CEO of Tourism Vancouver during the SARS outbreak. He explained that “the first law of crisis management is to make sure you have a crisis”, and that now that iTB has been cancelled, we can call this a business crisis, but it’s how we respond to this that could become the defining moment for BC’s tourism industry. He similarly described what’s to come in phases:
Phase 1 (where we are now): a time of assessment and uncertainty, where industry needs to be diligent in finding the difference between gossip and fact. This includes having operators check their insurance policy (rather than assume coverage), as well as revisit our own cancellation policies and fees. While some of us can charge fees, and cancellations present immediate pain, we need to decide how implementing these could damage our reputation down the line.
At this stage, we need to continue to provide updates and links to trusted sources, as well as start to put aside money for the recovery and planning for mobilizing after containment.
Phase 2: involves dealing with the market impact while gaining intelligence. He echoed Greg’s sentiment that when we see a decrease in long-haul travel we can pick some of that up with (day’s drive) rubber tire traffic. When we reach this stage we should acknowledge and track pent up demand and remember not to alienate those longer-haul markets, because when this is over, all we will have is reputation as we strive to rebuild with them.
Phase 3: is the implementation of a recovery plan, with caution. He explained that when Scotland came back from HFM disease with a stellar campaign, they launched … on September 11, 2001. Sometimes you have to expect a second punch, but overall if we plan for this phase and focus on reputation management, our industry is resilient and can tackle this as we have the challenges of the past.
Coincidentally, I received the following tips for Tourism Vancouver members in an email as Rick was speaking:
Be sensitive to the situation that our visitors and suppliers may be going through.
If appropriate, consider eliminating cancellation fees and/or refunding penalties if visitors must change or postpone their trips to our market.
Have confidence that the travel market will bounce back.
Reach out to your partners or suppliers to express your concern and support.
Consider a flexible refund and cancellation policy as a means of driving future bookings.
Be aware of – and pay serious attention to – official sources for health information.
Watch for Tourism Vancouver’s Member Updates as a source of sector information and updates and reach out to us, if you have questions.
Maya Lange: Sign up for industry news at DestinationBC.ca
Lastly we heard from Maya Lange, VP of Global Marketing for Destination BC, who unfortunately has crisis management experience due to our recent record wildfire seasons. Maya stressed that information is key, and for industry to sign up for updates by visiting DestinationBC.ca and following them on social media.
Maya explained that based on statistics from OTAs and GDS, BC’s forward air bookings (March to October) are down 10% on average; where China is down 70%, the UK is up 7%. She reminded us that 50% of our revenue comes between June to September, and that the industry should be shoring up so we can retain as much of that revenue potential as possible. Reinforcing Greg and Rick’s comments was her message that domestic visitation accounts for is 74% of traffic and 48% of BC’s tourism revenue, and that if we combine domestic and US that is 90% of our visitation, so short-haul is a key factor.
Destination BC has a two-phase approach which involves:
1. Emergency Phase, more investment in stimulating short haul travel as well as modifying co-op and bulk buy programs (relaxing deadlines).
2. Emergency Recovery Phase, where they will inspire long haul travel with significant investments.
Later in Q&A, Maya was asked if we should be investing in more local travel, weekend getaways from nearby markets and similar initiatives. She agreed, and emphasized that #exploreBC, developing itineraries, and working with nearby communities are ways we will be able to mitigate the impacts of this situation.
Based on this session at the start of our annual tourism industry conference, it’s clear there’s alignment amongst leadership around what needs to happen. Let’s share the facts, weather the short-term, plan for recovery, and learn from this stress test to better prepare for the next business crisis.
I love LinkedIn but there’s nothing like meeting someone face to face to cement a connection.
One of the most important functions of a DMO, especially in a mature market, is facilitating the development of industry stakeholders in the destination.
It’s one of the reasons BCIT joined Tourism Vancouver. Their team does a wonderful job of hosting workshops, facilitating skills development, and sharing their vision, all of which are essential to success. Recently they hosted a sold-out workshop on strategies for responding to Legionnaires disease outbreaks, for example. Coming soon is a workshop on how to integrate the destination’s brand into marketing initiatives for individual businesses.
One of the the best values for us has been attending their Member to Member (M2M) mixers. These are held at member businesses, allowing us all an opportunity to get familiar with a particular asset for the city.
Last week’s mixer (the last of 2019) was held at Dunn’s Famous in downtown Vancouver (poutine pictured above). You can’t do much better than delicious poutine served up in individual cups. Actually, you can, if the poutine is paired with the opportunity to advance your understanding of tourism.
One of my favourite activities was a “speed networking” session.
