Bespoke Holidays and the Invisible Tourist

First published Thursday, December 19, 2013

Today I have been to the Wales Tourism Alliance Quarterly meeting, held on this occasion at The Metropole Hotel in Llandrindod Wells. There have of course been a number of items discussed through the course of the meeting from a round up of trade trends across the country, to a tender issued by Welsh Government for Tourism Industry Communication and Representation (more on that in another post!). However there were a couple of other comments that stood out and got me thinking about a range of things, namely the expectation of the consumer to have ‘bespoke holidays’ and the rise of the ‘invisible tourist’.

Bespoke Holidays. What do we mean by that? Everyone is familiar with the idea of the package holiday, and whilst for many tourism operators throughout Wales, offering true package holidays is difficult due to current legislation, there is an increasing desire to work with other providers to group holiday elements together for the consumer. This leads nicely into the idea of the bespoke holiday. Today’s consumer is increasingly cost conscious, but also has ever increasing expectations. Value for money is important, as is the value and impact of the experience as a whole. The visitor wants to feel special, valued, and that they have been able to tailor their experiences to meet their demands and needs. As such simply offering a standard holiday offer may soon not be enough.

Now, many of our member businesses, and others throughout the county and beyond are already doing all they can to go the extra mile for the visitor. Provision of locally sourced foods, readily available information on things to do in the area and so on are becoming key ‘hits’ for the visitor when searching for a holiday. However there is an increasing expectation to go beyond that. Whilst providing information on where to go is one thing, visitors are beginning to demand more again, and view their accommodation provider as their personal holiday planner, asking for assistance with constructing an itinerary and more.

For the business, this will mean investing more time and effort in the visitor experience. A short conversation over breakfast with suggestions for the day is one thing, actually producing a planned itinerary based on the visitor preference is something else again. It may be that by asking a couple of extra questions when taking a booking can assist with some of this e.g. party size, ages, interests and so on, however it still takes time to develop and plan out. Local knowledge on behalf of the business owner and staff is therefore also going to be crucial, and again time needs to be invested in developing this.

On the other hand, there is also an increase in the ‘invisible tourist’. This is the person who books their accommodation on line, is seen briefly at the reception desk when they check in and collect their room key, and then is pretty much not seen beyond that. Yes they may appear at the breakfast table, but avoids contact and conversation as they are busy with their smart phone or tablet, they probably eat out elsewhere, and again will have minimal interaction when checking out. Catering to the needs of this visitor is approaching impossible in some ways as there is no way to gauge what they want, what they expect or what their experiences have been. You may get a clue after they’ve gone, if they leave a review or comment on sites like Trip Advisor, but even then you may still not be able to easily identify them.

The challenges in some ways for both the bespoke holiday visitor and the invisible tourist are the same; somehow the tourism operator has to adapt to the expectation and demands of the visitor. On one hand you have the customer who wants tailored and specific information appropriate to them, and on the other, a customer who wants as little interaction as humanly possible, but will still want to have their demands and expectations met.

The new year will bring this challenge and no doubt many more. The key will be how proactive a business can be in meeting expectations and perhaps more critically, how much they can guide the visitor through the provision of services and experiences that meet and exceed expectations. The saying ‘if I build it, then they will come’ is at best controversial, and hugely arrogant, however if a business can offer a well thought through and soundly researched service and product, they will fare better than those who chose to continue doing the same things the same way as they always have done.

The world is changing, as is the consumer. Tourism businesses of today will have to work smarter and work sharper to survive and thrive in the future.

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