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January 17, 2019

Customer experience for tourists

Tourists arrive at the Moi International airport, Mombasa on January 8. /JOHN CHESOLI
Tourists arrive at the Moi International airport, Mombasa on January 8. /JOHN CHESOLI

It’s all change on the regional tourism front with Kenya emerging undisrupted (we hope) from elections. Tanzanian tourism is delivering much less value for money thanks to ill-considered presidential interference in levies. And in Uganda, an entrepreneurial sector continues to develop adventurous holiday options.

Macro-economic factors impact on the visitors’ perceptions of the tourism experience. It’s hard to address them, because tourism operators are limited to lobbying. But there are many aspects of the customer experience that they can address. Customer experience in a marketing sense – the delivery of brand against promise – is now becoming a top priority.

No wonder, as many companies in the travel industry, particularly airlines, consistently rank in the lower levels of customer satisfaction league tables. Many tourism promises are generic, following category norms. (Have you ever seen a Safari website without the obligatory leaping Maasai?)

Poor customer experience on arrival and during the stay does significant damage to tourism brands. Social media has shifted power to the customer enabling them to hold any business to a new standard of performance. Tourist expectations are not static but change due to the broader influence of online properties like Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Uber and Airbnb.

Clearly you need to evolve customer experience at the right pace. Tourists, like any customer, will want you to fix the basics before you start getting clever with sophisticated features. But if you are confident your tourism business does the basic brilliantly, you can think about building additional value.

You’ll need a clear vision - I prefer to call this business purpose - which defines what your business is going to win at. For too many businesses their purpose is simply to participate in the tourism category and hope for their share of the cake.

You’ll need to envision how your business should fit  into your customers’ lives, and then you’ll have to bring this to life for your staff.

Last week in Dar es Salaam, I reacquainted myself with the Southern Sun Hotel (formerly a very well delivered Holiday Inn). With the brand change has come a significant upgrade in the look and feel of the hotel. The menus are a lot better.

But what has changed is the behaviour of the staff. In Holiday Inn days, they were always kind and courteous, but you got the clear impression that Tanzanians were being pressed into an uncomfortable South African mould. Now there seems to be far more staff around, they are almost all Tanzanian, and they are all busy delivering their own interpretation of personal service.

Great customer experience encourages customers to stay with you longer and purchase again and again. And to become advocates for your tourism business.

Chris Harrison leads The Brand Inside

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