2B: Taking a Quality-Led Approach
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This section looks at how to achieve quality in all aspects of a visitor’s experience. It looks at the definitions of quality and the purpose of quality programmes in destination management. It goes on to look at:
- how a quality programme should encompass all the main influences on visitor choice
- setting up a quality strategy and plan
- the different systems and schemes for rating quality
- the increasing importance of accolades and of user-generated content.
Quality is a key driver of success for specific products, services, and entire destinations. Consumer expectations are higher than ever before. Visitors expect quality in all aspects of their holiday experience and are increasingly vocal when they experience poor quality.
Success can be measured by how much the achievement of better quality contributes to competitiveness, with benefits for visitors, businesses, the local community and the environment.
An enhanced quality of offer can result in better:
- value for money
- trust in the brand
- destination distinctiveness.
This can be achieved through:
- triggering recommendations to friends and family
- prompting repeat business
- encouraging cross-selling and up-selling
- reflecting and building the brand’s values – thus making the promotional spend more effective.
Quality means "doing what it says on the tin". This can include:
- providing specific facilities
- achieving specific standards of service in their delivery
- clearly communicating this level of facilities and service to the customer in advance, so that the customer gets something that meets their expectations.
Usually, all the businesses in the destination are interdependent in delivering a quality experience for the visitor, including those public agencies providing services in the public realm. A destination quality programme therefore needs to take a holistic approach and not focus only on one aspect (for example star ratings).
The role of the Destination Management Organisation (DMO) is to monitor quality levels across all aspects of a destination and to help businesses achieve customer satisfaction. This can be achieved by:
- meeting or exceeding customer expectations based on what has been communicated before the visit
- providing value for money (whatever the price).
As in any area of tourism, the focus should be on outputs (business gained and retained) rather than inputs (such as star ratings and training). Section 3 Destination Monitoring gives more details about measuring and monitoring inputs and outputs.
Delivery of the right product and good service is largely dependent on staff skills. Destinations should work with their regional tourism bodies to agree a quality programme that includes the introduction of benchmarks, delivery of training, and measurement of outputs. More information is available in 2C: Skills and Workforce Development.
The continuing professional development of destination managers should not be neglected either. The Tourism Management Institute has information on Continuing Professional Development (CPD).
Customer satisfaction starts with the customer making the right choice based on available information. A quality programme should encompass all the main influences on choice, as outlined below.
Recommendations come from:
- friends and relations
- online social networks which may comprise friends and relations but are much more likely to be composed of trusted peer groups
- independent ratings such as:
- official star ratings – the harmonised standards of VisitBritain, VisitScotland, Visit Wales and the AA
- corporate ratings (set by the owner or by a tour operator)
- commercial guides that select their entries on merit, such as Michelin.
Trust influences consumers into buying a brand they know. This may be the destination itself, or the brand of the business concerned.
The brand influence may not involve much, or any, specific new information at the time of purchase, so for DMOs the track record of their destination is a fundamental concern in achieving worthwhile outputs from the quality programme.
Research and the gathering of information are a key factor in decision making. The depth, breadth and presentation of the information made public should be an integral part of every business’s quality rating assessment process. Information is usually collected by the customer from several sources:
- direct from the producer
- from travel intermediaries
- from local, regional and national tourist offices.
In all cases, the quantity and quality of the information available on the web continues to grow fast. Large amounts of editorial text, data and visual elements are now expected. In particular, video clips are increasingly the norm as part of information delivery.
A destination quality strategy should:
- enable visitors to select quality options that will meet or exceed their needs and expectations
- stimulate and support businesses to understand and improve the quality of their service
- stimulate investment in service and facilities
- build local distinctiveness and authenticity
- achieve core common service standards across the whole destination, irrespective of the type of business.
Through these activities, the quality strategy should build a long-term position as a trusted brand – for Britain and the destination – and contribute to improved profitability.
The following steps should be followed to set up a destination’s action plan for quality.
- Identify and prioritise the needs of each of the destination’s main market segments. Do not use a "one size fits all" approach.
- Identify gaps between requirements and current delivery, segment by segment and service by service.
- Develop and improve industry skills and business practices, jointly with skills partners by:
- promoting the services of the region’s tourism skills network
- promoting the Tourism Customer Service Training courses (www.welcometoexcellence.co.uk)
- using Business Link reviews and tourist board or AA assessment visits to diagnose training and development needs
- using benchmarking and best practice advice
- providing marketing advice.
- Promote the national accessibility and green tourism cross-sector assessment schemes to businesses.
