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What makes a Super Host, part two …

Last week I wrote about the SuperHost program and how it taps into fundamental customer service tools to help businesses improve their NPS scores.

But there’s another fundamental component covered by SuperHost: appreciating the emotional experiences customers go through.

I was reminded of this “emotional component” a few days ago. Some students asked if they could have a meeting with me. It was a busy day, so I asked them to follow me into my next lecture. I was expecting them to ask me for an extension on a project or some advice on studying for the exam.

I was wrong. One of the girls pulled out some stuffed animals, while another produced a card and a small plant. “We read your blog and we heard you’re having a tough term,” they said. “We want you to know we appreciate you and we hope things are going better.”

With that they left. I was blown away. The card expressed the same sentiment with the added words “You are awesome!”

Of course it brought tears to my eyes. The stuffed animals are for my kids, the plant for my desk, and the card … for my heart.

Working in the service industry, it’s easy to get caught up in scores, and ROI, and the grind … don’t get me wrong, these things are important.

But the heart of the matter is that customers are people, with lives outside the scope of our interactions, who need some TLC from time to time.

I’m confident these young women will make great additions to any tourism team because they have the brains, but more importantly, the heart, to make a difference with our visitors.

What makes a Super Host?

This summer my family and I pulled into our motel after a long day on the road. There had been an accident on the highway. We were cranky, and tired. The kids were DONE.

We stumbled into the office to check in, and a friendly woman appeared behind the counter. She offered my kids a glass of water and checked us in immediately. Five minutes later we were hydrated, settled in our room, and had the name of the best place to order a pizza.

It’s times like these that make me glad we live in a province of exceptional service providers. Tourism is about experiences, and the more we can foster remarkable front-line interactions, the more our guests are likely to recommend us.

Why do recommendations matter? Beyond TripAdvisor and other review-based platforms, recommendations are the heart of metrics like the Net Promoter Score, a tool whereby your detractors are taken from the promoters to give your experience an overall score. This score can be negative! It’s especially hard to achieve a positive score when you have multiple neutral customers. They don’t count in this calculation.

NPS is being used by Destination BC, Tourism New Zealand, and many other major brands.

One of the keys to helping BC achieve high scores with our visitors is consistent, industry-driven customer service training. That’s why it’s so exciting that go2HR has re-launched SuperHost, a training program first launched in 1985 in preparation for Expo86.

I recently had the privilege of piloting SuperHost with my students in the BCIT tourism marketing program. It’s a hands-on way for new entrants to the industry to learn what it takes to deliver remarkable experiences. The activities are fun and memorable.

Want to learn how you, or your team, can get the SuperHost designation? Visit https://www.go2hr.ca/training/superhost-customer-service-training for more info. Or contact me to set up a workshop!

 

 

Travel Through Tough Times

I’ve been going through a tough time lately in my personal life. It’s not something I can share about here … but I’m okay, the people I love are okay, and it’s going to be okay.

That said, this rough patch is starting to make me reflect on the way travel can be used to get through tough times just like these.

It’s not always possible to go vagabond when the going gets rough – but just the promise of a future trip is something that can help us get through.

For me, it’s a tour I booked last August that doesn’t take place until March 2018: my daughter and I are going to Vietnam!

It started as an attempt to plan an intergenerational journey with my dad and the planning ended with just the two of us signing on the dotted line. We’ll catch dad on the next one.

Ah, Vietnam! For twelve days my little girl and I are going to eat noodles, swim, visit monuments and historical sites, sleep on a boat, take an overnight train and hop a puddle jumper over rice paddies. We’re going to practice our French if we can, and eat all the pho. Did I mention there will be noodles?

When I get through a long day of teaching and come home to a pile of marking – only to be faced with another personal hurdle –  I go over to the G-Adventures site and read through our itinerary.

Travel gives us hope. It gives us something to look forward to. And, yet again, I’m reminded why I work in the best industry on earth.

When it rains …

Ever heard that expression “when it rains, it pours”? That’s my life right now. I don’t know how it works, but it feels like ALL the things are happening at once.

Here’s a snapshot of my week so far:

I’m completing training for the new go2HR SuperHost program.

I attended an awesome session at Hootsuite hosted by the Adventure Travel Trade Association called “AdventureConnect“.

I’ve been pulled in as a judge for BCIT’s team in their practice run-off for JDC West, a major business competition.

I’m organizing a field study for next week with nine activities, industry speakers and an overnight in Whistler.

I’m teaching a night class on sales (on top of my regular course load) out at BCIT.

Oh … I have a full-time job teaching at BCIT.

And … I have two kids and their dad is away for work!

Also … did I mention that I run a consulting practice and am trying to generate content for my business (you’re reading it right now).

What’s a working woman to do in this situation?