This was a cool and creative way to have members engage with as many new connections in a short time as possible. As a result I was able to find a new lead for student projects and practicum (work experience) placements. I was also able to get a good sense of the lay of the land, key players in the industry, and what changes might be on the horizon.
Tourism is about people. Some points to consider:
What networking events are on offer in your community?
If there is a gap, what opportunities could you facilitate at your business or organization?
This campaign uses ambassadors, humour, as well as social engagement (#dreambig) to bring their new tagline to life. Dream365 is a series potential visitors can stream to get a taste of experiences from girl time at the skateboard park to swimming and surfing the waves.They even have a 360 degree VR component with several featured attractions: https://www.visitcalifornia.com/dream365tv/themes/360°-vr-experience
9.What Happens In …
It wouldn’t be a top ten list without someone mentioning the evergreen “What Happens in Vegas” theme. What struck one of our students this year is that the materials they saw featured video content of teammates hoisting a trophy, prompting the viewer to think “those are the kinds of memories you want to make and keep in Las Vegas”.
8.Aurora Tourism (Visit Tromsø)
One of my students had an “aha moment” when she was fed online content from Visit Tromsø. Their webpage features “Northern Lights” after their headings of Plan, Discover, Accommodations, See & Do, but the DMO cautions visitors that “there are no guarantees that you will see the Northern Lights” before explaining “and that makes it even more exciting.”
7.Australia: The Most ‘Grammable Country?
Tourism Australia’s work on Instagram is well known. As one of the most followed global brands, their genius for repurposing visitor and resident photos has made them destination marketing legends. Students also pointed to their recent work using stories and other tools to showcase experiences. By creating polls asking visitors which activity to choose (surfing or the zoo, for example), Tourism Australia reps would do the fan favourite, creating further engagement with their audience.
6.The Fab Five and Georgia
More than one student commented on the effect that Netflix’s reboot of Queer Eye has had on marketing Georgia as a tourism destination. The state of Georgia offers a 20-30% tax credit to shows filming in the state. Georgia also provides a suitable set of conservative small town backdrops for Seasons 1 and 2, allowing these destinations to shine for a broad audience. That said, the show has been lured to Kansas City, Missouri, whose film office offers a more modest 10% base incentive but used letters from the city mayor and other stakeholders to pitch the location to showrunners.
5.“Move to the Colombian Beat”
Okay, so this student got it wrong, it’s “Colombia: Feel the Rhythm”, but in TOMA (top of mind awareness), getting the tagline right isn’t the point. What’s important is that a group of potential visitors are now considering Colombia based on their ‘feel the rhythm’ initiative that includes music, video, and a distinctive black-backgrounded neon colour scheme. The focus on music and culinary repositioned Colombia in the student’s mind from an unsafe and violent destination to one worth checking out.https://www.colombia.travel/feel-the-rhythm/en
4.Fallsview Casino on YouTube
Fallsview Casino in Niagara Falls (Ontario) came out with a series of YouTube spots that also ran on local TV, where humour was used to create various scenarios in which someone might “need some fun” at the casino, like after a breakup, or after going viral at the gym.
3.Oregon 360’s … unique mascot
With a deep-voiced narrator and glamour shots of the state, most of us expected … well, the expected. But Oregon wants us to know that they’re nothing if not campy and irreverent and just a little weird. That’s why the host of their 360 experience is … a robot fish. Enjoy!
2.Tourism Australia Super Bowl Ad
As a marketer, I’m not supposed to like Super Bowl ads. I literally spend months helping undergrad students understand that “marketing is not just advertising”, “promotions is not just advertising”, and “advertising is not just TV ads”. Well, sometimes I get it wrong. When you’re a global brand like Australia, why not go big with a funny and charming incentive to visit their social channels and have the trip of a lifetime?
Closer to home, the number one pick for this year is the collaborative niche effort for British Columbia’s Tour Route 16 (https://route16.ca), which pulls together a landing page, digital content, direct marketing (e-newsletter) and other assets to encourage motorcyclists to well … Tour Route 16. Route guides, road maps and resources give this market everything they need to create the road trip of their dreams.
When’s the last time a tourism ad cut through the clutter and made an impression on you? Share your feedback in the comments.
If you made it through my mammoth post about rail travel and service recovery in Germany, this should be a fairly light read. As I mentioned earlier, service starts with the customer’s expectations. On my flight from Frankfurt to London my expectations were incredibly low – I had booked a ticket with a fairly famous and long-running LCC (low cost carrier) at a very affordable rate.
