I hope you enjoyed your summer vacation. I thought I would share some experiences from my recent travels, which were both business and pleasure.

I definitely learned a few things about what it takes to accomplish superior service in a variety of travel-related businesses. More than once I asked myself: Is great service in tourism a dying concept?

Before we start, what makes a tourist destination attractive for you? Is it, for instance:

  • the hotel,
  • the food,
  • the in-flight service,
  • the spotless public toilets, or
  • something else?

Please let me know in a comment what makes your vacation special every time. I have had numerous experiences that made me very happy:

  1. Park Rangers: Exemplary tourist ambassadors at National and Provincial/State Parks in Canada and the US
  2. Store clerks: Going out of their way to help a confused tourist get the right product at the best price.
  3. Infrastructure: Second to none, i.e. clean and spacious, as well as free.

If you want to learn more about the best social media marketing strategy for a tourist destination, Iceland is a good example. Earned media aplenty, while word of mouth and influencer marketing all do their thing to increase the country’s popularity. Icelandair’s stopover program helps increase traffic and the ROI (return on investment) for tourist attractions.

All is well, right… but how do these things work on the ground?

1. Fake news = BAD

One thing that is bothering me is how airlines seem to try to make themselves look better than they actually are. On our check-in in Edmonton, Alberta, the sign showed that our plane had left punctually as scheduled. Just one small hitch – boarding had not yet even started.

Incidentally, when you check in online, why is it that some airlines, like Icelandair in Zurich, cannot manage to have a “baggage drop off only” lane. Instead they make you queue with all those who have done nothing online… I felt like an idiot for having done this work myself, what for?

A few weeks later on the way back to Europe, the sign in Keflavik showed the flight was boarding, but it took another 30 minutes before the process even started. Of course, no information was provided on what caused these delays; I’m pretty sure every customer felt unappreciated, like I did.

Then again, we’re just customers… why should the company care?

The plane has already left... NOT - since boarding has not even started...

The plane has already left… NOT – since boarding has not even started…

From what I could see, KLM / Air France’s check-in for a flight to Amsterdam was done better. One good indicator was that they kept customers informed about what was happening. Although, I did wonder why a Dutch/French airline fails to announce things in Dutch, especially since more than half of the flight’s passengers spoke Dutch. There were French announcements, but not one passenger I saw appeared to be a French speaker…

Fact 1. The minutes of delay in European air traffic is projected to rise 53 percent in 2018 compared to 2017. For airlines faking timeliness, this means things will get much worse before they get better.
But while delays due to strikes by French air traffic controllers in 2018 are outside an airline’s sphere of influence, keeping one’s customers informed about delays with regular announcements is basic professional courtesy.

2. A little courtesy goes a long way

During our trip I discovered a few differences regarding politeness and efficiency of store clerks, such as:

  • Netto (IS): Cashiers chew gum, don’t say hello, and when you need a refund because you got overcharged, you are in for a surprise. Not even the supervisor can do the math correctly with their smartphone – and starts serving other customers in the middle of the transaction…
  • Coop, Migros (CH): Cashiers say hello, smile, and they are all courteous.
    At my neighborhood store, I was even asked how my vacation was when I shopped there after I got back.
  • Real Canadian Superstore, No Frills, Walmart, etc. (CA): The cashier says hello, asks how you are… and is helpful (sometimes almost too much politeness for us visitors).

While being polite is not enough on its own, it is a great start to making my travels enjoyable or my store experience less frustrating.

Another thing I learned is that in Canada, everybody is helpful. In other words, park rangers, staff and so forth all try their best to make your journey enjoyable.

In Iceland one often had the feeling the person got up on the wrong side of the bed. The result was ill-tempered people doing the absolute minimum, while trying hard not to be too grumpy.

When we picked up our car at Blue Car Rental in Keflavik #bigfail, I was surprised how badly things were organised. You took a number to get service. Some workers at the counter were sitting, and seemed to be idly chatting in front of their computers. “Working,” they called it when I asked with a smile if they could help. In turn, we waited 30 minutes to get our car. Incidentally, this seems to happen every morning in the same time window of about two hours, due to many arrivals from North America.

