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Visitor Touch Points 2.0

By Jill Vandal, Partner, the Tourism Company

Whether you are a community, attraction, lodge owner or park, visitor touch points have a whole new meaning in 2020.

When we think of visitor touch points, usually we mean what some call visitor journey mapping as customers dream, plan, book, visit and share their experience with others. That’s a lot of time for a business to have an impact on a potential guest before, during and after their visit.

Let’s take a fresh look at considerations and inspiration to move beyond sterile health and safety measures to a more customized and human visitor journey as the world adjusts to COVID-19.

A four-step process, outline below, will help guide your thinking. It assumes that as a starting point you are aware of and follow all industry-specific health and safety protocols.

1. Assume you are starting a new business and need to start from scratch. Because you are. This approach will help open up some creativity and renewal.

2. Identify and understand your new and returning guests to customise the experience and the message. What new types of visitors are you expecting or targeting? Are you used to adult-only fishing parties and now want to attract family bubbles? Are you positioned to attract visitors from the UK or Germany, who needed to know how to get from the airport to your operation, but now want guests from the community next door? Are you an event, attraction or hotel that locals haven’t been to since high school?

Different needs, different reference points, different perceptions and misperceptions, different questions and concerns.

3. Layer in site, community or operation specific reference points, tone and language to match customer’s profile and reflect your brand. Invest in time to move from sterile to personal.

4. Communicate what you expect from your visitors and what they can expect from you.

We are going to focus on the first two stage of visitor touch points – before the visit and during the visit.

Visitor Touch Points 2.0: BEFORE the Visit

Let’s now look at the ‘before’ part of the journey, starting with communities.

Day trippers from urban areas looking for a day at the beach are getting different messages from different communities. Some very clearly say ‘don’t come’. Others use a softer approach. And some communities have no mention of COVID at all. Which is confusing.

Revelstoke, BC uses a combination of COVID-specific updates and ‘plan on visiting when you can’ messages.

Three things they do well with a call to action at for each step:

1. We’re busy preparing and can’t wait. Visit virtually.

2. Here is a list of what is open, opening soon, not open. This list is updated regularly and helps to manage expectations. The call to action is Plan your Visit.

3. An option to receive email updates on reopening. Sign up now.

Does your community need to make adjustments to its messaging? What about public washrooms - are they open? How can Visitor Information Services be further customized and delivered? What amenities are open and closed in your community?

And now on to some business examples.

Hockley Valley Resort targets near-by guests with messaging that includes ‘No planes. No trains. Just an automobile. Rejoice! Replenish your soul and feel renewed. No airports, no stations, no crowds, just an escape. It’s how we make you feel.’ They know people need an escape.

Chambar Restaurant in downtown Vancouver has posted a 1 minute 10 second video title

#thenewnormal to lay out what to expect. What it does well is showing their setting, with their staff, rather than a generic list of ‘here’s what we are doing’. Messaging includes an invitation - ‘We invite those who share our values to come together and share sustenance with the people you appreciate the most.’ The lead in song to the video includes Welcome Back theme song from Welcome Back, Kotter. The tone suits the casual theme of the restaurant.

Sandals Resorts has posted a 3:40 minute video highlighting their Platinum Protocols of Cleanliness showing their sites, their staff, and their services. It reflects a strong link to being a romantic destination for couples that has not changed. Like Chambar, it shows all of their guest areas, so of course the video is longer. But the music, mood and tone all differ and line up with their brand.

Winnipeg Art Gallery, open since mid-May does a great job of addressing questions with their responses included in the Reopening Protocols page, making it very easy to get some common questions quickly answered without having to go to another page.

In each of those cases, the messaging is clear, customized to what their new and returning customers need to know and goes beyond the sterile to deliver their messages on brand.

An interesting insight from China as it reopens from a recent McKinsey article – young and non-family visitors, under 30 year old are the first to travel. Are you in their social media channels? If not, you will need to re-tailor your messaging, both content and channels used.

