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

The future of tourism: social cultural enterprises

One of the best experiences of my trip to Vietnam was participating in a cooking class called Oodles of Noodles run by Streets International in Hoi An.
Doang was the first up from the Oodles of Noodles team. She taught us about the program and asked us to “please correct our English so we can learn”. Throughout the experience all the hosts were very good at interacting with the group. “We need your help to learn. You will do that, yes?” “Yes!” we all promised.
Next we watched a short documentary about Neal Bermas’ vision for Streets International. They conducted research to find the right city and chose Hoi An due to the high levels of visitation and its history as a multicultural port and culinary destination. Their goal is to launch careers in hospitality.
The program provides participants with full health care, lodging, and three meals a day. These are orphans, children from HIV backgrounds, or formerly trafficked and prostituted people. The facility has a working kitchen, a classroom for culinary lessons (both internal and external, like ours), and a 16-station computer lab for learning English.
The cooking class that followed the program description was immersive and entertaining.
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Nho the noodle expert

A young woman named Nho taught us about noodles and I now consider myself a rice noodle expert. Dai from Hanoi did a demo which was also broadcast on a TV for the people at the back.
M Nhi is from close to Sapa. She taught us to count down in Vietnamese as well as guided us through the noodle making process at our table. Our noodles were combined with a charcoal broiled variety to make a smash cake which made a delicious appetizer.
The tables were then wiped down and we were served the local specialty prepared by the culinary students.The entire group agreed that the meal, the service, and the cleanliness of the facility far exceeded anything we had experienced so far.
Streets International also runs a restaurant, one that is designed to stand on its own. The servers, hosts, and culinary team are all program participants.
Recognizing that front-of-house trainees receive the lion’s share of immersive language and hosting experience, Streets International also partners with local tour operators to offer tours led by back of house staff. These tours allow budding chefs to take guests through Hoi An, where they practice English and share the culinary history of the destination.
Intake for this program is every nine months. So far 250+ youth have graduated and there are more job offers (high end restaurants, resorts, etc) than graduates. A second location recently opened in Hanoi.
My experience of Hoi An was one of a busy destination, one where popular sites were choked with tourists barely grasping the significance of what they were seeing. While at times I experienced the dreaded ‘overtourism’, the afternoon spent at Ooodles of Noodles was educational and entertaining – all while making a difference in the lives of young people.
This is the future of the industry as far as I’m concerned and a model for tourism done right. I’ve already challenged my soon-to-be tourism graduates back home to explore this model and see how they could bring it to BC.

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)

 

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

 

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.