Think it gets better when dropping off our car? Think again. They could have helped everyone by staffing three more stations to serve clients faster. Instead,  they chose to stay in the background, sipping their coffees and talking to each other… as we could see. I am sure it was a meeting and important, but can it not wait until after the (relatively short) rush?

All this can be done even if your facilities appear less slick and more down to earth. And, if it’s done with a smile during both pick-up and drop-off, as at Budget on 151 Street in Edmonton, your organization wins big with this customer. Even a less-than-perfectly-clean car (e.g., we found a toddler’s shoe under the front passenger seat) does nothing to change my level of satisfaction with your service. But in the case of Blue Car Rental #bigfail, it is just another indicator that things do not work properly. Being friendly makes my experience as a customer that much more enjoyable.

Fact 2. Smile! You could be a tourist attraction.
Blue Car Rental in Keflavik #bigfail — fails the test. Its claim is, “We offer quality service.” Really? Then, PROVE IT!
As hard as I tried, all I experienced was grumpy employees doing little more than the absolute minimum required, and managers that utterly failed at management. What a pain.

3. I have enough friends – honest

The Reynolds Alberta Museum is among many locations and sites we visited that invite you to get social. Everybody is asked to write a comment on TripAdvisor, a museum’s webpage, its blog or maybe their Facebook page.

I’M ON VACATIOOOOON! (see Billy Crystal in the movie City Slickers). I’m busy, and enjoying my privacy – 5 seconds of fame on Instagram is not on the schedule. Thus sharing my experience at your location with the world is not on my list of holiday must-dos.

Everybody wants to 'get social'. Here's an idea: instead of asking me for another useless Like, how about just enjoying my visit and actually being social with me in person as you provide excellent service?

Everybody wants to ‘get social’. Here’s an idea: instead of asking me for another useless Like, how about just enjoying my visit and actually being social with me in person as you provide excellent service?

In fact, I am not sure if the Reynolds Alberta Museum staff at the cash register really want me to tell people how unwelcome I felt… Telling people at 16:15 that the museum closes at 17:00 is one thing (thanks to our annual provincial pass, we did not pay to get in…). But closing the gift shop for the final count at 16:45 in order to leave right at 17:00 is a step too far. I guess you didn’t want my money.

Thank goodness the volunteer giving us a ride in a vintage convertible still took us around at 16:58. This and the great collection of old cars and motorcycles cancelled out the paid staff’s lack of motivation and courtesy to paying customers.

Fact 3. As most metrics regarding earned media and word of mouth or influencer marketing suggest, anyone can buy Likes and online traffic.
Asking for Likes or evaluations on all sorts of platforms is now so prevalent that it is a nuisance for customers, and it’s arguably not even that valuable in the real world.
Giving your best, one customer at a time, will result in the word-of-mouth marketing you desire. I PROMISE.

But our little apartment at Hofgarðar 5 170 Seltjarnarnes (Reykjavik) (booked via Booking.com) was superb (see Google Street View).

4. Knowledgeable people are invaluable

þingvellir (Thingvellir) National Park is surely a very important UNESCO World Heritage Site in Iceland. I got great info at the information desk from a park ranger. But while in the park itself, walking and hiking, there were no rangers to be seen anywhere.

þingvellir National Park: Great info at the information desk, but not while walking and hiking in the park.

þingvellir National Park: Great info at the information desk, but not while walking and hiking in the park.

Quite different was our experience after booking and paying for a guided tour with a park ranger at Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park. That person clearly loves her job, and knows plenty about the subject (see below).

Our guide was a cheerful, amusing person that loved to share her insights and engaged us, while using a nice dose of charm as she forced us to use our brain cells.

Being very knowledgeable AND good humoured makes the tour a pleasure for customers or visitors.

Being very knowledgeable AND good humoured makes the tour a pleasure for customers or visitors.

Fact 4. Having the resources to employ knowledgeable people that are proud of what they do is a must.
The pay-off with customers will make it well worth the expense for any park or museum.