In theory, the LCC business model is predicated on stripping flights down to the basics, and charging for all incidentals. Given that all airlines operate on razor-thin margins, it’s no surprise that even traditional carriers now mimic LCCs. But there are still a few noticeable differences.
Given I was expecting to be haggled for every Euro, and to be uncomfortable, I had my expectations met. And, paradoxically, this meant that even though the trip was unpleasant at times, I did not have the same visceral emotional reaction as I did during my other leg.
Here’s a list of ways this LCC differs from full service airlines:
Watch for (ALL) the extra charges. Having a printed boarding pass is mandatory if you’re not an EU resident, but I didn’t find that out until I checked in the day before and didn’t have access to a printer.
But I’ll give you a medal if you can figure out how the charges work. If you don’t have a printed pass they will, according to their website, either do it for 7 euro, 15 euro, or 30 euro (depending on which page you land on, mobile or desktop site or app). As a pro tip the Frankfurt airport will print anything up to 5 pages for 5 Euro on the spot so I opted for this.
The rules might not apply to you. Passengers from non EU countries are advised to go to the check in to get a stamp. When I arrived 5 hours before my flight (keener) there was a 70 person queue at the check in desk. A truly massive line. Prompting some Irish backpackers behind me to say “this is f*cking ridiculous” which was good for a laugh.
Even more funny is that if you’re from Canada, you don’t need any special stamps. You can actually use an electronic boarding pass (which will have already been issued for free). Queuing for nothing is always a giggle as is paying to have something printed that is actually unnecessary.
They’re a little skint on staff. Labour is expensive! When you get to your gate, the airline uses the same staff for multiple functions. Expect to watch them scramble to deal with another check in first and then run over to yours.
Don’t set your watch to the flight time. The flight is probably going to be delayed and you will find that out — not from the airline or their staff — but when someone who has the right app (only available to EU residents in the App Store) gets a notification and groans “oh f*cking f*ck it’s delayed”.
The boarding … process? After a 40+ minute delay to boarding they will have you line up to board. Your pass may say ‘priority’ but this won’t match what happens at the front. In my case they made two lines to board that merged into one line … borderline chaos.
Take a bus to the plane, it’s time to practice being a sardine. Priority or not you’ll all be shuttled by bus (crammed to the rafters) to the aircraft which boards on both sides. If you made the first bus bully for you but you’ll have to wait for the second bus.
Bags for days. Everyone has all their bags because checking a bag is more expensive than the flight itself. Cramming the luggage in around the passengers further delays the flight. The seats are SO UNCOMFORTABLE, I believe the bottom cushions are made from old phone books.
Don’t turn your nose up at a meal. The food is actually decent. There are meal deals not unlike “full service” short-haul airlines offer. I recommend the Chicken Tikka.
The crew are saints. Honestly, I got full service friendliness from the fight crew on this very short flight with lots of food and purchase options and very demanding customers. They worked incredibly hard.
I made it alive, only an hour after expected, and the flight was dirt cheap. Considering I’ve had some of these foibles with full-price carriers, I just might do it again the next time I’m in Europe!
My recent trip to Europe yielded many new perspectives. One of the biggest things I learned was around the notion of “service” and my expectations as a Canadian guest/customer.
Customer and visitor experiences are complex, but most agree that the journey starts with expectations. Coming up to my trip to France, Germany, and the UK, many people warned me about France. Through close friends (including someone who is French, raised in France) I had been warned many times to expect rudeness. A couple of days before my trip, an acquaintance posted a picture on Facebook of striking Louvre security staff with a caption around how of all the places he had visited, Paris was his least favourite (along with some expletives). The frustration was palpable.
Based on this expectation I was overwhelmed at how pleasant my interactions in France were! To be fair, I stayed in an Airbnb for the majority of the time. And maybe it’s because I speak the language — but I found Parisians to be friendly and helpful; albeit I had to engage them a little more than at home. I was worried service staff would snob my French but … pas du tout! We ate lunch in a high end restaurant with no reservations (I walked in drenched from the rain, two kids I tow); nothing but polite and attentive service. We had pastries in a very popular touristy cafe and my gratuity was met with sincere appreciation. The ladies who worked at Berthillion waved us over when they saw us joining a longer line-up across the street, yelling “we sell the same ice cream here!”
Exceptional service is proactive and ‘wows’ the guest. An experience with what I would call “service excellence” took place at Gare de L’est train station in Paris. Their customer service desk prioritized people leaving on a train same day, using a “take a number” kiosk with a welcome screen in all languages, where “are you leaving today?” is the first question. While waiting for my number to be called an agent approached, asked what language I spoke, and reviewed my tickets (my concern was that the seat numbers looked like I would be sitting apart from my young kids). She quickly explained how the numbers worked, assured me we would be together, was proactive in explaining the boarding process, and mentioned that if I had any issues to ask the conductor who would be in the car.
