These days, travellers do not vote only with their feet when dissatisfied with the quality of service they receive. They also vote with their fingers, sharing stories of their experience with friends and posting messages on social media. By Brett Hendricks.
Millennials, in particular, have become accustomed to rating everything – accommodation, transport, food and beverages. And the potential for an incident of poor service to be captured on video and end up trending on social media is huge, with damaging consequences for the business. But this cuts both ways.
When people receive excellent service, they often share this among their friends and social media channels, potentially influencing them to try out the experience, be it a new restaurant or a visit to another country. They also leave glowing reviews on travel advice websites such as TripAdvisor and Lonely Planet.
More tourists have been visiting South Africa this year than last, with large growth being posted in visitors from Asia and the Middle East. These overseas visitors travel thousands of kilometres and spend large sums of money to come to our country, and rightly expect that they will be welcomed warmly and treated to a memorable experience.
Delivering high-quality service, therefore, should be our number one priority. And if we get it right, it will serve as the base for future growth in tourism as a whole. This is especially important for businesses in long-haul destinations such as South Africa because one bad experience can dissuade a potential traveller from making the investment in time and money to travel such a great distance.
Often, whenever the topic of service quality is brought up, a common response from tourism businesses is that we do not have the right calibre of people working in the sector. Or that the country has a shortage of skills. This is true to some extent. But service excellence is not something we are born with. It has to be taught – and skills have to be developed.
Tourism employs large numbers of unskilled or low-skilled people, and their work affects the quality of the customer experience. It is in our best interests as businesses to see the investment in up-skilling such people as an investment in the future profitability of the tourism sector and our own businesses. That simple change to how we think about it will put us in a frame of mind to treat investments in training and skills development as we would any other investment.
That is to say that we should expect it to generate some kind of future economic or financial return. And we should have in place the systems to monitor the performance of our training and skills development programmes so that we can make changes if the outcomes are not what we anticipated.
I have seen some excellent training and skills development programmes, especially in the hospitality sector. Many of these are run by large tourism businesses that have the resources to invest in such programmes. I would like to see businesses that run effective programmes develop partnerships with smaller tourism businesses to help them up-skill their employees.
The tourism eco-system in this country is such that no business, no matter how big, can claim to be completely immune from the effects of poor service elsewhere in the value chain. As I said earlier, one bad service experience can put off a traveller from returning to the country, or from recommending that others visit, with knock-on effects for every tourism business in South Africa.
We want the tourists who will be visiting our shores in 2017 to come back again. We want them to become ambassadors for tourism in South Africa. And the only way we can do this is if we ensure that their entire stay in the country is the best and most worthwhile that it can be.
About the Author: Brett Hendricks is the General Manager of the Thebe Tourism Group. For more information visit Thebe.co.za
This article was first published by Tourism Tattler on 10 January 2017.