It may be crucial to think about surviving during this tough time rather than thinking of earning big profits. Thereby, concentrating on ways and means of winning the ‘heart share’ of the customer through ‘high touch’ rather than ‘high tech’ can make the difference. Think of other extra value additions which can be included in the package that customers really wish to experience. Explore the possibilities of using some of our 333 railway stations, for customers to experience at least a short rail journey to discover varied beautiful and pictorial sceneries – Pic by Shehan Gunasekara
Pandemic-related; lockdowns, flight cancellations, non-operation of outbound tours and the closure of the local airports will certainly have an impact on the tourism industry of the country which is the third largest foreign exchange earner in our economy.
Until an effective vaccine is found this is an industry that cannot have any hope to grow. Hence huge facilities such as airlines, hotels, shopping malls and recreation venues are idling. This has a severe effect on all stakeholders who were depending on it. What should we do to mitigate this effect at this moment of time?
Valuing our own offerings amongst ourselves
There are many places in this beautiful island that are of historical, geographical, environmental and spiritual interest to a vast majority of people. We being citizens who are living in the country have taken many of our own nature’s offerings for granted. Some have explored places elsewhere in the world without experiencing our own.
Those who have been to Australia have perhaps seen the Three Sisters mountains but have not climbed Sigiriya yet. We boast about visiting Niagara Falls in Canada but we have not seen Dunhidha or Diyaluma Falls here. The wild safaris in Kenya have created exciting experiences but we still have not visited our own national parks enough.
Have gone on desert safaris but have not travelled across our own lands to feel the diversity of the climates that can be experienced in a few hours of time. Eager to travel and learn about the ancient history in Egypt but not enough enthusiasm to know about our own. Many places of spiritual interest overseas were visited without climbing Sri Pada or Adam’s Peak at least once.
For couple of decades we kept on promoting our own attractive landscapes to foreigners for two reasons. The first reason being that their pockets are large enough to incur a significant spend on holidays or site seeing annually, which is a part and parcel of their living standards. Secondly, as a country we were very much in need of foreign currency to manage our balance of payments.
As the COVID-19 pandemic persists, foreign tourism continues to lose hope to our country for a further period of time. Therefore, this article will give you a brief insight in particular how to ‘RAISE’ (Readiness, Acceptance, Innovation, Superiority and Education) domestic tourism through ‘service’ in the given circumstances to derive a benefit.
Whilst following the guidelines and obtaining certifications from the relevant authorities’ hotels should get ready to attract domestic tourists first. It will be a preparation and rehearsing ground for them to offer the accepted standard of service to foreign tourists as well when the market picks up.
Get regular updates on what is happening around the industry both locally and overseas. Fine-tune the processes to ensure a safe environment. Educate the staff regularly to face the new challenges ahead. Be prepared with the hardware and software elements needed to serve the emerging customer segments described in the following.
As a result of not being able to travel overseas there will be an affluent strong domestic market emerging who are now willing to spend their leisure locally. This customer segment broadly can be classified in to two groups; (1) Those who want ‘sophistication in the delivery’, at every point of contact from the time they ‘check-in’ to ‘check-out’ without and compromise and (2) Those who need simple solutions for their requirements for which they have got used to over the years and difficult to change or get themselves to adjust within the short time period spent in the hotel.
The staff of the hotels should be ready to accept the requirements of both segments willingly without any discrimination. In the process, at times, the staff may have to deviate from ‘scripted practices’ and create different types of ‘service experiences’ which each customer segment considers as ‘real value’ for money. Hence, certain terminologies may need to be modified. For an example having served some savoury items to the guest instead of asking, “Do you need some tomato ketchup?” you may ask “May I serve you a little tomato sauce?” Furthermore, instead of asking, “Can I bring the cheque?” just clarify, “May I bring the bill now?”
Such actions on our part entice respective customer segments to respond quite comfortably. Moreover, you may have to use the language that each customer segment is comfortable. Remember that language is there to express and not to impress.
In the marketing mix think of innovative ways of modifying and promoting the product. Identify the target segments as explained as above and think of ways and means of creating value for them.
They all may prefer our own; spicy food, traditional desserts made then and there, and real ‘kahata tea’. It is time for hotels to reiterate on things which they have done in the past like; ‘Yard Tea’ and ‘Ice Cream Kottu’ (both introduced by the Aitken Spence Hotel chain) and think on the same direction and now create many more items of that sort to suit the local palate.
Moreover, think of other extra value additions which can be included in the package that customers really wish to experience. Explore the possibilities of using some of our 333 railway stations, for customers to experience at least a short rail journey to discover varied beautiful and pictorial sceneries in the proximity of the hotel.
Furthermore, in attracting the domestic tourists, the hotels are of the view that this segment is interested only in the weekends and often such packages are offered from Friday night to Sunday lunch.
Realise, there are some other segments whom you could attract during the weekday; (a) Officers who compulsorily have to take their annual leave and in some entities who are even paying holiday allowances for their staff to rest, relax and rejuvenate so that the productivity is enhanced when they comeback (b) Senior citizens who are keen on visiting hotels, when it is less crowded, for them to have peace of mind. Whilst thinking of attracting the above two segments during the weekdays you may plan to arrange a few sessions such as meditation, yoga and Ayurvedic treatment, etc.
Similarly conducted tours may be arranged in and around the hotel to explain the history, give an intimate insight of the nature and the architecture involved in building the hotel. Furthermore, taking round the guest inside the hotel to show how the back offices such as kitchen, linen room and engineering function. The high standards maintained in such divisions will give the guest an assurance and appreciation of the effort put in by the staff as a whole to produce a quality finished product.
Condition the mindset to deliver a superior experience and win the ‘heart share’ of the local guests just like you did it to the foreigners. Under any circumstances do not discriminate locals thinking that ‘there is no need to serve domestic tourists in the same manner with which we usually serve the foreigners’.
The service staff have to downplay their ego when serving the domestic clientele. The staff should do away the misconception that ‘it is the big tip that matters to us when giving a superior service to our customers’.
Understand the fact that during the past decades, when we were faced with serious problems in attracting foreigners to the country, the domestic tourists are the ones who patronise the hotels and ensure the survival of the industry. The hotel authorities should give due emphasis to this factor and see to it that they treasure their domestic tourist also as an important stakeholder in their business at all times.
The staff of the hotels should be consistently trained so they know ‘what to do in a given circumstance’. However, today they need to practice something in addition to training; that is ‘service education’. In this, staff have to ‘think about how they can create more value by attuning their mindset and using the skillset’. Then the offering becomes more tailor-made, personalised, meaningful and memorable.
Get your staff to be more responsible and accountable in everything they do. Be cautious about cost effectiveness. Do not carry out any task which is not valued by the customer and be mindful of optimisation of the scares resources these days.
Despite the crisis, businesses have to function when there is a significant capital investment already made on hardware. Keep your options open for emerging market segments. Identify and anticipate what attracts them most and ‘create value’ accordingly.
In your industry it may be crucial to think about surviving during this tough time rather than thinking of earning big profits. Thereby, concentrating on ways and means of winning the ‘heart share’ of the customer through ‘high touch’ rather than ‘high tech’ can make the difference. Hence, the staff should be geared to serve local guests passionately at this crucial moment of time.
(The writer is a sought after ‘Service Excellence’ specialist in Sri Lanka. Over the last 25 years he has conducted nearly 3,000 inspirational and educational programs for over 750 organisations in 11 countries. His work can be seen at www.dhammikakalapuge.com)