All Fired Up!

This Tuesday morning I joined fellow tourism nerds at a Tourism Vancouver presentation of Alex Hunter: The Art and Science of Wow.

Alex is a former Virgin America executive who travels the world as a branding and customer experience expert and keynote speaker. He’s also the host of Attaché, an award-winning online travel show, which brought him to the Vancouver Playhouse main stage.

Alex is a phenomenal storyteller; it’s challenging to take his fluid ideas and anecdotes and pull them together into something cohesive, so here’s what stood out for me:

The Internet Ruined Everything

Maybe it’s because Alex is a fellow Gen Xer who remembers the good old days of pay phones and print ads, but his statement that “marketing was the easiest job in the world until we ruined it with the internet” really struck home. He pulled up the following ad which summarizes the kinds of things Madison Avenue used to be able to get away with:

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That’s a firm nope from me, bucko.

The internet comment was tongue in cheek, but he’s right that the good old-fashioned decision-making funnel has been obliterated. We can’t grab consumers with a big message (sexually harass her and you’ll be cool), hit them with some PR/evidence (doctors recommend Tipalet), and then do a little price-based sales promotion to nudge them over the line (Tipalet: now 2 for the price of 1).

Consumers today are in a cycle with more points of engagement. Marketers must strike a reasonable balance between pre and post purchase connection because our targets are not in a funnel, they’re on a see-saw adding and subtracting brands under consideration in any given moment.

We’ve moved from a push to influence at the “consider” and “buy” stages to an emphasis on talking with (not to) our customers at the “evaluate” stage (even if that means exposing them to other brands) and at the “advocate” step (encouraging sharing with their sociograph in person and online).

The Loyalty Loop

So if there’s no funnel, Alex argues, we need to pay extra attention to loyalty, which has been something of an obsession for him. The ultimate goal is to get your consumers into what he refers to as the “loyalty loop”.

You can’t have loyalty without someone feeling something, or in the words of Matthew Weiner on Mad Men:

“You feeling something. That’s what sells.”

Alex then called out Apple users (guilty as charged). When I remember back to my switch from the frugal but frustrating combo of a Microsoft Surface and a Samsung cell phone to a MacBook and iPhone in one day, I recall feeling free and relaxed.

And since that day, when I interact with Apple, I know I’m taken care of. I know where to go to get my problems solved, and they’re solved promptly, frequently exceeding my expectations. Prior to this, the tech devices in my life were a source of stress and confusion. Say what you will about the corporation, but Apple really does handle UX very well. By helping me to chill, they’ve got me in the loop!

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Alex Hunter and the Loyalty Loop (yes I snuck this shot)

Emotion is Greater than Reason

Alex also introduced us to Dr Donald Calne. Well, not personally, although Dr Calne apparently lives in Kamloops. Calne is a neurologist who discovered, through scientific study that:

“The essential difference between emotion and reason is that emotion leads to action while reason leads to conclusions.”

So if we want our guests, visitors, and customers to conclude something about our destinations and businesses, then we can use reason. But if we want them to take action, we have to appeal to their feelings.

Hunter’s example was that of Coke vs Pepsi (specifically Diet Coke in his case). As a Coke drinker, I understood his story immediately. Because if somebody offers me a Pepsi as an alternative I feel incredulous and, frankly, insulted.

Coke is a special treat. It’s birthday parties, summer vacation, going to the movies in a real theatre, and Christmas dinner. Pepsi is … overly sweet Coke substitute. I will stick with water if that’s the only option.

As Alex puts it, “if brown water in a can can produce that reaction, no product or service is immune.”

The Small Stuff

Back in ye olden days, when I was a kid (so, the 1980s), businesses used to interact with consumers one-on-one. This is another thing the internet ruined, for a spell. We got so fixated on broadcasting wider and wider on the web, that we lost this connection. But we can get it back.

And it’s not that hard to do well. You’ve heard my example of being bowled over with the gift of well-timed water on a WestJet flight. And Hunter is loyal to a hotel in New York City where, time after time, they’ve stocked the fridge with Diet Coke, left a basket of his favourite snacks, and a handwritten note. The first time it was a surprise (based on a questionnaire he’d filled out). But they treat him to this every time he stays – prompting the comment “I am no longer a transaction, I’m not just a room night, I’m a relationship.”

We Are Magicians

We have all this data and the capacity to use what we know to create delight. And so many opportunities (touchpoints) to do this online and in person. But Alex cautions us NOT to tell our guests how we do it. He shared the story of a famous airline that used iPads to produce out-of-this world personalized greetings and experiences for their guests. Except in a PR move, they published a white paper on how they did it. They ruined the trick (“you don’t love me, the iPad told you”), and forgot the context of the relationship. To create magic for the guest, never forget that you are a magician.

