The tours, attractions, and activities (TAA) market is a competitive space. Everyone competes for a customer who has a limited amount of time, which fuels the need for strong and more effective marketing. While TAA businesses understand marketing, they may be less familiar with the customer journey and why a customer journey-centric strategy – particularly a digital one — is so important in today’s world.
The customer journey is generally thought of as “a lifetime relationship with a customer, from the moment the customer somehow becomes aware of your brand until – and sometimes even beyond – the time that the customer is no longer and will never be, a customer.” (Customer Journey Strategies Build Business Value and Foster Innovation, Phocuswright) A TAA customer journey today likely involves multiple digital touchpoints, from the initial trip planning to booking to arrival and even post-visit. Recent research has found that U.S. travelers use digital 71% of the time to research and plan, 79% to comparison shop, and 83% of the time to book. More and more, these points of the customer journey involve smartphones, with figures ranging from about one-third of all global travelers to nearly 100% (the Chinese) booking some or all of their trip through their phones. The digital customer journey is also fragmented, with different types of customers exhibiting different types of behavior preferences and device usage. Google has found that 94% of leisure travelers switch between devices as they plan or book a trip. In other words, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to reaching and influencing your customer.
And yet, many tours and attractions do not approach their marketing from an optimized digital customer journey point-of-view. In fact, many TAA businesses aren’t even wholly digitized, requiring, for instance, the redemption of printed paper ticket vouchers or only having the ability to take bookings through a desktop browser website. In 2019, these old school processes don’t place your business in its best light. They can discourage sales, frustrate guests, and lower their opinion of you. So, the purpose of this article is to help you better understand the impact of digital on your tour, activities, and attraction customer journey, what your customers expect, and how you can address these expectations to optimize the outcome for your customers and your business.
The Four Phases of the Tours and Attractions Customer Journey
To simplify this explanation, let’s think of TAA’s customer journey as four phases:
- Research & Booking
- Arrival/Redemption and On-site Customer Experience
In each of these phases, you have the ability to positively or negatively affect the customer’s impression of you and their experience with your product. Each impression and experience build on the next, with the sum total equating to how your customer winds up feeling about your brand.
In industry jargon, this first phase is sometimes called the “Path to Purchase.” For tours and attractions, the online customer journey may begin, for example, with a search engine, a travel search engine, a travel blog or travel publication, a travel review site, or a social media platform; the off-line customer journey may begin with a personal referral, a magazine article, a brochure or flyer, or a guidebook. In other words, you can’t count on the way your customer will first find you, but when they do, don’t you want what they learn and read about you to be consistent regardless of the channel?
Consistency is, therefore, one of the first factors you want to control for on the customer journey. You want to present a consistent brand message, brand positioning, and product offering so that you create less confusion in the customer’s mind and raise fewer red flags. One thing that raises red flags for customers is when they read mixed messages and see different prices on one website to the next, for instance, on Reseller A’s site versus Reseller B’s. Consistency eliminates questions and also helps to…
Build Trust. Trust is an essential element helping to close the sale, particularly when you’re not a household brand name. When images, prices, and descriptions all vary from one reseller or distributor website to the next, it weakens the consumer’s trust in the legitimacy of your product or deal. It causes the consumer to question if what s/he is looking at is the real thing or if they’re being somehow scammed. When the consumer has nothing to be suspicious about, it can have a positive effect on…
Minimized Customer Effort. When consistency and trust exist, the customer is less likely to feel the need to comparison shop (or do as much comparison shopping). This saves the consumer time, which isn’t only a precious commodity but in the world of fast answers are our fingertips, people are also just less patient these days.
Increased Inclination to Book (and possibly even to book direct): When the customer’s journey has gone smoothly to the point that they’re ready to buy, it’s already easier for them to pull the trigger. When sales are made faster, it increases your profitability – you don’t have to throw out a last-minute discount just to sell-out or sell more tickets, for example. One new product Redeam has created, our Online Check-In, allows timed attractions to sell more tickets through OTAs because the end customer doesn’t have to commit to a date or time at the time of purchase. “Anything I can do to motivate the customer to purchase now is a definite sale rather than a hope to sell later,” explains National Geographic Encounter at Times Square’s Director of Sales, David Filipiak. “It eliminates the big obstacle for the customer: commitment.”
Or, if you get customers to buy on your site directly, you save on reseller commission, a portion of which you could use to incentivize that customer to buy direct. For instance, offer a discount coupon off on-site merchandise or a free giveaway if they book with you right then and there. When it’s easier for the customer to buy, it also positively impacts their overall experience, which can have a likewise positive effect on their post-visit experience (more on that later). And faster sales can also help with…
Greater Insights for You: The faster the sale and reduced days-to-booking, the greater visibility into insights like pace and trends that can help you with your business. (You might find this related article about Yield Management also helpful) These insights can also be employed to help you attract, close, and provide better buying experiences to future prospective customers. In other words, when you see patterns and trends emerge, you get to learn more about how to improve your business.