5. Scaleable facilities are a good thing

International travel is a time-tested way for newly minted middle classes to enjoy their wealth. Popular tourist destination such as

  • Iceland,
  • Banff and Jasper (Canada),
  • London (UK), and
  • Zurich, Titlis, Interlaken, etc. (Switzerland),

will have to cope with rapidly growing numbers of visitors. Unless carefully anticipated and planned for, this growth can put a strain on a facility’s bathrooms, gift shops, and cafeterias.

With limited resources, including space (e.g. museum downtown), it is not easy to cope with the ever increasing visitor numbers. Facilities need to be expanded and that requires not only space, but also money.

Parks Canada tries to achieve this by charging visitors, and in turn, providing facilities that appear to me to be second to none.

Having to search far and wide for a bathroom is a pain. In North America, this is rarely a problem, even in national parks.

Having to search far and wide for a bathroom is a pain. In North America, this is rarely a problem, even in national parks.

Fact 5. Only 4 percent of Chinese citizens have a passport, but demand is rising. Moreover, Boeing estimates Chinese airlines will need to hire 110,000 pilots between now and 2035 to handle expected growth.

By the way, Airbus estimates that 550,000 new pilots are needed worldwide within the next 20 years.
According to the International Society of Women Pilots, only 6.7 percent of pilots are female. Clearly, we need many more women to deal with this phenomenal growth, in large part driven by rapidly rising demand for pleasure travel.

It is obvious that these trends mean more visitors for most tourist attractions. Without some investment, the result will be dismal experiences for visitors and bad press for those destinations.

Plenty of parking, toilets and picnic tables is appreciated.

Plenty of parking, toilets and picnic tables is appreciated.

6. Charging to run a smooth operation

Tourists expect great service and facilities that can manage the onslaught of the masses. Moreover, helpful park rangers and knowledgeable people are expected.

But who will pay for all these things? In Iceland, visiting such sites is free. That is appreciated, but in turn, there is apparently not enough money to have support staff or public facilities that meet high quality standards.

Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump – another UNESCO World Heritage Site – is an example where tourists and locals alike pay to get in. The result is a great facility that offers much more than just a classic museum experience (see below).

UNESCO World Heritage Site Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump: History and cultural background aplenty as native dancers perform to a running commentary that explains to naive tourists why things are done a certain way... great!

UNESCO World Heritage Site Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump: History and cultural background aplenty as native dancers perform to a running commentary that explains to naive tourists why things are done a certain way… great!

Of course, one has to find ways to make these sites affordable for tourists and locals alike, besides school classes that don’t have to pay and get great “experience tours” with the help of park or museum staff.

Don’t misunderstand, Iceland is doing great, but to handle these masses of tourists, it needs to charge reasonable fees. No politician can expect his electorate to be happy to pay for tourists in order for them to enjoy beautiful scenery for free.

But charging people an arm and a leg for entering the privately operated Blue Lagoon near Reykjavik is not the right way to go. While tourists may be willing to cough up this exorbitant fee (about US$ 100 per person) in order to enjoy an experience that costs a fraction elsewhere in a public facility, most locals will never visit the venue. It cannot be considered okay that things are so expensive to exclude locals altogether – can it?

One viable option is to offer an annual pass, such as the one from Parks Canada or the province of Alberta (Experience Alberta History). These are just two examples that work. They are high enough in price to channel some real cash into these operations. For locals they are great as well, because they make visiting the sites highly affordable (i.e. unlimited access for a year).

Fact 6. The public purse has limited resources.
Charging tourists to access parks, historical sites and museums is a no-brainer.
These revenues cover some, if not most, of the costs incurred running these beautiful places. Most importantly, facilities can be upgraded based on visitor numbers. Satisfied customers do wonders for your reputation – also known as word-of-mouth marketing these days.

Conclusion: What is your opinion?

Increasingly, destinations are succeeding with social media marketing strategies, but as most metrics suggest, anyone can buy Likes and traffic (such as with our DrKPI.com tools). Is this really the best measure of the value of what is on offer for tourists? Somehow, the destinations seem to think so.

Maybe it’s Canada’s, Iceland’s or Calgary’s relationship with the lakes, mountains, and rivers that creates a particularly enviable summer scene for tourists to see. Or could it be the locals that make the visit more or less enjoyable?