Adequate service is not enough. By contrast, I had a very tough time in Germany. The restaurant where we ate dinner in Frankfurt our first night was efficient, but not friendly. The two servers engaged in the classic chit chat with each other, their backs turned to the dining room while we were waiting on drinks, our bill. It was a buffet, so not much service took place to begin with. I paid in cash with a 10% gratuity and the server seemed to wait, pointedly, for me to put more money in the tray. A hard pass from me.
Customers go through an emotional journey with a brand or destination. The following day we had a very stressful time at the Frankfurt station. We slept in a hotel across the street to ensure a smooth morning and arrived with more than an hour to our stated departure time for a train to Nürnberg. I searched in vain to find a kiosk to print my tickets as advised in my booking email. After lining up at information and chancing upon a sign at the front stating “we do not issue tickets” I trucked over to the travel office with my four-year-old in tow, advising my nine-year-old to sit on our bags and not move for any reason.
I walked into the travel centre and, upon entering my info into the kiosk, I received an error message. A staff person tried to help, but couldn’t figure it out. So I went up to take a number. The machine was broken (according to the sign) so a woman handed me a printed number from behind her counter. While the number was random, after 30 minutes I noticed that other passengers seemed to be prioritized. I inquired at the desk – did they advance people traveling same day? I was met with a firm no.
Finally my number was called after 45 minutes. Had I known the wait would have been so long I would have run back to check on my daughter but I had to trust she was okay or risk losing my spot.
What took place at the counter was frustrating. I took notes as soon as I could because it was so antithetical to everything taught in service courses I still struggle to unpack it:
Me: “Hello, do you speak English?”
Ticket Agent: “Yes.”
Me: “My train is leaving in 20 minutes and I need to print my tickets. I’m a little stressed out because my daughter is sitting with our bags at the other end of the station. The kiosk didn’t work, can you help me?” (presents cell phone with email on screen)
Ticket Agent: (reviews email quickly) “This is your ticket”.
Me: ‘No, it says on the email to print it at the kiosk at the train station, but the kiosk didn’t work.”
TA: “You should use this email as your ticket.”
Me: “It says this is not a ticket.” (gestures to “this document is not valid for travel” in the email.)
TA: “I cannot help you, this is not a (rail company name) issued email. You should have purchased the ticket direct from us.”
Me: “I see. I didn’t know that when I was in Canada. But this is for a (rail company name) train. Perhaps you could look me up by name since the number didn’t work?”
TA: (enters last name) “No you are not in our system. You should call the number on your email.”
Me: “I’m afraid that’s not going to help with the train leaving so soon. Can you try something else?”
TA: “No, I’m sorry, you should have bought the ticket from our website. There is a number in your email and you can call it.”
Me: “Yes, I’m sorry but its the middle of the night in North America. Isn’t your company running the train?”
TA: (Blank stare).
Me: “I see your company logo, but there are other train companies operating out of this station. Do I have the wrong one? Who is in charge of the train?”
TA: “I don’t know what that means.”
Me: (holding back tears) “When I fly on an airplane, let’s say it’s an Air Canada flight. Or a Lufthansa flight. Those are the airlines in charge of the flight. Is your company not operating the train today?”
Finally another agent came to figure out what I was asking. She asked to see my email, and after insisting that yes, I had the correct company, and that the email was my ticket (and then being shown it was not a ticket) she asked me to go and use the kiosk as directed in the email.
Me: (looking at clock, more tears of frustration in my eyes) “the kiosk is the first thing I tried an hour ago and your colleague over there told me to come to this area”.
The second agent then re-scrolled through the email and quickly found another number next to my name. Bingo. Tickets were printed, put in an envelope, and handed to me without a word.
With paperwork in hand, I grabbed my daughter, loaded up with bags, and we made our way to the platform. It was rather busy, and as I scanned the tickets I noticed I did not have any boarding information comparable to my prior trip. No seats, no car. After flagging down a staff member on the platform, he told me how to watch for the correct car (those marked second class on the overhead sign) and that as a ‘no reservation’ passenger I would have to find a free seat. When we boarded it was another set of issues.
The journey with a brand involves multiple touchpoints. After being kicked out of the first set of seats, I placed the kids in one apparently free spot with our bags piled up and walked through the car to find the conductor. After waiting for him to scan tickets at the front and confirming he spoke English I asked how to identify a free seat.
Conductor: “You need to find an empty seat.”
Me: “Many of the seats are empty but they appear to belong to passengers.”