I wake up each morning and I write down at least five things I’m grateful for. I make a plan for some time in my PJs with some form of nachos. I book myself in for a hot yoga class. And I take a deep breath, remember how lucky I am to do what I love, and look forward to a time when the rain breaks.

“How do I become a travel writer?”

One of the questions I get regularly is “how do I get paid to be a travel writer?”

This comes up frequently during informational interviews and at networking events. I’m by no means a prolific writer but I have had some success with it, and I sure do enjoy it. You can check out some of my recent work here .

Here’s what I share with prospective writers about my journey and what travel writing looks like to me.

Understand that for most, it’s a side job

I have never made a full living from travel writing, so as with many tourism professions, it helps to have a ‘day job’. If you’re starting out (e.g. early in your career) I recommend getting a steady job in accommodations, and then branching out in to writing from there. (Find out why I recommend starting in accommodations here.)

Know what perspective you have to offer, and provide samples

My daughter and I are planning a trip to Viet Nam so I’m pitching some ideas based on our itinerary, my perspective as a mom, and the “family travel” angle. I always provide a link to recent work published on another platform. I also try to pitch a specific concept to “e.g. Top 5” or “How to” and give the editors something to visualize. Note that in my experience, most of the time you’re going to want to plan the trip and then pitch the writing gig to the relevant publisher. I have been paid to take a trip and write, and it is awesome, but that came after I proved myself to that publisher.

Be a nice person (and as “real” as you can be)

This may sound trite, but it’s my philosophy for all things career (and life). Be kind to other people, and be yourself. I’m not the world’s most polished ‘professional’, and that’s ok. I’ve got a down-to-earth personality, I’m a ‘hugger’, and I’ve got a dirty mouth. I will rein all that in as needs be, but for the most part, what you see is what you get. I tend to end up working with people whose personality jives with all of that, and so far it’s working out.

Make lots of contacts at industry conferences, work, and school

Most of my writing gigs have come to me by way of industry events or via friends I’ve made in school (especially graduate school). If you follow my advice in terms of being a good person, and determining a point-of-view, you’ll start to attract gigs along the way.

Social plays a greater role than before

All that said, I started my writing career at a time before Facebook or Instagram even existed! People were using Ask Jeeves* for their travel plans. So my writing has had to evolve. The good news is, if you’re younger, the connection to social is automatic and instinctual. You know about keywords and being an ‘influencer’ and the importance of video. Harness that and share it with platforms that are crying out for better content!

Stick with it

Last bit of advice here, and that’s to stick with it. If you have a day job, set reminders in your calendar to reach out to new platforms and make connections at blogs and magazines. This is the hardest advice to follow myself – but if you make time for your craft on a regular basis, and dedicate time to developing relationships with publishers, you’ll get there faster.

*ironically, if you don’t know what this is, I suggest you Google it

 

My biggest career regret? Not working in hotels!

This will be a short one, but worth posting in my opinion because it comes up so often with my students. I don’t believe in ‘regrets’ per se – I think all of our actions lead us exactly to where we need to be.

But if I could pick one do-over from my early career it would be to get a job in a hotel!

Accommodations and food and beverage (F&B) make up roughly 80% of the tourism sector in Canada (and arguably in most countries). While I have extensive front-line and management experience in F&B, I have never worked in a formal accommodations setting (outside of caring for paid guests to my home).

The first interview I did out of school was at a lovely boutique hotel with a serious arts pedigree. I interviewed for an entry-level marketing position. I spoke with the GM! I didn’t get it because I didn’t have any hotel experience. To sell a hotel, the GM explained, a person needs to understand how it works.

Kind man that he was, he encouraged me to apply as a bell person for the summer. Unfortunately my ego (and, let’s be real, the cost of living in Vancouver) got the best of me and I never pursued it.

As it turns out, I got an amazing first job in the industry and parlayed it into a pretty sweet career.

But at the end of the day, I wish I had lugged bags that first summer. It would have made my options that much broader.

Do you have a major career regret? Hit me up here or on twitter to share!

 

A tourism nerd chat with Brian Dean

Earlier this summer I was introduced to a cool local program called “Kidsworld, where Vancouver-area families can buy a pass to a different summer attraction each day, for only $50.

The program is a win-win for families and attractions alike, keeping kids busy on a budget while exposing parents to a world of activities in their backyard.

I was so intrigued by the idea, and the operation, that I had a chat with Brian Dean, the one-man-band behind Kidsworld. I’m going to share this with my entrepreneurship class this fall; it’s a great story of how tourism businesses are started and sustained with lots of hard work and passion.

Tourism Nerd: How did Kidsworld get started?

