It’s easy to understand that managing a hotel or running an airline isn’t easy. There are so many moving parts, so many aspects to master, so many things that can go wrong. But here’s one important thing to remember: most of the people who use airlines or hotels are doing so because of another reason, whether it’s a business trip or long-awaited holiday. To put it simply, no one really says: “I wonder where there’s a Comfort Inn we can stay at?” They say: “Let’s check out Barcelona this year.” Then they figure out which airline and hotels meet their business or personal needs and, possibly, loyalty plans.
Logically, it follows that hotels and airlines should have a vested interest in the quality of the destinations they’re based in (or fly to). It’s really just an extension of their product.
Levels of quality
We already think this way about so many other things. If you have superb hotel rooms, you want the lobby to match that level of quality. If you have a great airline, it’s more appealing to fly into a clean, well-organised airport. You don’t just want your customer’s experience to be amazing with you, then fall off the proverbial cliff the moment they leave your service area.
We know that if a business traveller has a good experience in a destination, that will be reflected in how they perceive it and will result in a better attitude, a good rating and word-of-mouth recommendations that increase the chances of going viral.
A destination doesn’t want travellers to return from their business trip, go into the office and say: “The hotel/flight was nice, but the city was dirty and overcrowded, and the service was awful just about everywhere.” Nor does a meetings and events manager want to hear that the venue was fantastic, but the surroundings were unwelcoming.
Hotels and airlines should be the loudest voices supporting quality management of destinations. They also have the most to gain or lose from a sub-par visitor experience. They are well placed to offer customer service expertise via training to a destination marketing organisation (DMO).
Meanwhile, larger TMCs with high numbers of repeat travellers could provide direct and continuous feedback – all the more relevant with the rise of “bleisure”.
There’s something strangely paradoxical about the aims of a DMO. The focus is on pushing for its destination to expand, often beyond when carrying capacity limits are reached.
Their mistake is thinking that if there are some empty hotel rooms or free slots at obscure museums, there’s more capacity. The reality is that capacity is reached when any of the “must-see” attractions are full or the beaches or historical areas are uncomfortably crowded during peak periods.
In particular, to maintain its attractiveness to business travellers and MICE organisers, a city shouldn’t be adding 20 new hotels and the airlines scheduling seven extra flights a week. There is a difference between sustainable growth and short-term success.
Here’s another way to look at it: imagine how awful it would be if a destination got 100 million visitors next year... I think we can agree no city could handle it. So how many visitors can a city handle in a good way? The correct answer isn’t “more than last year”, which is how most DMOs think.
Part of the problem is that there’s typically no organisation that hotels, airlines and even larger TMCs could talk to. DMOs are consumed with marketing, not management. They’re tackling the problem backwards; instead of a tourism minister or similar authority creating strategic body that handles this in a rational way, they’ve left it to the marketers.
Of course, travel buyers and MICE managers will just vote with their feet. If a city becomes difficult to visit for business travellers because of overcrowding, safety or just sub-standard cleanliness and service, duty-of-care issues arise.
Albert Einstein said: “You cannot simultaneously prevent and prepare for war.” Similarly, it’s hard for DMO marketers, who get a bonus for bringing in more visitors, to take a serious look at using their budgets on anything other than attracting more people, more hotels, more flights.
DMOs need to be in constant dialogue with hotels, airlines and other stakeholders to find out what keeps travellers engaged and what turns them away. If expansion comes at the expense of a destination’s reputation, then what’s the point?
Doug Lansky is an author, editor and speaker. He has written ten travel books and his work is regularly published in magazines and newspapers. He lectures at universities and events, introducing audiences to new insights and smart tourism concepts. douglansky.com