Today’s tours and attractions consumers have post-booking expectations created by digital leaders like Amazon and learned behaviors these leaders have taught us. For instance, everyone expects to receive an email confirmation after placing an online order. Better email confirmations contain order details and a means to contact the provider if the consumer has a question or a need. Even better email confirmations may have images and offer tips and suggestions for the item purchased, upsell or cross-sell compatible items. And when it comes to travel-related bookings, as with airline mobile boarding straight-to-gate passes, more and more consumers expect some kind of mobile-enabled entrance pass.
TAAs can improve the post-booking/pre-arrival customer journey with:
- Paperless Tickets: Did you know that 38% of tour and activity bookings are made in-destination, either the same day or up to two days before the activity. If this is the case, why would you make your customer have the hassle of finding a way to print-out their ticket to your activity? Who goes on vacation and carries their printer? Consumers no longer have to print-out tickets to board a plane, get into a movie theater, or check-in at a hotel – they expect to use a mobile ticket — so don’t negatively affect their customer journey with the cumbersome requirement of a printed paper ticket.
- Advanced Communications: Pre-arrival communications have to be delivered prudently. No one wants tons of spammy, irrelevant offers for things they don’t need or want, but visitors to your attraction will welcome an email or two (like the sample below) that contains contextually useful and relevant, instructive information such as multi-modal directions to your location, parking options, recommendations for nearby local eateries, and other things in the area to do in the vicinity before or after their visit to you.
The big day arrives. Your customer comes to your activity filled with enthusiasm. This may be your one and only chance to truly interact with them, to make that “wow” impression. How they experience these first moments on this leg of their customer journey with you are more important than you think. Ask yourself these questions:
- How was our customer greeted?
- Did the customer see upfront what they expected? Did the image that we painted in their mind’s eye match their expectations?
- Did they come prepared? Did we do enough education ahead of time? Do they seem excited?
- How smooth was their check-in and redemption process? Was it so frictionless that they didn’t even notice, or did we make them stand in a long line or go to a different window just to get their experience started?
- Did we make our customers feel like rock stars? Could we have done even more to welcome them, like offer an expedited “fast pass” or VIP upgrade at the point of purchase?
- How well are we priming our customers in advance for in-experience cross-sells and upsells (like food and beverage, merchandise, photos, exclusive experiences) so we can increase our revenue-per-visitor numbers?
If the answers to these questions skew positive, it’s likely your customer is going to enter your tour or attraction ready to have a great experience. Then all you have to worry about is delivering it. But if your answers are weak, your customer may already be preparing to be disappointed, and that’s not what you want them to do. Set a strong stage and satisfy or exceed your customer’s expectations, and they’re bound to come away from the time they spent with you feeling good. Also encourage your customers to post their on-property experiences in real-time by having Selfie Stations or using pre-created hashtags so they can help do your marketing for you.
Your involvement with your customer’s journey doesn’t end at the end of their visit. Even if you have the kind of attraction they’ll only come to once in their lives, you still want to look for ways to further engage with them. Satisfied customers are your best brand ambassadors, so be sure to ask them to post an online review or share their photos with their friends on social media. Didn’t get them as a direct booking? Ask them for their email so they can learn about future happenings and be eligible for special promotions and discounts. Does your company operate in multiple cities? Hand your customer a coupon to redeem at another location. Want to encourage referrals? Start a pay-it-forward recommendation program that allows your customers to pass along discounts to their friends and family. Remember, your customer journey relationship only ends when that customer is no longer, and will never be, a customer. Give them a chance to re-engage with you and your brand, and you just may be surprised at what that does for your bottom line.
A special thanks to David Filipiak, Director of Sales, National Geographic Encounter | Times Square — Where visitors get to explore a virtual ocean in Times Square without getting wet! – for his contributions to this article.
Redeam is a five-time award-winning Boulder, CO-based global technology company that dramatically improves tours and activities businesses by enabling a better digital customer experience, eliminating operational headaches and helping clients grow both revenue and number of sales channels through advanced features like channel and yield management. By utilizing Redeam’s technology, clients can easily process a scannable mobile ticket and eliminate the costly, antiquated, all-too-common practice of manually accepting, sorting and counting paper tickets—a practice that leads to lost revenue due to fraud, long lines, and bad online reviews. For its innovative solutions, Redeam has won such awards as the 2017 Phocuswright Award for Travel Innovation and 2018 Future Travel Experience Startup Competition Winner. The company works with hundreds of resellers and serves thousands of suppliers globally, including one of the world’s largest attraction theme parks, major event venues and boat tours, some of the world’s most-visited museums, and attractions like CitySightseeing/Gray Line New York, Ripley’s Believe It or Not, National Geographic Encounter: Ocean Odyssey, and the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum.
Melanie Ryan Meador is CEO and President of Redeam. She is a travel industry veteran having spent 20+ years in hospitality and online travel prior to joining Redeam in June 2018.