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Just a few of the touchpoints for an airline customer.

The Handwritten Note

Take the time. Get the pen. Write the note. And for the love of everything, if you’re going to do a mail merge, do it correctly. Alex quit banking with an institution that sent him a “Dear null null” letter. I’ve broken up with a car dealership that uses my two middle names in all their communication. Get these things right the first time.

People Remember How You Make them Feel

There were so many nuggets in this presentation and the Q & A that followed. Ty Speer joined Alex Hunter on stage and they wrapped the session up with a from Maya Angelou:

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel”

Alex Hunter made me feel excited to work in tourism, excited to bring the magic to my students, and pumped to be a better businessperson and host. You can check out his website here, or follow him @cubedweller

Relocalization: The “Roots” Trip

On August 20th, 1954, the SS Groote Beer docked in Quebec City and my two-year-old father disembarked alongside his family to start their life in Canada. My Opa made the decision to leave Germany as a result of his experiences in World War II.

As I approach a milestone birthday in 2019 I’ve been working towards a trip that combines a bucket list destination (Paris) with an opportunity to connect with my German roots. And since I’m the “tourism nerd”, I’ve been thinking about this trip and what it means from an Explorer Quotient (EQ) perspective.

EQ is a psychographic tool developed by Destination Canada, and in use across the country, that attempts to move beyond demographics (age, gender, country of origin) and into the psychological motivations and desires behind travel.

Typically as Canadian tourism professionals we focus on the ‘hot’ EQ markets for our destinations: Free Spirit, Cultural Explorer, and Authentic Experiencer. These are great segments to target, and you can read more about them, and how to apply EQ, in this handy PDF: EQProfiles2015.

Originally, however, nine EQ profiles were developed. And while I’m not suggesting we should focus on all of these, in my circumstances think it’s important to note a ‘special’ category, which is the Personal History Explorer (PHE).

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The ‘Original 9’ EQ Types – there I am in my kilt and tam.

In the context of this specific trip, as a PHE I’m having a hard time accessing the resources I need. Part of this journey requires birth records (destroyed during the war), part of it relies on memories (my dad is a grandparent now, it’s hard for him to remember when he was two years old), and the rest relies on research that frequently yields incomplete results. For example, I’ve visited seven different websites with Groote Beer manifests, all of these are partial, most focus on arrivals to Australia and New Zealand … it’s a bit of a mess.

And let’s talk about shifting geography for a second!

My Oma and Opa were from the Sudentenland, which was the area of the now-Czech Republic inhabited by Sudeten Germans. Since Bohemia and Sudetenland are no longer political regions, and haven’t been for decades, I’ve had to rely heavily on my uncle to determine where, exactly, I should be visiting.

Finally, there is the emotional component of developing a trip like this. Immigration is a stressful change for a family, even when it’s for the better. Talking about family origins can dig up deep feelings of regret, loss, or even anger. If I’m honest I’m currently harbouring some resentments at my father for choosing not to keep his German citizenship, and for not teaching us to speak German – even though intellectually these decisions make sense in hindsight.

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My dad (no apples) and his two older brothers.

In his book “Wild Mind: A Field Guide to the Human Psyche“, Bill Plotkin talks about our need to return to our psychospiritual roots. He asserts there is an innate connection we have with our ecology of origin. I’ve looked at photos of the Black Forest (Schwarzwaldsince childhood and deeply known that those streams, trees, and mountains are somehow of me, just as parts of British Columbia like the Fraser River, North Shore Mountains, False Creek, and Burrard Inlet are part of my makeup.

Returning to these primal, ecologically-emotionally connected places is what Plotkin calls “relocalization” (p.55). I think as more boomers, Gen X, and even Millennial travellers start seeking out PHE trips, tourism developers and marketers will need to provide more support for this type of journey.

What I’m recommending is:

  • Local tourism professionals keep an eye out for unique stories like these and create customer journey maps to understand the ‘pain points’ of developing this kind of trip
  • Residents, staff, or other passionate locals help PHEs develop itineraries
  • Destinations with shifting geography/place names make this very clear in their marketing materials
  • Tourism marketers use these stories as a means to connect with other PHEs who may be interested in the region

Do you have a PHE trip on your mind? Where might you need to go to feel truly reconnected to your psychospiritual roots? Share in the comments.

Travel Healthy: Vaccines and other preventatives

In just 35 days my daughter and I will board a plan for Vietnam, but as a tourism professional I’m embarrassed to admit I hadn’t considered our health and vaccines. Thankfully another mom (who visits Vietnam frequently) recommended the Vancouver Coastal Health travel clinic.