We’ve been around for 25 years, ever since another man named Brian built the program slowly from the ground up. His background was in tourism and his wife was a school principal and they were passionate about meshing educational opportunities with a way for families to spend quality time together around the city. The program seemed to fill a gap with what was available.

A couple of years ago a friend of mine connected us – the ‘original Brian’ was looking to retire. I had been the Program Director of Keats Camps, and while I love the camp, it wasn’t sustainable because you have to move away to an island a few months a year. Before that I was a youth worker on the North Shore. I had been on the search for the right entrepreneurial activity for years. My passions lined up with Kidsworld … this was it!

You mention passion, where did the money come from?

The founding Brian grew Kidsworld organically over the long term, without investors, but also without any goals in terms of growing the business to a specific size or to turn a specific profit. That means the model of the business has the potential for growth in multiple ways.

I purchased the business for a reasonable sum of money that I had saved over the years (as I was looking for an entrepreneurial venture). This business doesn’t have much overhead, and I used my savings to get me through the first year without having to generate much income.

My desire is to learn the business through-and-through for a couple of years and then focus on healthy growth.

What’s your academic and business experience?

I have an undergrad degree in youth work and a Masters of Leadership – which was a great fit because it paralleled an MBA but focused on vision, leadership, and entrepreneurship rather than managing existing systems and people. My years at Keats Camps involved hiring over 100 staff, training them, running the summer operations (and being responsible for almost 400 people a week mostly under the age of 22). I am also on the board of a not-for-profit (church), and have worked as a consultant.

What’s a day in the life for you?

The thing with running your own one-person company is you’re responsible for everything! From the business side to logistics (registration, checking families in on site), to being the face of the organization, there are a lot of hats. With that said, I love that I work from home, and am flexible as my own boss. The hard part is that you never feel like you can leave work behind, because you’re the only one making in happen.

From September to June, my role is focused on networking with organizations to set up events. We have summer events, and weekend events throughout the school year. On event days I’m present to build rapport with the host organizations and the families.

What’s the biggest challenge about running a company like Kidsworld?

There are two major challenges.

First, as I’ve said, I’m the only person. Mentally that’s very draining – to have your livelihood in your own hands, to have the expectations of hundreds of others for you to do a quality job. It’s hard to take a couple of days off, as emails add up and you feel responsible to respond quickly. It’s also hard because I need to become good in the areas where I’m not naturally gifted; for example graphic design isn’t a strong suit but with my budget I need to learn to create good content myself.

Second, I’m constantly searching for new organizations to partner with. Between our two programs (Summer and school year), we work with closer to 100 organizations! That’s a lot for one person to network, arrange, maintain relationships, and be on top of. Very detailed notes are needed to keep it all together. There are a lot of organizations in Vancouver, but setting up partnerships with so many is not an easy task.

So then what’s the biggest reward?

I love many aspects of my job. I waited for this opportunity because I didn’t want to be motivated mostly by money. I want to make an impact in people’s lives and support families. So much of a healthy society seems to stem from having healthy families. Kidsworld allows me to build a business, which I’ve always wanted to do, while also making a tangible impact in people’s lives.

On the business side, the greatest reward is I have learned a lot and met a tonne of great people. I feel like I know everyone in Vancouver at this point, and each day I learn about how I can improve my own business.

Any advice for tourism students and future entrepreneurs?

Be passionate about your chosen area of work, whether it’s as an entrepreneur or otherwise. You spend a lot of your life at work, even more if you consider how much it can be on your brain. You have to believe in the importance of it. I strongly believe the best entrepreneurs are those who also make the world a better place as they build their business.

Entrepreneurship is 99% figuring it out as you go. It’s taking a step forward. You don’t need it all together beforehand, just a willingness to learn, ask for help, and to try your hardest.

Make sure you love it before you invest your life into it! There are a million different avenues that entrepreneurship can take you. It’s an exciting and exhausting journey, so invest yourself in something you’re passionate about.

You can find Brian at venues around the city from attractions to museums to parks as he works with Kidsworld families and partners while building his business. Learn more about Kidsworld here: www.kidsworldprogram.com.

WestJet: It’s the Little Things

Full admission, this is a love letter to WestJet, for which I have received zero compensation. For the uninitiated, WestJet is one of Canada’s two major airlines.

Dear WestJet –

As a tourism professional and customer service trainer for BC’s WorldHost program, I speak frequently about “touchpoints” and how these are critical for creating “remarkable service”. Here are a few of the small ways your team impressed me during our recent vacation to Manitoba:

1. Help at check-in! At both airports WestJetters were available to help us at the kiosk, figure out what to do with our carseats, and get us off to security in time. At no point did anyone make us feel stupid – they said encouraging things like “no problem, this is a little confusing” and “don’t worry, you’ve got time.”