The tourism industry offers plenty of jobs, but working conditions, such as working nights and / or weekends, and short-term contracts for high season only, mean this kind of work is not most youngsters’ first choice. Low pay and little to no fringe benefits further dampen the attractiveness of working in tourism. Could it be that this is why I see shops, restaurants, and services shutting down because operators can no longer find the necessary talent and skills?

The result is sometimes people who are neither happy with their work nor proud of what they do. Little surprise that this negatively affects performance. And while staff working for Icelandair, Ryanair or Delta Airlines may love their jobs, this does not mean their service levels give paying customers that impression.

Brewster, the US company providing services in Jasper and Banff (also Iceland) fills its vacancies with plenty of foreigners. In Canada, these seem to be mostly Australians with seasonal work permits, for many the best way to get into the country and work. So we had fun experiencing down under slang and humour wherever we went. Not a very local experience, though.

The work is so attractive that Canadians shun it... giving Australians and others a chance to get a Canadian work permit.

The work is so attractive that Canadians shun it… giving Australians and others a chance to get a Canadian work permit.

Moreover, having the driver (and everywhere else it seems as well) ask us to leave a great evaluation on TripAdvisor, Booking.com and so forth is getting on my nerves.

Leaving a thoughtful evaluation for each and every venue is time-consuming. I want to enjoy my vacation. Hence, stop asking me to work and evaluate your service, unless you are willing to face positive and less positive feedback with a smile, please.

Social media, earned media and influencer marketing tells us many things about the next vacation spot we intend to visit. Nevertheless, can you:

  • Give an example of your last business or pleasure trip during which you got very good service?
  • What annoys you the most when you go on a holiday?
  • Any tips you can share on how I and my readers can make our next vacation even more enjoyable?

The author declares that he had no conflict of interest with respect to the content, authorship or publication of this blog entry (i.e. I neither got a freebie from any of the mentioned companies nor are they our clients to the best of my knowledge).

Fotos: Urs E. Gattiker

[su_slider source=”media: 5263,5261,5260,5259,5258″]

9 replies
  1. Werner Klauser
    Werner Klauser says:

    Wow!
    You seemed to have had a very nice vacation.
    I strongly agree with your peeves.

    Many of them I blame employees, who do not identify themselves with their work.
    Probably many don’t even identify themselves with their own self…

    • Urs E. Gattiker
      Urs E. Gattiker says:

      Dear Werner

      Thanks for your comment above.
      Yes, agree, our vacation was wonderful and I learnt a lot in the process.

      Yes employees are surely important but it is not always easy to identify with a job when you work for a hotel, but you actually employed by a contractor. Moreover, you are on call and have no guaranteed hours or else you are employed for high season only (e.g., students).

      A big difference is also that we see it as work and no longer maybe as a career where we want to continuously develop our skills further and get to know more about the industry we work in.

      “I want to have fun and enjoy…” is one thing I hear often. Unfortunately, plenty of things I have to do in my work are neither fun nor do I enjoy them much.
      Nevertheless, if these are what I call “bread and butter” kind of activities (e.g., listening to a customer explaining why he needs…. or trying to convince a customer to sign on the dotted line), they must be done well!

      It’s tough…. but somebody has to do it right, otherwise the clients/customers/tourists will not do word-of-mouth marketing for me that I want namely that they got great service or had a wonderful time on this cruise.

      Urs

  2. wklauser
    wklauser says:

    My vacation in Canada was tainted by my car renting experience.

    I had booked an intermediate car using EconomyBookings.com and was required to pay the first rental day.
    In Halifax Discount Car and Truck Rentals upgraded it to a midsize SUV.

    Being foreigners they refused both our credit card and Finnish car insurances and we thus had to use their insurance. They knew nothing of my prepayment.

    Yes, I uncomfortably touched a wood fence while parking our SUV which we had affectionately named “tank” due to its size and stability.
    I made them aware of the resulting small scuff and paint chip and was then firmly told that both the front bumper and wheel well need to be replaced. They proudly told me that this multi-thousand dollar repair would only cost me 500 dollars because I had purchased their insurance.