Conductor: “An empty one!”
Me: (Blank stare)
Conductor: “Look above the seat, if it is …”. And here he broke into German words.
I roughly gathered what he was saying; that the seat needs to be empty and have a blank sign above it. Back into the car I went. Oof. No seats anywhere together. I found one kid a window seat next to an elderly lady (I lifted him over her to place him in the seat since she did not move). I plunked the other kid in a nearby reserved but unoccupied seat as I came to figure out that seat was reserved starting in Hanau, the next stop.
All the other seats in the car were occupied. I took a moment to stand with the rest of our bags in the hallway by the restroom, sweating from the ordeal. At that moment the older woman walked my son up to me. He was in tears, he wanted me back in the car. I went back into the car to retrieve his things, thinking he could sit with me in the hallway while I devised a better plan or found more seats in another car. At that moment, a mother gave up her seat across from her daughter and moved to the unreserved seat. I sat my son in my lap, fed him lunch, put him back in the seat for a moment to move my daughter to the next car, and then moved her back again after we passed Hanau and the musical seats repeated.
For most of the rest of the time in Germany I was VFR* and thankfully didn’t have to concern myself with relying on service professionals. The friend I was staying with was quick to sympathize, having had similar experiences herself. Her husband tried to explain this could have all been avoided had I booked directly with the railway — until I showed him the search results as they appeared on my phone. Ten links to third parties before the direct option showed up. He agreed at the very least they could benefit from some SEO and AdWords.
The customer is frequently wrong. I know how frustrating it can be, as a service agent, to have guests who haven’t done their homework (as clearly I had not). But as tourism professionals, it’s our job to orient customers to our processes in a friendly way. So I would invite the staff of that train company to check out the following steps of service recovery, and stat:
Apologize. You can be sorry for the person, and their situation, without having personally caused it. “I’m sorry you’re having issues.”
Attune. Get in touch with the person’s emotional state. “It must be stressful travelling in a foreign country with young children.”
Take ownership. To the best of your ability, commit to solving the problem. “I am going to do my best to find a solution.
Determine the cause and scope out options. “It appears your ticket was issued by a third party travel company. I’m not totally familiar with their procedures. Let me take a minute to read through this email.”
Offer options. “First let me try all the numbers in here to see if I can issue you a ticket. If that doesn’t work we may need to call the company that sent you the email. I can do this on your behalf or I can phone them and hand you the phone.”
When in doubt, proactively call on your team. “Before we call them, why don’t I see if a colleague has encountered a similar problem.”
Be ready to ‘eat’ the costs to make it right. “Even though we didn’t cause this problem, we will issue you your tickets and deal with this at our end.”
Help the customer avoid the same problem in the future. “Going forward, here is a brochure with how to book trains using our website.”
Help the customer avoid any future problems working with your company. “Since you’re new to travelling with us, please note there are no seat numbers on your ticket. This means unreserved seating. Reserved seats will be indicated by a red light over the seat with the name of the passenger’s destination. Find seats with no red signs above them.”
Ask the customer whether that solves their problem. “Now that you have your tickets and know how to find a seat, is there anything else I can do for you?”
Service challenges aren’t rocket science. But now that I’ve experienced this type of issue myself I feel even more pumped about customer service training back home!
*VFR – visiting friends and relatives, not staying in hotels, and frequenting attractions and restaurants with the help of their local hosts
I’m visiting a branch of my family tree for this post about the role of local volunteers in shaping a visitor’s experience.
Today’s post is about my mom, Patricia Fraser.
Born in Vancouver, and raised in Grand Forks, mom returned to the city in her 20s and hasn’t looked back. With her recent retirement offering up more spare time, and an enthusiasm for our hometown that can’t be beat, she was recently selected to be part of the Tourism Vancouver 200-volunteer strong visitor services team. I asked for her thoughts on the contribution she’s making to our industry.
TN: How did you become a Tourism Vancouver volunteer?
(Before she can answer, a British couple come up the Skytrain escalator. Initially they say they aren’t looking for anything but after a moment it becomes clear they’ll need to know how to get to the airport.)
“This whole process started two years ago, when I was first getting ready to retire. I applied but it was the wrong time of year. The intake is in March, then you go for interviews, train in April, and you’re out here in May. This time I applied at the right time, with my resume and cover letter, and I was called in for an interview. I also had to complete some short tests.
The season for us is pretty short, May to October.”
TN: What would you say is your motivation for doing this kind of work?
“Well, I live here and I like to see Vancouver do well and I think Tourism is a fantastic industry and I want it to succeed. Certainly being down here greeting people gives you an appreciation for the tourism business — and it is a business.
