Giving Back: How volunteers shape a destination

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.

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Good old fashioned metrics.

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.”

That’s my mom’s take on the role of volunteering in the visitor experience. For more info on Tourism Vancouver’s volunteer opportunities visit https://www.tourismvancouver.com/about/volunteer/ 

Does your community use volunteers to enhance the guest experience? Share your feedback in the comments. 

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

Back-to-School (already overcommitted)

So in case your Facebook feed didn’t pile up with pictures of little back-to-schoolers on Tuesday, I’m here to remind you it’s that time of year again!

It’s the time of year I:

  1. Completely panic
  2. Realize that I am the teacher
  3. Promise not to take on too much
  4. Take on way too much

Here’s a list of commitments that I entered into over the summer, and am now realizing might be impossible to meet:

  • Elected member of the BCIT Education Council (EdCo)
  • Member of the programming committee
  • New volunteer at Kudoz
  • Volunteer member for the BC Hospitality Foundation scholarship committee
  • Member of a cool new committee to do with the Tourism Industry Conference (TIC is my jam, as you know)
  • Member of the selection committee for a new Associate Dean for our department
  • And assistant coach of the marketing team for JDC West

Of these, I have decided to drop the last item (coaching) because mercifully another (more qualified) volunteer stepped forward out of the woodwork. That’s great, because as an instructor I’m now having to go from public speaking hibernation to ‘on’ several hours a day. And plan. And prep. And parent. Also apparently I have a social life?

Don’t let the calm-and-poised instagram post fool you, folks, I’m low-key freaking out over here. Next post I hope to address some (relatively healthy) ways I’m trying to cope with the stress.

What are your ways of dealing with back-to-school stress? Hit me up in the comments.

 

 

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!

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!

 

 

“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