- Promote each of the quality ratings and accolades that businesses achieve that is relevant to the destination’s market segments. Do not limit this to the star rating schemes.
- Complaints: set up a system for dealing with complaints and take an active role in handling them – promptly resolved complaints can lead to repeat bookings, and all complaints provide insights into training and development needs.
Destinations should set targets for inputs and for outputs (results).
Input measurements could include:
- percentage of known stock that is in a recognised quality rating scheme
- percentage of national-brand businesses in a recognised quality rating scheme
- percentage of businesses achieving various levels of star ratings
- proportions of businesses and attractions receiving accolades
- proportion of businesses and number of persons participating in formal training
- proportion of businesses requesting and receiving business advice
- complaint resolution speed and quality.
Output measurements should include (annual or continuous online surveys may be the most efficient way to gather this data):
- customer satisfaction levels
- number and type of complaints received
- proportion of customers making repeat visits and recommending the destination to friends and family.
Promotion to businesses and to customers is a vital ingredient of a destination’s quality programme. A starting point is for the destination to maintain a policy of promoting only assessed businesses.
For businesses, the DMO should:
- make sure that the destination and national marketing board communicate regularly and in a co-ordinated manner, sending the right information to the right categories of businesses
- share the destination’s database of known accommodation stock with Quality In Tourism and the AA to help them recruit new participants. This can include running joint workshops to attract new participants, and to help existing members to upgrade.
DMOs also need to actively promote recognised quality to customers, as follows.
- Support the Tourism Management Institute (TMI) and other bodies in lobbying VisitBritain to give adequate funding to promote the star rating to the consumer. Ensure that the destination tells businesses what is happening, and when.
- Promote the standards in all the destination’s marketing materials – on websites, in guides, and in campaigns. VisitEngland has templates to help with this.
- Make sure that the businesses promote their ratings in their own promotional material.
Businesses pay to join a quality assessment scheme run by the tourist boards and/or the AA for varying reasons:
- to gain official status and credibility
- to gain value from marketing opportunities offered by the assessing organisation
- to receive business advice during the assessor’s visit and to use the visit as part of their quality control.
Businesses, especially those operating nationally or internationally, will look for co-ordination of the tourist board or AA assessment process with other factors – legislation, their own internal quality control procedures, local and national industry codes, and other influencers such as Green Globe.
There are pan-Britain voluntary, harmonised standards for star ratings (covering all kinds of accommodation). Businesses can be assessed for this rating by:
VisitEngland also has Welcome Schemes that enable businesses to show that they are tuned to specific segments of the market. These are a supplement to the main assessment.
There is a nationally-agreed accessibility standard and ratings are offered by all the quality assessment bodies, as a supplement to the main assessment.
See also the British Standards Institute Guidance on accessibility of large hotel premises and hotel chains, PAS 88:2008.
There are a number of local and sector-specific options for "green" tourism, and a national scheme, the entry-level Green Start. An alternative is one of the validated schemes.
Looking ahead, DMOs should aim to offer customers the option to add up the carbon footprint of their trip as they plan it. Travelport, part of Galileo/Worldspan, has a post-booking reporting tool to measure and report carbon emissions. The tool combines compliance reporting with a calculator that uses operational data and a range of key variables to deliver emissions analysis.
There is a new quality scheme developed specifically for spas as part of VisitEngland's Quality in Tourism.
Competitive award schemes provide a marketing edge for the award-winning businesses, and the promotional opportunities that surround them help to drive up standards generally. DMOs can run local competitions, and encourage suitable businesses to enter regional or national schemes.
The Enjoy England Awards for Excellence include regional heats, and there are equivalent competitions in Wales and Scotland.
Listings in other commercial and public-sector guides are a vital source of guidance for many customers. Achieving a presence in those that cover a destination’s key aspects should be a prime objective for DMOs.
Table 1 shows examples of quality ratings by category.
|Beaches||Good Beach Guide, Blue Flag|
|Built environment||Civic Trust Awards|
|Hotels and B&Bs||AA, Alastair Sawday, Fodors, Lonely Planet, Michelin, Mr and Mrs Smith, Rough guides, Time Out |
|Museums||The Art Fund Prize for museums and galleries|
|Parks and open spaces||Green Flag Award|
|Regeneration||British Urban Regeneration Association|
|Restaurants||Good Food Guide, Hardens, AA, Egon Ronay, Michelin, Les Routiers|
|Pubs||Good Beer Guide, Good Pub Guide, Pubs for families|
A good source of fuller lists of guidebooks is the Travel & Holiday section of Amazon.co.uk.