2. Warm smiles and “thank-you”s throughout. On the way back our flight was delayed and each WestJetter we encountered thanked us for our patience. This includes the staff at the gate doing check ins, the crew members disembarking, and the crew that welcomed us aboard.

3. Constant updates. While our flight was delayed (by 20 minutes) we received multiple verbal updates on the situation. We were thanked for our help in boarding quickly. At one point a flight attendant noticed something on the wing and one of the pilots came back to check it out. There was an announcement before, during, and after this check, making us feel safe and valued.

4. A glass of water with our pre-ordered meals. When our meals were delivered the attendant brought us each a glass of water, explaining that beverage service would start later. This cost the airline next to nothing but made a huge impression with me. The attendant took a moment and thought “I bet this family would enjoy a drink with their meals, and this is what I can do to help.” It was at this point I turned to my spouse and said “only on WestJet!” Yes, I ‘remarked’ about the service I received. Remarkable service!

5. The “sandwich incident”. Once in the air, the couple ahead of us ordered two ham sandwiches during beverage service. They were extremely (!) upset to find out that there was only one left. The attendants were gracious, apologized, and made comparable menu suggestions. They gently explained that pre-ordering is the best way to guarantee an item is on board as different flights have different capacities. And then, minutes later, an attendant appeared with a ham sandwich (a customer up front had changed their mind). The previously irate customers enjoyed their free sandwich and commented to each other (remarked, even) about the great service on board.

Now these are all little things. Of course the big things were handled – safety, timeliness (even with the delay all connections were made), our baggage arrived as promised. This is a great departure from my experience with other major airlines, where I’ve experienced:

  • Getting stranded in a stopover city with a baby and having to negotiate for a hotel stay and meal vouchers
  • Getting stranded in a departure city while four months pregnant with no updates, no accommodations, and no help
  • Waiting over an hour for a carseat, not being able to locate help, and finally receiving said help after 90 minutes

Sadly the above list could go on and on. There’s no question that airline travel is a tricky business, with razor-thin margins and unpredictable conditions. WestJet is getting it right by making sure that everything, especially the little things, are handled well.

 

The TRU BTM Turns 20!

The Thompson Rivers University (TRU) Bachelor of Tourism Management (BTM) is turning 20!

Based at TRU’s scenic Kamloops campus, the program provides an in-depth understanding of the tourism industry. In first and second year, students build a foundation in applied tourism, management practices, and general tourism studies. In third and fourth year this is followed by courses in three interdisciplinary areas: global perspectives, understanding tourism culture and place, and designing and providing experiences.

Students can also choose a specialty concentration in resort experience, innovation and entrepreneurship, festivals and events, or adventure studies.

To celebrate this program you can join faculty, staff, admin, and alumni at a party for the BTM’s 20th Anniversary!

When: September 22nd and 23rd, 2017

Where: Culinary Arts Building, TRU

For further information and registration, please go to: www.tru.ca/tourism

Registration opens July 10th, 2017. Hope to join you there!

Kidsworld: tourist in your own town for your life’s littles

One of the perks of being an educator is I get my summer (mostly) off. Last year I couldn’t handle this new-found freedom, so I filled my summer up with consulting work and sent my daughter off to a day camp.

While the day camp was fun for her (and consulting was great for me), my kids are only going to be little for a short time. So this year I took advice from a close friend and signed up for the Kidsworld Program. It’s perfect for parents wondering how to keep their kids (and themselves) entertained all summer, on a budget.

The summer pass (only $50) allows free admission to all the popular spots on a set calendar. The pass covers the child as well as one extra adult. The calendar is published well in advance and features a mix of indoor and outdoor activities.

For parents (or grandparents) lucky enough to have the summer off, this program represents incredible savings. It’s a great way to hit all the local tourism attractions and some neat educational programs not generally open to the public.

But it’s also a great resource for tourism operators. What better way to reach a target audience than to let your guests ‘try before you buy’? Imagine the word-of-mouth generated by a happy parent sharing an experience through social media. And we know that sales promotion is great for filling slower times while being extremely trackable.

Did I mention it’s fun for families? In the last four days we’ve been to a trampoline park (pictured), took a 90-minute martial arts workshop, and explored the Museum of Anthropology. On Saturday my daughter will do an iRide BC safe cycling lesson. While some of the activities are ‘reservation’ and we’ve missed the coveted spots, I’ve already more than covered the cost of the pass and we have 7 weeks to go!

The summer 2017 passes are all sold out but parents and grandparents can purchase a Kidsworld pass for the school year.

So if you don’t hear from me in awhile, you know where I’ll be. The only drawback to sharing this program with my readers? I’m worried the fall passes will sell out.

See you in the Kidsworld!

This post is not sponsored content and I have not received compensation to review this program.