Just about everyone in tourism likes to think of themselves as part of the “hospitality” family. That’s a good thing. It should be part of our DNA. For as long as people have travelled, they have been understandably anxious about arriving in new places and their hosts want to make them feel welcome.
Research from Trip Advisor backs this up. The most “excited” moment for travellers is the arrival. And we know that you only get one chance to make a first impression. So, how do we welcome guests?
1. Make them stand in a queue for customs
2. Have them looked over suspiciously and questioned by a customs officer
3. Let them wait for luggage
4. Direct them into the unsecure section of the airport where there’s often a large crowd of people who look at them with disappointment that they weren’t the person they were waiting for.
This is part of every traveller’s journey. Is this the best we can do?
One of the most famous visitor greeting trends was started in Hawaii where everyone would have a traditional Hawaiian flower lai placed around their neck upon arrival. This is still possible today in Hawaii, but you have to book the service in advance and pay for it (US$27-$52 per lei at leigreeting.com). It doesn’t have quite the same appeal, does it? You’re basically paying to welcome yourself.
Some Caribbean islands serve up a steel-drum band, which can add to that powerful moment when visitors step off the plane in December and feel the sun on their face for the first time in months.
Nashville understands that music is at the core of their visitor experience. Therefore it makes perfect sense to welcome 10 million annual visitors and bid them farewell with a taste of that city’s famous music. Nashville International Airport (with funding from Metropolitan Nashville Airport Authority and the Tennessee Arts Commission) started offering live music in 1988, then expanded the programme in 2001. There are now four live music stages in the terminal that host between 80 to 100 bands throughout the year. Initiatives like these can also tempt business travellers to return with friends and family.
Geneva has taken an interesting approach. It offers a free ride into to town for visitors. Geneva Tourism and the local hotel association sponsor free train tickets from the airport to the city. There’s a special button on the train ticket machine that delivers a free ticket for tourists to get to town. It gets you from the airport to your accommodation on public transport and is valid for 80 minutes. And the generous welcome doesn’t stop there.
Once visitors check into to their hotel, the former £10-per-day public-transport pass remains free as long as visitors stay at one of Geneva’s hotels, hostels, or camp sites. Bike rental? Free.
It’s an impressive offer, especially when you consider the high-speed Heathrow express costs £27 for a one-way, walk-on ticket and visitors to New York typically pay at least US$8 for a rail connection or US$40-$90 for a taxi, depending on the airport.
The Geneva offer also takes into account the growing trend for meetings & events organisers to source destinations and venues that can accommodate families.
I have arrived in Newark with my family from Europe on several occasions. My Swedish doctor wife – standing beside me and our three children with US passports – would have to fill out a form swearing that she was not a terrorist before being fingerprinted. It gave us all the chills and made me feel rather ashamed.
What a lost opportunity. How hard would it be for Newark International Airport or Brand USA to team up with a sponsor and provide a simple welcome? They could play Born in the USA and other iconic tunes and have smiling, staff handing out free Coke and water before people get in the queue for customs. “Welcome to America,” they would say.
If an airport wanted to go high-tech, here’s a free idea. Passengers who had claimed their luggage would scan their ticket before leaving the secure area. Then as the doors opened, a camera would take their photo and display it on a big TV screen “Welcome [Name of passenger]”. If they wanted to take it a step further, another camera could capture them from behind looking up at their welcome photo on the big TV and email it to them for easy social media sharing.
Top hotels and restaurants excel at welcoming guests. Why not harness this know-how and turn a wasted moment into a highlight?
Doug Lansky is an author, editor and speaker. He has visited 120 countries, written ten travel books and his work has been widely published in magazines and newspapers. Lansky lectures at leading universities and top-tier events, introducing audiences to new insights and smart tourism concepts. His website is at douglansky.com