    Utter nonsense. The rental company will replace nothing and when the car is sold the purchaser might use a buffing wheel and drop of paint to repair this multi-thousand dollar damage.

    Customer service? Haha. Emails don’t need to be answered and telephone calls not returned.
    By both EconomyBookings.com and Discount Car and Truck Rentals = #bigfail in their customer service. Why do the use the words Economy and Discount?

    Ripoff is more correct.

    • Urs E. Gattiker
      Urs E. Gattiker says:

      Thanks Werner for this comment
      I will reply in 2 parts

      ANSWER 1
      So it looks like #DiscountCarandTruckRentals is a case of #bigfail in regard to service, honesty and providing value for money.

      Sounds like a ripp off to me, does it not.
      Insurance is a general issue. We were asked to pay $20 each day (because we use public transport in the city and thus have no car insurance).
      But renting the car for a month for about CAN $850.00 and paying 600 for insurance, good business to be in. We avoided this problem with the help of American Express …

      That a company does, however, not accept a credit card from Europe (Mastercard/Visa, etc.) as apparently #DiscountCarandTruckRentals did is amazing.

      PS. In Iceland little chips and dents are not an issue when you bring back the car. Main reason being because of the gravel roads. Something I thought was helpful.

    • Urs E. Gattiker
      Urs E. Gattiker says:

      Answer 2

      One other thing I start to get convinced about is the fact, that booking any car via a consolidator, website or travel agent is not necessarily a good thing.

      Your case confirms two things I have been uneasy about in regard to #bigfail in #customerservice – here with the examples of economyBookings.com and Discount Car and Truck Rentals:

      1. economyBookings.com – when the consolidator does not provide…

      Paying this company for the first day of the rental in advance and not having the information passed on to Discount Car and Truck Rentals amazes me.
      Where is the money, somebody has it… which means you as a customer got cheated.

      2. Discount Car and Truck Rentals

      The way they acted is unfortunate because such service gives the company a bad reputation. But even if you have insurance, you may still have to pay $3,000 to the car rental company in case of damage when you drop the car, because they claim that they do not know if the consolidator will pay for the damage.

      Remind you, my friend paid for insurance with the consolidator…. but the car rental office said they wanted to be safe…
      He is supposed to get the money back after the consolidator paid the local car rental outfit. In the meantime, he has to make sure that the consolidator/travel agency pays for the damage…

      Sometimes I feel you pay and you get taken for a ride.

      #DiscountCarandTruckRentals and #EconomyBookings come across as a #bigfail as far as decent customer service is concerned.

  3. wklauser
    wklauser says:

    They accepted the credit card as a form of payment but did not accept that most US issued credit cards include car insurance.

    • Urs E. Gattiker
      Urs E. Gattiker says:

      Hi Werner

      Seems to me like the failed even more #bigfail..

      Even I know that various credit card companies have car insurance included. No wonder if some car company like DiscountCarAndTruckRentals apparently make live for some of their clients difficult.

      Incidentally, when you leave a not so positive comment on https://www.facebook.com/DiscountCarAndTruckRentals it gets removed withon 5 min or less.

      #bigfail #socialmedia I would call this… you take both, positive and negative comments. You most certainly do not eliminate them.

      Another reason why I do not necessarily trust company that brag about their likes….

  4. Maria Biquet
    Maria Biquet says:

    Dear Urs

    Traveling is about experience.
    I appreciate warm people who welcome me in their area and their hotel and offer advice on what to do and how to enjoy my time best in beautiful places that are away from mass tourism.

    That is what it is about for me.

    • Urs E. Gattiker
      Urs E. Gattiker says:

      Dear Maria

      Thanks for your comment in our blog and nice to hear from you.

      Yes, people that come across authentic and with some warmth (e.g., a smile) are generally more appreciated than those that give you the impression of being grumpy.
      Getting advice or helpful tipps if you ask is a bonus.
      And you are right, if you are not local, you are unlikely to know the best places. For instance, we asked at the Reykjavik Tourist Office (ground floor City Hall) and the guy was a gem. He gave us the right tips for our limited stay timewise in the country. We took them and were that much better off… :-)

      Yes people make the difference.
      Cordially
      Urs

Comments are closed.