Plus it gets you out of the house, and you get to meet people from all over the world … and stand out in the rain (laughs).
You also get a cool jacket and a shirt and a hat.”
TN: What are the biggest perks of being a volunteer?
“Outside of the jacket and the hat? No, I’m kidding. The best and most surprising thing is this perk I didn’t even realize existed, something called the privilege card which gives you access to events and attractions. So, if I want to take my grandkids to Playland I can get in for half price. To get the card, volunteers and staff have to visit at least 15 attractions and two neighbourhoods and some hotels and things like that in order to complete their passport and get their privilege card.
Next year when I don’t have grandkids to babysit as often I want to get all 40 stamps!
And the whole idea of treating your city as if you were a tourist is so great, the 15 things I’ve done, I probably wouldn’t have done in five years let alone a few weeks. I thought the perks would just be giving back and doing something for the city, which certainly is happening but I didn’t think I would be rewarded in this way.”
TN: What’s the weirdest question you’ve gotten from a visitor?
(Laughs). “Just before my break I had a nice couple come up asking how much it costs to take the ferry to Vancouver Island. So I said ‘do you mean, to drive out to the ferry terminal outside the city and take the ferry for over an hour to get to Victoria?’
And of course no, they meant the Seabus to North Vancouver, which they thought was Vancouver Island.
Also people frequently gesture over to Stanley Park and say ‘oh, so that’s Vancouver Island?’ Which, it’s not (and also it’s a peninsula), but you can see where they might think that.
TN: How do you think Tourism Vancouver’s visitor services team shapes the guest experience?
I only see my end of it but I know there are wheels within wheels because of the whole tourism challenge, which is brilliant. All the different businesses and organizations that belong to Tourism Vancouver, all of the coordination, to get everyone involved in visiting others’ attractions, it must be quite the undertaking.
And the city is going to welcome 1.5 million visitors just through the cruise terminal this year, so to have us on the ground, waiting … you once told me about someone from Tourism Squamish saying they had to be like eagles, scooping the tourists up … well we’re kind of like that. Perched here, just waiting for people who have a need.
This morning there was a man grumbling about how ‘signage here is terrible’ and it was really affecting him, he was frustrated. Certainly the city has some challenges, some weaknesses and we’re the team on the ground filling in those weaknesses and solving the issues as they come up.
The volunteers themselves are always trying to find a way to spot things to address with guests. Today someone on my team said ‘make sure you stop people with suitcases on their way into the station’ because in their experience those visitors think this is the entrance to the Canada Line to the airport. I can redirect them to a better entrance.
And if someone has an hour you can send them to Flyover Canada and if they only have 15 minutes, you can send them down to Harbour Air to watch the float planes take off. Things like that.”
TN: It’s 2019. No offence, but why couldn’t a kiosk offer what you do?
I just don’t see how it would be possible because what we do is proactive, rather than reactive. A lot of times we see people and they don’t know what they want. So we see people taking selfies and offer to take their photo together. We see someone who’s older with a walking difficulty like I have and I tailor the recommendation so they can avoid stairs. You see people who look confused and offer help.
And this is locals as well — today it’s a bunch of families looking for the dinosaurs which is over at VCC West. So a friendly face to recognize them and say “oh, are you looking for the dinosaurs?” on a rainy grey day, with all this congestion down at the terminal, it makes it better for everyone.
It’s great to be proactive where we can. One of the issues with cruises, sometimes people are used to being accosted with salespeople as they disembark in other ports, things like time shares, so I have to tell them I’m a volunteer right up front.
On our lunch break these two ladies saw our uniforms and asked about changing money and we had a list handy, as well as letting them know how to withdraw Canadian cash from an ATM. We also mentioned to them that the currency exchanges might have limited hours or be closed — we know it’s a holiday, but they don’t.
(At this moment mom spotted a couple looking at the transit map. She directed them to the Seabus terminal and gave them a tip on how to watch the city spring up around them from a particular seat.)
So there’s an example of a couple who thought that this was the entrance to the Seabus when it’s much better to walk around to the main station entrance.
People don’t know when they’re taking the bus they can use their credit card, but it’s one card per person and you can proactively tell them these things you pick up along the way.
And ultimately we can direct them to the full service Visitor Centre around the corner where there are many languages spoken, they have salaried staff there ready to help and even offer them ticket purchases and deals on attractions.
So I think that kiosks and technology can play a part but there’s nothing like have a person, a resident, who’s giving of themselves for free, explaining the best way to get something done.”
It’s TIC time, folks! This blog was born at the 2017 BC Tourism Industry Conference and I’m continuing the rich tradition of profiling noteworthy content from the event.
