In the hospitality industry many hotels focus on “service design” to ensure that each guest’s expectations are met. In the same sense, DMOs need to start thinking about “experience” design. Why? Because experiences are the foundation of tourism. Each experience a visitor has while visiting affects the image of a tourism destination as a whole.
What makes experience design even more important is that in today’s ever-connected world, travelers are sharing their experiences like never before – and they’re sharing in real time. Additionally, the interactions they have on social media while traveling have become part of the overall experience. Online activities have become a part of the offline experience. Whether it is getting immediate responses to complaints, connecting with fellow travelers through Twitter or bragging about their trip using over-filtered Instagram photos – all of these online activities have become a part of the offline experience.
So how does a DMO go about designing the destination experience? How does a DMO shape (or even create) experiences when it doesn’t directly control the product and services provided by attractions, events, restaurants or hotels?
There are several ways a DMO can directly influence the experience visitors have at a destination. Here are three:
1. Create new experiences
As you might know, “Virginia is for Lovers” is a theme Virginia Tourism embraces with its LOVE (#LoveVA) campaign. The state tourism office partnered with regional destinations and individual service providers across the state to have the word LOVE pop up in many different and unexpected places, including rest stops, historical sites and theme parks. The design and location of the letters successfully captured the interest of travelers, while associated signs encouraged people to share the love on Facebook and Twitter using the #LoveVA hashtag. This approach not only helped Virginia Tourism engage with people on the ground, but also generated a robust asset library of visitor photos.
Additionally, the campaign effectively leveraged partners to help “spread the love” by encouraging them to create and display custom LOVEwork sculptures, specific to their business/product. For example, the Richmond International Raceway created a LOVEwork sculpture out of tires, sheet metal and helmets, while Primeland Resort created LOVE using nearly 2,000 golf balls. Virginia Tourism recognized that being consistent with the LOVE campaign elements, supported by key messaging points and images across all forms of communication was vitally important to strengthening the brand. For that reason, they supplied all partners with a brand toolkit that included examples of correct and incorrect messaging, ways to incorporate the campaign into marketing strategies, brand guidelines for images and a logo asset library. They also incentivized partners to participate by awarding up to 20 points to the VTC Marketing Leverage Program applicants (a tourism funding partnership created to extend the LOVE campaign) that effectively incorporated the LOVE campaign.
Do you think visitors to Virginia experienced a lot of LOVE all over the state? If their social sharing was any indication, the answer is a resounding yes.
2. Be an experience matchmaker
Any traveler will have a better experience if they get recommendations for things to do, sights to see or restaurants to visit that match their interests and preferences.
Back in 2009, Travel Portland demonstrated how destinations can leverage social media conversations to help create holistic experiences by connecting Portland visitors with locals who could answer questions and help plan trips (full disclosure: we worked with Travel Portland on this concept and are still working with them). The idea was to crowdsource itinerary suggestions and travel tips through social media by creating a Twisitor Center. The virtual visitor center allowed users to direct travel questions to local experts by adding the campaign hashtag #inPDX to their tweets and get answers from other Twitter users. The #inPDX hashtag was not only successful in connecting Travel Portland with current and future visitors, but also in expanding two-way, online conversations into open forums with interested locals, other visitors and Travel Portland partners.
As a result, Portland visitors have been provided customized recommendations from local experts and fellow travelers. These uniquely Portland experiences were then shared on social channels, expanding the reach of the campaign and creating awareness about Portland as a personalized and authentic destination.
Is anybody not on Twitter? Map of official DMO Twitter accounts (Twisitorcenter.com)
3. Deliver obsessive customer service
KLM became a leader in the social customer service field following the 2010 eruption of Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull. The eruption resulted in canceled flights and thousands of stranded passengers. When passengers turned to social media for help, KLM was ready, successfully employing its social channels to quickly respond to inquiries, redirect passengers to other means of travel and ultimately protect the KLM brand image. KLM’s social service approach not only demonstrated how social media can be used to avert a crisis, but also changed how KLM handles customer service. Social media is now at the center of KLM’s customer service efforts, and they are continually setting the standard for social media response rate. It is the airline’s goal to reduce response rate to one hour and have all major issues resolved within 24 hours when dealing with customer posts and tweets. The company even introduced an estimated service response time to its Twitter account header photo, which is updated every five minutes. DMOs and CVBs can learn a great deal from KLM’s online customer service tactics and from its dedication to social service.
Why does it matter? Today, how customers are treated online impacts their experience almost as much as how they’re treated offline. Show your visitors that you care, and show them with sincerity that you want them to have the best possible time – that in itself will make their visit a better experience for them.
Martin Stoll is the CEO of Sparkloft Media, a social media agency specializing in the travel and tourism industry. To learn more about experience design and Sparkloft Media, visit sparkloftmedia.com.