Visitor Touch Points 2.0: DURING the Visit

Applying the four-step process to ‘during the visit’ phase of the customer journey will keep you focused on the needs of new and returning customers. To review:

1. Start from scratch.

2. Identify and understand customers.

3. Layer in site, operation and community-specific touches to meet customer needs and reflect brand.

4. Communicate expectations.

The biggest opportunity here is the site-specific touches and shifts in operations that will differentiate you from others as you customise your offer and make it more human.

To start, take a fresh look at what you now offer. Does it meet new guests needs? What elements of your offer needs adjusting? How can you make health and safety needs more visitor friendly and less sterile?

Michelin star restaurant at The Inn at Little Washington, a Relais & Chateaux in Virginia in the Blue Ridge Mountains is filling up half its dining room with mannequins. Each table has a lampshade over it and if tables were removed to meet new spacing requirements, they were worried that people would bump into them. Working with a local theatrical company, mannequins were dressed in period costumes to reflect the look, feel and brand of the restaurant. Spacing requirements between tables are now met with a solution that is on brand, matches the owner’s interests and creates a story to tell.

Windstar Cruises Wave Operators of the world’s largest sailing yachts, note that Onboard functions will be conducted without handshakes by our officers and crew, but do look out for our new “Windstar Wave.” Working together, we’ll keep ourselves and people in the communities we visit healthy.” A customized approach to greetings.

Some other approaches to creating a safe, engaging visitor experience are outlined below.

Create or refine experiences by using built and outdoor spaces in new ways for visitor experiences that typically haven’t been used in the past:

- Lobbies, porches, decks for micro concerts, small group happy hour or family activity.

- Theater performances with guests watching from circles of cars surrounding it in parking lots.

· Barge parties (with the barge dressed up of course) for floating cocktail party or dinner for 2, 4 or 6.

In each of these examples, these experiences are satisfying the need to stay apart, but feel like and are premium experiences that pent up demand will pay more for.

Reimagine your site to create welcoming spaces indoor and out:

- Landscaping that helps to create pods for small groups

- Comfortable chairs, couches, lighting in layouts that encourage distancing

Tie in experiences and adjusted touch points with you and your local story as much as possible:

- Use hand sanitizer made by local distillery, soaps from area

- Is there a story/style/branding for face coverings? Who makes them?

- What is the fabric, colours, formal or informal style to match your brand?

- Sandals face coverings all have the Sandals logo on them, and colours to match their uniform, that are upscale, professional to match brand.

- The Little Inn at Washington has created custom-made masks bearing Marilyn Monroe smiles and George Washington chins.

- Disney, of course, has Mickey and Minnie Mouse masks. Fun, child focused. On brand.

- Customize plexiglass shields to be on brand.

- Provide alternate devices for entry of PIN numbers, if needed, at payment stations. Ice cream shop? What about branded disposable popsicle sticks? Or a branded stylus the customer can keep?

As you layer in and customize the experience and messaging, pay attention to language, both words and tone as well as visuals and materials used. In all cases, start first with health and safety needs, then layer in the customization that suits your operation and brand.

· Language:

o Jeff Alpaugh Custom, a Fredericton-based shirt company that has swiveled to face masks uses face wraps, face apparel, face protection, rather than masks.

o ‘Barnside Bundles’ reflect the core business at Springridge Farm, an agritourism operation and mixes things up to meet customer’s needs. For example, their Father’s Day Bundle include jams, BBQ sauce pickles and more.

· Signage:

o What images and materials can you use that resonate with customers and reflects your brand? For example, to reinforce distances to stay apart, illustrate, what about 3 good sized walleyes, 2 ski poles or 2 club lengths apart?

o Sandals Resorts stay focused on being a romantic couple resort: ‘Our love knows these bounds’ to remind couples to stay apart.

o Invest in professional signs.

To wrap up, invest in the time and effort to move to Visitor Touch Points 2.0 by:

1. Starting from scratch

2. Understanding your customers

3. Layering in customization

4. Communicating expectations

Your new and returning guests will thank you.

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