Our recent trip to Thailand provided some great insights from the other side of the industry. Instead of supplying the technology, we were using it.
This week we highlight some things we felt differentiated our stay at particular guest houses or hotels; something that made us want to reward that hotel with a good review.
Catering for all Nationalities
We were astonished at the range of catering options offered at almost all the places we stayed — large and small. People visit Thailand from all over the world: Europeans, South Americans, and Asians. At breakfast we saw everything from cornflakes, bacon and eggs, cold meats and pastries, to salads, noodles and dim sum. We developed real respect for those chefs!
African establishments have started offering many more health options in line with guest preferences. However, if we want to appeal to other parts of the world, we’ll have to sharpen those kitchen knives.
The Importance of WiFi (again!)
International travelers can’t live without WiFi. It is becoming one of the major differentiators when guests decide where to stay. There are several reasons, but staying connected with office or family; exploring things to do in the area and updating social media are some of the main ones.
I needed to keep up with e-mail and resolve any issues back at the office. You are a lucky person if your boss or customers are happy to leave you alone for two weeks, but for the rest of us, remaining connected while away remains an important consideration.
Secondly, the WiFi enabled us to explore the area we were in and decide what to do each day. Although this might not seem of much benefit to the guest house, we actually stayed on longer in one location simply because there was more to do than we had first thought.
If your WiFi offer is still not free and very easy to connect, make the change. The hassle factor for guests is simply not worth the imagined risk of them using too much bandwidth.
Information & Maps
Can you drink the water? (If you don’t provide bottled water, put a cold flask in the fridge – at least that indicates it’s safe.).Can I walk out at night? What about language difficulties for the notices in your room?
Maps! Your website is not just for enticing people to your place, but also to help your guest arrive. Please put maps in an obvious place on your website so you can show the taxi driver. Make the address clear and potentially put directions in a couple of languages (we often had our iPads out, with screen shots of the map/directions, which was very helpful to taxi drivers).
Some guest houses had cards printed up with address details in Thai script, which their guests could hand to Tuk-Tuk drivers when really stuck.
What Makes an Establishment Stand Out?
Finally, I should describe some of the nice touches we saw. One guest house left a note on our bed that gave us translations for different colours in Thai. We thought that was great! It was a way of exposing us to some aspect of Thai language and culture that we would not have picked up elsewhere (how about an old Zulu story or parable for your international guest?)
Towel shapes were also quite popular, with one turned into a lovely elephant. Interesting local artifacts were also used to decorate the room, which were offered for sale at reception; items such as soap dishes, carvings, and other ornaments. I felt they were a way of inviting the local community to share in some of the benefit of my visit.
So What Did We Learn?
Thailand is an experienced tourist destination. From 336,000 tourists in 1967 to 22 million in 2012, Thailand now rates 18th most visited country in the world (South Africa gets about 8 million). We found their offering sophisticated and catered to a wide-range of travelers (from backpacker to 5 star).
Our experience is that Southern Africa does very well in many regards, but the real lesson we took away is how well Thai guest houses anticipated our problems or needs. I suppose it comes down to the basics of customer service, but putting yourself in the shoes of your travelling customer is not easy. It takes research.
Read Part I here.
This blog was written by Neil Emerick after returning from Thailand on a quest to experience online travel-, accommodation- and outing-bookings. Neil & Theresa are co-founders of NightsBridge.
Recently, my wife and I took a trip to Thailand, which was quite splendid. However, with our Nightsbridge caps on we made it a rather different experience. The difference was we made absolutely no bookings in advance other than our flights (which we did one week before we left) and our first hotel. Everything else was organized from Thailand.
Now, we concede this is not the way most people book their holidays. My brother would be horrified, planning his holiday eighteen months in advance and laminating itinerary cards for his family. We had dinner with one English couple who booked the same hotel, for fourteen nights, full-board. Moving around much was not on their agenda.
However, we intended to explore a bit and ended up staying in seven different hotels in our sixteen night stay. In this article, and the one following, I want to give you an indication of our online booking process and what things you might consider in catering to travellers who book like us. Read more
“Undersell expectations and over-deliver on service.” This is the message that NightsBridge consultant John-Ross took away from his recent visit to Sir David Guest House in Bloubergstrand.
Even though the guesthouse has a 4-star TGCSA grading, they deliver 5-star service. When asked why they don’t go for 5-star grading, the answer was that the slightly lower grading ensures that the client expectations are always met and most often exceeded. This is a clever way of using grading to your advantage.
The other tip we brought back is to identify and target a specific market. You can then ensure that all services and décor tie in with what that target market expects. In addition, marketing can focus on channels through which they would most likely socialise and look for accommodation. This can simplify the way you run your business, and ensure that resources are used more efficiently.
First impressions count and this was certainly the case on arrival at Sir David Guest House.
“I was immediately struck by the relaxed environment and how it seemed like the world’s problems dissolved the moment I stepped in the front door. The pristine views and comfortable rooms perfectly balance with pleasant and efficient staff, which creates the ideal stress-free atmosphere”, says John-Ross. Read more
Our home-away-from-home for Indaba in Durban is always 10 Woodlands Road B&B in Glenwood. This year I really paid attention to all the small details that ensure that we keep coming back again and again.
It starts before you get there with a quick reply to your realtime, online booking to assure you that it’s been received and to reconfirm payment procedures. Even us techies appreciate the “ping-back” from a real person at the other end to confirm all is well with your online booking.
The welcome continues when you arrive. However, the friendliness never compromises the professionality, so the check in still covers all the formalities quickly and efficiently. A glance through guest review sites will show how often the hosts or owners are mentioned as having made the real difference to whether someone will return or not. It seems to require a balance between being friendly, knowledgeable and helpful, without being too effusive and invasive. A tough one! But Ursula, James and Naphtal get this balance exactly right.
We recently started a program to get our friendly support consultants and techies out from behind their desks and telephones — and into a guest house or B&B for a day.
We’re trying to get a “behind-the-scenes” look at the day-to-day running of an establishment (for those of us who’ve never worked in a guest house or hotel before). The brief is to really get involved in the work that happens on a daily basis, so we can better understand the challenges facing owners and managers.
By walking in your shoes for a day, we hope to gain some insights to help us advise and support our clients even better.
Ferozah Peck, who’s been with NightsBridge for almost four years, was one of the first consultants to set off on her mission. She really got into the spirit of things! From serving breakfast, to carrying suitcases, to helping with last-minute preparations for a renovated room that was being occupied that night, she had quite a day.
Many business consultants advise “putting yourself in your customer’s shoes”, to test your product or customer service levels. The tourism industry is the one place where this is quite easy to do, since we all go away on holiday now and then (or try to!).
On planning a ski trip to Argentina last year, I was interested to find myself on the other side of the internet research and online booking process. I started by asking friends who had been there about their experience and recommendations. Then I read as much as I could online, finding good information from local and regional tourism sites, as well as commercial sites specifically promoting skiing. Once I had more of an idea about regions and what the operators offered, I started looking at available accommodation on several different web sites to compare prices.
When I had the names of the properties I was interested in, I went to TripAdvisor to see what people who had been there already had to say. And yes – what I read there often changed my mind.
Finally, I booked online. Where the property had a good web site and online booking system that made it easy to book directly on their own site, I did that. In other instances I booked on Booking.com, since I knew the brand name and had used them in the past with success. For the actual ski passes and transfers I used a South African travel agent who advertised herself as an expert on Argentina, since it was much easier to deal with her than a Spanish-speaking operator.
What lessons did I learn?