This for-fee service from our local health authority pairs expert advice from prescribing doctors with nurses who administer vaccines and fill prescriptions, with the added bonus of purchasing other preventatives including:

  • Probiotics for increasing digestive resilience to foreign foods and bugs
  • High quality insect repellant (for Dengue Fever and Zika)
  • Sunscreen containing zinc oxide
  • Prescribed oral preventatives such as Dukoral (for travellers’ diarrhea) and Vivotif (for typhoid fever)

Upon arrival, a doctor consults with you to review your past vaccination and travel history. This doctor discovered I was out-of-date on Tetanus and MMR (childhood vaccines) and additionally recommended I vaccinate against Hepatitis A (I’ve been immunized, and proven resistant, to Hep B, or that would have been administered as well).

The doctor was able to rule out the risk of Yellow Fever based on our routing, and also ruled out Japanese Encephalitis based on time of year. He also reminded me of the risks of petting strays and wild animals (which certainly applies to my daughter), and that should we not heed this recommendation, Rabies is dealt with after potential exposure.

I appreciated the consultation, which was easier than doing my own research in the face of multiple conflicting sources. It was also much easier than getting a prescription from my doctor and having that filled at a pharmacy, where my experience is they frequently run out of the required quantities of these often-volatile oral vaccines.

The doctor was also able to make recommendations for my daughter, who’ll get her pokes next week. While it’s common for entire families to come in together, I decided it would be easier to investigate first and bring her in second. Next time I’ll get it all done in one go, since the convenience of the clinic is they have everything on hand and ready; and there’s a consultation cost savings per person if they come to the same visit.

Travel Clinic Fees
Each vaccine costs roughly $40-$60.

While preventables do come with a price tag, the benefits are three-fold: better health, increased peace of mind, and ultimately a better chance at an illness-free trip for this experience of a lifetime. I’d say it was well worth it!

To book an appointment (online) at the Vancouver Coastal Health travel clinic visit their site and complete their pre-visit questionnaire at:  http://travelclinic.vch.ca

As per usual, while this blog endorses specific products and services, I have not received any compensation for my post.

 

 

 

Ask a Travel Trade Pro: A tourism nerd chat with Aphrodite Karagioules

Aphrodite Karagioules is a travel counsellor and Mediterranean specialist for Omega Travel as well as a senior land coordinator for Land of the Gods Voyages – with over 16 years’ experience in the travel wholesale business.

Aphrodite and I met back in high school. I was thrilled to find out she works out in the travel trade since I’m currently teaching a leisure tour and travel course for the first time. For the benefit of my students, and a good catch-up, I met with her to discuss her career path and perspective on the industry.

TN: How did you end up working in travel?

“It all started back when I was a teenager, going to Greece and visiting my cousins at their campsite on Naxos Island. Eventually I fell into working there in the summers. It was incredible – not just the working environment, but I loved working with tourists, meeting people from different cultures and countries. I was hooked.

After high school I went back to Naxos and started working in restaurants. I bounced from Vancouver to Greece, working in the food and beverage industry. But I grew tired of working nights, and not sleeping well, and the lifestyle.

I had visited with Maria (the owner of Omega Travel) to discuss this. I grew up a block away from the agency and Maria was a family friend. Maria recommended I go to travel school, but at the time not much came of it, I kept working in restaurants back in Vancouver.

Fast forward a couple of years and I was at a big Greek wedding and I ran into Maria again. I had since put down roots in Kits permanently. Through our conversation at the wedding it became clear that I should go to travel school and join the agency and I’ve been with them ever since.

So 16 years later, I’ve grown with the company and weathered some significant challenges. We’ve had years where travel has dried up entirely due to economic crisis. We’ve seen the Greek crisis … we’ve prevailed through all of it.

It’s a very dynamic industry. There are countries that fall in and out of style as destinations – for example Egypt and Turkey are experiencing unrest and I’m an expert in both these countries but they’ve fallen off of the map. Overall it’s been very demanding and rewarding.”

TN: What are some things that you wish people knew about their travel agent?

“That’s a good one!

I want them to know that while our clients are priority, honestly we have a lot of things going on and we’re human. It would be impossible for a computer to do what we do. There is pressure from clients who don’t understand that in any given moment I’m pulling together a once-in-a-lifetime package trip to Croatia, then someone calls needing last-minute flights to Italy, someone else wants cruise info ASAP.

I made the choice to be salaried, and not to be on commission for this reason. I love working with clients and bringing them value … but I don’t want the headaches of the constant hustle for commissions, the 4am phone calls … it’s more money but at what cost? This way I can support myself, take good care of my clients, and everyone wins.

It’s hard some days. But my attraction to this line of work is excitement and learning. I love learning about the world, and I’m worldly because of my job.”

