FIRST IMPRESSIONS A FIRST PRIORITY

Arrivals

First impressions are critical, especially in travel and tourism, where meeting new people in new places is part of the joy of the journey of discovery. The immigration personnel and their processes need to be part of a destination’s welcoming committee.

Every day of the year, the Trafalgar team and I work tirelessly to promote travel and tourism. Our time, energy, money and focus are dedicated to enticing travellers to visit and discover new places. Despondently, there is one moment that can bring all of the excitement of travel to a painful halt: arrival into the Immigration Hall at an airport.

This painful reality was made vividly clear to me last Saturday evening when I arrived at London’s Heathrow Airport from New Zealand, followed by my cousin’s arrival at Heathrow from South Africa on Sunday morning. Both of us had to wait over two hours in line to go through immigration, which gave me plenty of time to mull this over. What I find baffling is that this exact moment of frustration is often a traveller’s first impression of a destination. The immigration hall is the first time that, once arriving into the country, contact is made with locals. This is where the promise of tourism marketing starts to be delivered… or not.

Knowing this, what should be a warm welcome often becomes a cold questioning of character. Staffing for arrivals cannot be that complicated. And these stern questions: Why are you here? Where are you staying? and When are you leaving? Is it possible to be any more unwelcoming?

Border control is of course an essential means of protecting citizens, and visitors. That is understood. The ‘why’ is not the issue – it’s the ‘how’.

If nations strive to make visitors feel welcome, training must be available to airport staff – immigration, customs, etc. – to fulfill their responsibilities, by looking at numbers and greeting travellers with a smile and a sense of pleasure. Even at London Heathrow airport, the world’s busiest international airport, it is possible. We saw and felt it during the 2012 Olympic Games. The airport experience was a smooth, swift, seamless and welcoming delight.

It can’t be that difficult to schedule teams around aircraft arrivals – after all, they always arrive announced, one knows how many travellers there are in every aircraft and they even know their citizenship.

First impressions are critical, especially in travel and tourism, where meeting new people in new places is part of the joy of the journey of discovery. The immigration personnel and their processes need to be part of a destination’s welcoming committee. This vital aspect of delivery of promise should always be a first priority of tourism authorities. There should be no second-guessing this global truism of travel.

As many unfortunate examples as there are in our travel world, there are examples of how to get it right, and keep it that way.

What have your experiences been? How would you improve the arrivals at airport immigration?

TOUCH versus TECHNOLOGY

Travel Makes You Richer

“her passion for her country was both refreshing and knowledgeable and she added so much to the enjoyment of the holiday experience. It was a holiday that we could have ever imagined”

Over the last few weeks, I have been thinking more and more about what we gain from technology. Mobile phones. Tablets. Laptops. 24/7/365 connectivity. It is simply remarkable how technology has entered (as well as often invaded) all areas of our daily lives. Literally with one click we can reach almost anyone, find information on what we need, from almost anywhere, almost any time.

For those of us in the travel industry, technology continues to have a huge impact on not only how we do business, but also how travellers travel. Travel e-commerce is evolving at ever accelerating speeds. And with it, holiday decision-making is changing too and through technology we are finding a new world of travel. The concern is that both agents and suppliers are focusing on this channel, investing huge amounts to attract customers to their sites, with price as the primary differentiator.
What more could a traveller ask for?

What more, indeed.

What seems to be lost is why we travel in the first place. What about the ability to enjoy, stretch back, relax, and soak up all of the feeling of holiday rest, relaxation, and exploration dreamt of? What about the peace of mind that comes from knowing that all of the little things that take the big hassles out of getting from A to B and onto C are taken care of? What about the delight of discovering the little insights that only an insider – someone who knows and loves the destination – can share? And what about the moments of magic created for travellers that could never be known and planned by the traveller himself or herself.

And so importantly, what about the power of touch?

This is why guided holidays are so important as a travel choice. And so valued by travellers.

This morning, the first letter on my desk, following a whirl wind trip to Perth Australia, was once again a reiteration and reminder for me. It came from a very happy Australian guest who had recently traveled on one of our Trafalgar European trips. He is a self-professed experienced traveller. In addition to the complements that this client could not stop extending about the “quality of their journey, the attention to detail and the exceptional service”, he also could not stop complementing his travel director: “her passion for her country was both refreshing and knowledgeable and she added so much to the enjoyment of the holiday experience. It was a holiday that we could have ever imagined

Needless to say, client letters like these are an important reminder to us of the significance of what we do, directly, client by client. For all of the changes to our industry, the more technology out there, in fact the more we need touch. Travel is not about seeing the world has to photograph, it is about feeling all that the world has to share.

While clients may turn to the digital revolution to plan and book their trips, because they have instant access to supplier information and virtual price transparency. We cannot loose focus that the only variable that truly matters is the need to deliver an outstanding customer experience – the details, moments, and personal connections that turn a holiday into a lifelong memory.