Technology is booming.
We have apps to book flights, to book hotels, to book attractions and tours. Big money is focusing on software and automation. Which is great if you’re catering to robots. What is missing is service. And that means people. Howard Schulz, former CEO of Starbucks perhaps illustrates this best. He said “We’re not in the coffee business. It’s what we sell as a product but we’re in the people business.”
Starbucks doesn’t sell coffee. It sells human connection. Which is lucky, because I’m not a huge fan of the coffee. But Starbucks is uber-successful for two reasons: its service and its education program. Very few people know that Starbucks is one of the biggest educators in the USA, paying for its employees’ university education, and putting them through 50+ hours of training in their first year of work. To put that another way, the success of Starbucks is its trained frontline staff.
1. Tour guides make or break a tour
We’re in the people business serving tourism. So why is investment in service – and those who provide that service – so limited? It’s like building a billion dollar hotel with private sunbeds, and a Bang & Olufsen Entertainment system in the room, but forgetting to put in a manned Reception Desk. Without service, guests will go somewhere else. Tourism won’t die, it can never die, but there are many destination choices.
Guests will go where they’re looked after. And they will share those experiences with others.
2. People need people
If we’ve learned anything from lockdowns across the world, we’ve learned that a basic human need is other people. We’ve heard devastating reports of loneliness and depression. People needing a hug, a hand, some human contact. Solo travellers are excited to meet other travellers and make new friends as soon as possible. Guests are looking for an experience. Hosting a tour can’t be automated, or done through an app – it requires an expert tour guide with soft skills.
On an Excel sheet, the customer goes from Point A (home) to Point B (destination). There’s the hotel. There’s the tour. At the end, the customer goes from Point B back to Point A. It looks great on paper. But people are not Excel spreadsheets. Guests may suffer from jetlag or ill-health, there could be a problem being dealt with at home, there may be intercultural communication issues on arrival. The airlines could lose guest bags.
Yet still guests want to travel.
What the Mazlow pyramid shows us is that safety, love, belonging and esteem – in that order – have to be in place before self-actualisation. That means that basic needs – needs of people – have to be taken care of personally before enjoying a tour. That is service. It cannot be automated. This is where Schulz was ahead of the curve, focusing on service, and the education of Starbucks staff.
3. The importance of frontline staff
Most guests will never meet a tour operator. The tour operator is not frontline staff. The tour guide is often the sole ambassador for a company, yet tour guides are often viewed as an afterthought – ‘lowly’, if you like. Guides worldwide may have limited intercultural skills and lack Health and Safety training, yet the entire reputation of a company is placed in their hands. This is tourism suicide, particularly post-Corona, as the goalposts move.
So be ahead of the curve. Train frontline staff, and thrive under new regulations and expectations. As Lou Holtz once said, “In this world, you’re either growing or you’re dying.”
4. Tourism is Changing
Is your area of tourism dying? This is the time to reset, educate and re-evolve.
Tourism has to become more sustainable now. Guests in future will need to feel secure, knowing Health & Safety requirements are in place. They’ll need reassuring. Tour guides must be in the people business serving tourism to these guests when they travel again. They will travel again. Mainstream tourism has been be paused. What we do now is prepare for the rebirth of tourism.
Tourism can never die.