TN: So what about the sales aspect?

“It’s cool to be able to quickly put together a package of a trip where I have the expertise to pull everything together, along with the competitive rates, that give the guest everything they want. It’s almost second nature I’ve been doing it so long, I don’t even know what I know!

I also like the camaraderie in the office and the industry. There are so many neat events and other networking opportunities that come with the sales side of the business. Air shows, travel shows.”

TN: Tell me about the event I saw you posting about on Instagram.

“Yes, that’s a good example! Air Canada Vacations, and Velas resorts (a high-end all-inclusive group of resort properties in Mexico) took some of the best agents and provided us with an amazing culinary experience. All of this was a backdrop against which they could update us about contracts and various incentives. These are incentives for both the agents and the clients. We may earn benefits but our clients also get the chance to earn points with Air Canada Vacations.

Outside of the sales events, most of my experience comes as a tour operator and packaging components for sale, and in my experience the tour operator aspect is more interesting. So for example, I’ve been to France and I’ll be returning to France to meet with the DMC (destination management company) we partner with.  I really enjoy meeting with them and getting to know the components first-hand … they show us the different destinations the hotels and the region. Then I also like to add in food and wine so I can really sell the complete experience.”

TN: So would it be fair to say you enjoy the tour operator component more?

“Well, I’ve only been doing retail for a year so it’s hard to say. At the moment I’m pushing to get to know more product. For example I would love to get to know Cuba and my company will invest in me to go down and check these experiences out first-hand. It’s one of the reasons I enjoy working where I do. They’re very supportive of this aspect.

It’s important for us in retail sales to do as many inspections as we can. Not just of hotels! This includes things like airlines, learning about seat configurations … this is the valuable information we gain that we can share with our clients. Recently I toured the AirBus 380 in Toulouse and now I’m much better equipped to share insider information with my clients.”

TN: So many people today are all about the OTA*. What do you think about that trend?

“Well, you just told me the perfect story really. Because you were mentioning that you’ve booked a trip to Vietnam where the tour operator is providing one-of-a-kind experiences like noodle-making workshops and homestay overnights. So what you’re mentioning with booking that experience really speaks to the level of service that we can provide in the industry – that humans can provide – that an algorithm or website really can’t.

We offer extra touches like in-destination support. And we have access to the same information and often even more, because our partnerships behind the scenes can really help. I know exactly which airlines will offer name changes and which won’t, and how to take care of details like that should they arise. I don’t know of any OTAs that will go that extra mile for their customers.”

TN: How can today’s consumers make the most of working with a travel agent?

“Firstly, if you value your time, you will come to love working with an agent. Again, I’ll do whatever I can to make the trip special, even if it comes down to things like doing a seat select, I go over and above. I like taking care of things and anticipating customer needs. Everything is a little project and because of my experience I know what little things can come up and I can handle them instantly.

I would also encourage clients to really soak up the advice from their agents. Your agent is going to know about logistics (for example, making sure your passport is valid and up-to-date well beyond travel dates).  I qualify my clients as best as I can before booking to make sure they’ll actually be able to take the trip. Again, this isn’t necessarily something you’re going to get with an OTA.”

TN: Any advice for tourism or travel students?

“Well, if you choose this industry, you’ll never have a dull moment, honestly. You always have to think outside the box.

And at the end of the day, you get to travel. What’s better than that?”

Thanks to Aphrodite for the chat! 

To book a trip to the Mediterranean with Aphrodite and her team, visit LandoftheGods.com.

*OTA = online travel agency (e.g. Expedia)

 

Forget the Work and Get Outside?

I’m slugging through the winter break, trying to push ahead into my next term of teaching and attempting to ensure I’m ready. I’m not.

I’m also in the middle of a contract editing a test bank. Yes, that’s a bank of test answers. It’s very dry work. I’m not sure what I was expecting but. Wow. So dry.

So it may not make much sense, but I’ve been blowing off work and heading into the mountains to pursue a hobby I’ve wanted to try for years: snowshoeing.

Snowshoeing is AMAZING. It’s like skiing or snowboarding in that you’re outside, in the fresh air and mountains. But it’s also way easier to do, which is great because alas I am not very coordinated.

Now when I’m not outside, I’m dreaming about being outside. I think this is a very ‘tourism nerd’ dilemma – to have our day jobs (which are generally very awesome in and of themselves) and yet to be pulled to get out there and enjoy. I preach and teach about #exploreBC, so shouldn’t I be out there doing it?

Alright. Back to the grind. This test bank will not edit itself. (Unless … no. It won’t). I’ll try to remember that contract work like this helps pay for my adventures.

See you out there soon!

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.