First up, some thoughts from Mark Okerstrom, the President and CEO of Expedia, who opened the conference. Mark is a home-grown talent (Port Coquitlam) who joined Expedia and rose through the ranks to helm the global brand that now includes Expedia, Travelocity, Hotels.com, Trivago, VRBO, HomeAway, and other dominant companies in the OTA space.
He opened with a famous quote from another famous Mark. In Innocents Abroad, Mark Twain said that
Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.
Today, the WTTC reports that tourism encompasses one in ten jobs in the world and accounts for one in every five new jobs. Travel and tourism is responsible for 10% of the global GDP.
Can we keep this run going? According to Mark (from Expedia, not the ghost of Mark Twain) we should have a “good but slightly cautious outlook” on the industry.
Economies in Canada and the US are strong, the Chinese economy slowing down slightly (from 7% to 6.5% growth), while the situation in the Eurozone (e.g. UK/Brexit) are concerning, and Latin America remains volatile. But even though our industry growth is tied to the global economy, tourism is still forecast to grow by 5.3% (FocusWright).
So the question, according to Mark, is will not WILL travel and tourism grow but HOW will travel grow?
It seems like Expedia will continue to be a major player. That’s because of their massive scale. If Google is the platform for the organization of the world’s information … then Expedia is the global platform for the movement of people.
The company books over $100 BILLION in travel a year and employs roughly 40,000 “Expedians”.
Mark says that moving forward the platform will capitalize on trends that see us moving away from “big data, big data, data science, and a little human intelligence thrown in.” Instead we should be focusing on “streaming real-time data, AI and automation, and human creativity.”
He provided an example of a common occurrence, flight delays. What if, instead of an announcement from the cockpit and a mad dash to find an agent upon landing, a passenger could be served up a notification that enables them to rebook a connecting flight or book a hotel overnight or make a dinner reservation.
Mark said that at Expedia they “want to put the A (agent) back into OTA” to work to make the right recommendations and inspire travellers to pursue new journeys.
Apparently 70% of Expedia visitors don’t know what destination they are going to book, or choose a different destination by the time they book on the platform. There is an opportunity for destinations to influence that.
He used the example of a partnership between Expedia and Atout France. Expedia bookings represent 10% of the inbound travel to France. Working together, About France and Expedia worked to feed the demand for Paris into the outlying areas (Loire Valley) and used Expedia data to help the DMO understand what the competition is, what positioning and targeting is needed, and how to push those visitors outward.
Is your destination working with Expedia? Do you think they can put the A back in OTA? Weigh in down in the comments.
One of my lesser-known tourism hustles is the Airbnb I run in my basement. My TV room, to be exact.
This little space is comfortable, clean, centrally located, and a great way to offset the fact I’m a single mom carrying a Vancouver-sized mortgage. It also doesn’t displace any long-term rental inventory since, seriously, it’s a TV room in my basement.
So imagine my delight when our dean suggested that faculty and a handful of students attend a Greater Vancouver Board of Trade luncheon featuring Chris Lehane from Airbnb. Chris is the senior VP for policy and, frankly, a dynamic and cool speaker.
It’s clear that, in his own words, Chris has started drinking the Kool-Aid at Airbnb, and as a host I’ve been enjoying it for some time. Here are some of the points raised during his presentation.
We live in a time of significant global challenge.
The first challenge Chris mentioned was that of economic inequality. Today the 26 richest people on earth own as much as the 3.8 billion poorest … a divide that is growing as we see the emergence of AI and the loss of up to 40% of jobs to automation.
The second challenge he addressed was that of conflicts, whether intra-state (Venezuela, Syria), through cyberattacks, the online polarization of people and viewpoints through social media, and the displacing of billions of people due to unrest.
The last challenge he mentioned was that of global climate change, which in the last four years has seen the hottest temperatures on record, and closer to home (both ours in BC and his down in California) has contributed to annual ravaging wildfires.
It’s no wonder, according to Chris, that the world is now sinking to a ten year low in happiness.
Travel has a a role to play in addressing these challenges.
Chris explained that travel has a rich history of contributing to migration and immigration and cultural exploration. He shared a picture of Burnaby-born hockey hall-of-famer Joe Sakic explaining that the movement of people has real benefits (in this case helping the Colorado Avalanche win the Stanley Cup, twice).
He then shared the Confucian quote that “Wherever you go, go with all your heart”. Bonus points for going from Sakic to Confucius! This part of Chris’ presentation resonated with me — as some of you might know my father is an immigrant and I’ll spend part of this summer going back to the town of his birth.
