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. 

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

 

Top Ten Emergency Risks for BC and How to Cope

PreparedBCIf you haven’t seen a copy of the new PreparedBC resources, get your hands on them. Tailored towards tourism operators, the guides are a practical way that tourism industry players can take emergency preparedness in their own hands.

Download a copy of the PreparedBC: Emergency Plan for Tourism Operators (PDF) here.

Download a copy of the PreparedBC: Guide for Tourism Operators (PDF) here.

According to these resources, the top ten risks in BC are:

  1. Earthquakes
  2. Tsunamis
  3. Floods
  4. Wildfire
  5. Landslides
  6. Avalanches
  7. Severe Weather
  8. Power Outages
  9. Hazardous Material Spills
  10. Disease Outbreaks

Learn more about navigating these challenges by visiting www.gov.bc.ca/PreparedBC for a map of risks by district. The site is also a good resource for creating plans for your home, school, or community.