Travel decisions are very much driven by brand image and recommendation. Recommendation has quickly become a major online consideration for everyone in travel: Internet users have taken ownership of the web. They are talking to each other, creating their own ratings and reviews ("user-generated content" or UGC), and sharing this information very widely.
Customers’ value judgments and information will supplement, and may often supplant, official quality ratings, and reduce the use of paid-for commercial guidebooks.
DMOs have usually steered clear of offering recommendations because it might damage their impartiality as perceived by the customer and the businesses.
The best strategy is to work fully with UGC so that it complements the effort that destinations themselves make to collect authoritative, well-structured information, including ratings.
A critical mass of user-generated content (UGC) is necessary before it becomes useful. It needs to be:
- recent and timely
- posted by ‘people like me’
- inclusive of all the key aspects of the destination that influence customer choice.
There need to be several postings on a topic for UGC to be seen by the user as credible. The emergence of huge global travel communities hosted by multi-national companies makes it a major challenge for destinations to attract enough user participation in their own systems to meet these requirements.
Before destinations embark on putting UGC functions into their own website, they should ask themselves the following questions.
- Will there be a sufficient volume of user comment to make the DMO site more attractive than one of the commercial sites?
- How quickly can it be developed?
- What promotional backing can the destination give it?
The best strategy is co-operation, to create a partnership with a UGC site that hosts customer reviews. Look for opportunities for the DMO to add extra value for the customer through:
- "mash-ups" – the UGC partner’s content and the destination’s, blended together to give the customer an improved service with more and better information. An example is Google Maps in England which combine Google mapping with VisitBritain’s data and TripAdvisor reviews
- reciprocal distribution of content on both sites and to third parties.
The visibility of both brands and their complementary strengths can create even stronger customer reassurance. In some cases a partner may be more ready to accept destination content if supplied in white label (unbranded) form.
Travel sites like IgoUgo and TripAdvisor have been around for several years. On Amazon, readers’ book reviews form a key part of the site’s usefulness. What is new is:
- the number of contributors
- the amount they are putting in (posting)
- the informal but very effective tagging facilities.
A tag is a word or term assigned to an online piece of information (article, picture, video clip). This helps describe the item and allows for easy archiving. On most website, tags are assigned by the author of the item but on certain other sites, users can also add tags to the content they visit; this collection of tags is known as a folksonomy. This requires that the website be fitted with some form of syndication technology (RSS, XML or Atom feeds).
UGC sites have become authoritative because:
- each author’s comments are seen by other readers as an honest personal view
- there are many mechanisms that allow readers to sort the comments according to the type of people who made them – "people like me"
- research shows that travellers may trust user-generated reviews more than they trust travel agents' content.
- Facebook allows users to get in touch with other Facebook users to plan trips through an application called Trips. It also offers the possibility to create events pages or profiles and groups for destinations.
- MySpace includes video channels from National Geographic.
- YouTube has an active Travel & Events category and a UK local site.
- tripadvisor is the largest recommendation site with 15 million reviews (TripAdvisor, April 2008).
- haystack.lonelyplanet.com lists properties picked and recommended by Lonely Planet. This includes some customer reviews and an online booking facility.
- WAYN (Where Are You Now) is a global social networking site for travellers. Mostly used by younger people, it has several million subscribers who exchange travel plans and journals, upload pictures, and arrange to meet, using email, SMS, instant messaging, forums and chat.
The DMO’s task is to encourage customers, whenever the DMO is in contact with them before, during and after their trip, to be influencers and to create more UGC about the destination.
- Ask customers to remember to post their opinions on their own favourite site.
- Encourage them to elaborate on their experience – recommendations, tips, and information.
- Encourage users of the destination website to tag pages they find valuable. On every page of the destination site, put clickable icons to the bookmarking services that are used most by customers in relevant key source markets. Thus, each main source market website version should have its own selections of bookmarking services.
Social_bookmarking is a way for users to highlight, save and share content they like. For free bookmarking add-ons for your website, visit FeedBurner or Add This. This requires that the website be fitted with some form of syndication technology (RSS, XML or Atom feeds).
Other action could include:
- starting a blog or sponsoring a travel writer to start one
- helping to start up an "unofficial" site and then linking to it
- making UGC a high-visibility feature of your marketing campaigns
- creating events pages, profiles and groups on social networks.
These are all marketing activities in which the DMO’s quality team should be fully involved.