Chris talked about historical names for travel and its impacts including the Ancient Greek “philoxenia” – the opposite of xenophobia, a love for strangers and an eagerness to be hospitable.
This is where Airbnb comes in.
Airbnb’s mission is that anyone can belong anywhere. Chris was quick to address the fact they’re a disruptor and that new technologies always lead to disruption. And he was clear that in this new digital era we’ve seen the emergence of platforms that are larger than any one country in terms of population and yet, at times, highly unregulated.
He presented different platform models — hierarchical, ad-based, the short-term labour model, and finally the community-based model (people to people) that tracks back to the original model of capitalism, in his opinion.
Chris shared the story behind Airbnb, of a couple of students offering air mattresses on the floor of their San Francisco apartment to pay their rent. In his view, the core of Airbnb has always been about disrupting FOR humans, not being disruptive TO humans. He credits the founders’ art student backgrounds in that they wanted to build something 100 people would love instead of something that 1000 people would like.
I’d say, in that regard, they’ve been successful. Today on Airbnb:
Six guests check in every second
There are over five million listings
They’ve seen 15% growth over the last year in Vancouver alone
Their future, according to Chris, is as an end-to-end travel platform that facilitates how you get somewhere, and where you stay, who you spend time with, and what you do while there. The ‘Airbnb experiences’ catalogue alone has grown to 20,000 experiences in 1000 cities since it was launched.
It was the transportation vertical (how you get there) that got my attention. Airbnb is proposing to use existing infrastructure to help legacy businesses tap into wider consumer markets (e.g. rail travel) while encouraging innovators to bring their ideas to market.
Another passion of mine is destination development policy. Chris’ particular area of work focuses on exactly this — Airbnb’s commitment to help evolve policy, pay their share of taxes, and share data.
He says their next focus will be the office of healthy travel. Tourism already makes up 10.4% of Global GDP, so why not grow the industry sustainably? Chris spoke about Airbnb contributions including:
Investing in community development, like in Maharashtra India, where they partnered with government to help locals start up immersive homestays in the region.
Enhancing experiential authenticity while increasing spending in neighbourhoods —44% of which stays in the micro community where guests spend the night. In 2017 that meant an increase of $107 million in spending to Vancouver restaurants.
Supporting diverse experiences by providing guests an opportunity to stay in non-hotel districts and rural areas.
Being inclusive, where currently 55% of hosts are women, and the fastest growing cohort of hosts are seniors.
Creating traffic to underserved areas through initiatives like their Cape Town partnership, and working with the NAACP to develop hosting capabilities in urban communities.
His final words were on the ways in which Airbnb is creating sustainable options simply by using existing buildings (millions of empty homes), in the place of new construction. For example massive events like the Rio Olympics saw an increase in hosting, which diverted the need to build up to 257 new hotels for the event.
Chris Lehane clearly “drinks the Kool Aid” on Airbnb. Vancouver is drinking it too. In 2018 the City and Airbnb signed a historic agreement to recognize and regulate home sharing, which was shortly followed by an announcement of a first-of-its-kind partnership in Canada with Tourism Vancouver.
I’m starting to drink this Kool Aid too. Are you? Share your thoughts in the comments.
Every time I read an article or post about the scourge of “Overtourism” I’m reminded of a portmanteau created by Doxey back in 1975: the irritation index or “Irridex”.
Back then, Doxey created the model to explain the four stages of resident response to tourism:
Euphoria: residents and guests are happy as a few visitors come to appreciate the destination as an underdeveloped ‘new’ experience; visitors represent new revenues o the community and the benefits clearly outweigh any drawbacks.
Apathy: residents and guests begin to take each other for granted, and there’s a need for greater stakeholder collaboration, foresight, and planning.
Annoyance: while guests are having a positive economic impact (and tourism gains political traction as an ‘industry’), residents are increasingly frustrated with their presence.
Antagonistic: as traffic, noise, pollution, and competition for resources like water and housing increase with visitation, residents openly protest tourism and clash with guests.
While the term ‘overtourism’ might be relatively new, the fact is these clashes have existed in some communities for decades.
And what made me think of it today? Hopping up to the local ski hill to catch a few runs only to find all the EV chargers occupied, the parking lots full, and massive lineups for lifts. The very things that make me an enthusiastic Vancouverite (yes, we really do ski in the mornings before work!) make me an annoyed Vancouverite (it’s only 10am and I have to wait 10 minutes to get on a lift?).
Cadillac problems to be sure. But something that should be on every tourism marketers radar going forward.
Where does your community sit on Doxey’s Irridex? What planning or coordination could help alleviate it? Share your thoughts in the comments.