Tourism Blog Posts

p&r egyptHere at AHA, we work with clients in a range of sectors – government, not-for-profit and private. We have clients around the world, in the U.S. and, of course, in Canada. One of the perks of working here is that we do get to travel a little and see the world. We are set to visit a client in South Africa in December, so I have been doing some online research about activities and events that will be happening when we are there. Finding information that specifically interests me for travel has never been easier – TripAdvisor is of huge value. So are Facebook and Twitter. You ask your community – the people you know and trust – for recommendations.

On TripAdvisor, there is an opportunity for the travel professional (tour operator, hotel manager, etc.) to respond to each review. I am always impressed by the travel professionals who respond to both the positive and negative reviews. In fact, if I am travelling to a place I have never been to before – for work or pleasure – it is the review that has a response that gets my attention and, usually, my business. I have seen hotel managers apologize for something that went wrong that was their responsibility and I have seen them respectfully take on a reviewer who perhaps wasn’t sharing the whole story. It impresses me when a service provider responds and when they take responsibility publicly for something that went wrong; it tells me that customer service matters to them. Things are going to go wrong; I just want someone who cares enough to make them right.

TripAdvisor isn’t perfect – not all reviews are necessarily authentic. Sometimes tour operators or hotel managers have staff or friends write positive reviews for them and negative ones for competitors. Let’s face it, there are also people out there who just don’t like anything and who always write negative reviews. It’s important to take these reviews in context. However, it does provide a great opportunity for both travellers and for the travel and tourism world. And it’s a great example of how the world of public relations has changed – and not just in travel and tourism, but in every industry sector.

People – consumers, clients, influencers, investors, government, media, etc. – are all online and talking. They are likely online somewhere discussing your organization or industry right now. Do you know where they are? Do you know who they are? Do you know where you can engage in the conversation (if it is strategic for you to do so)? Are you paying attention to what they are saying?

What is your website like – is it easy to navigate? Is the information up-to-date and relevant to your stakeholder group? Is it engaging and interesting?

These are important questions. Your stakeholders are online looking for information about your organization and if your website isn’t up-to-date, you may be responsible for any misinformation they have. If they are discussing you and – at the very least – you aren’t aware of what the hot button topics are and what they are interested in, you are not only missing out on an opportunity to engage and build positive relationships, but there may also be an issue emerging that you don’t know about and that could be damaging to your organizational reputation.

If you aren’t a part of the conversation, it could hurt you.

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DSC_0047Each year, around this time, AHA heads to New Zealand to blog for TRENZblog. This initiative is part of our work with Tourism New Zealand. We spend a week travelling the country and then we attend TRENZ, New Zealand’s largest travel trade show – and we blog our way through the country and the trade show.

Each time I visit New Zealand, I learn both life and communications lessons. Most times, they are intertwined (after all, we all communicate and it is one of the most challenging aspects of life sometimes). Each time, one big lesson stands out. This year, that lesson is about bringing your passion and your “A” game every day. While this lesson can be translated to any profession, it certainly hit home for me in what we do here at AHA.

In the two weeks in New Zealand, I had several opportunities to speak with/interview people in the tourism world. Several people really stood out for me. Over the next two weeks, I am going to share those experiences here on the AHA blog, showcasing what each of them taught me.

The first is Nicolas, the winemaker at the boutique winery, Black Estate, in the Canterbury Region of New Zealand. Nicolas took the time to let us see what was going on just a day or so after the harvest. This is a very busy time for a winemaker, and yet Nicolas let us into the area where the grapes were being squished (not the technical term) and he also spent a good thirty minutes showing us around and answering my questions.

Lesson 1: Be so excited and passionate about what you do that you want to share it.

Nicolas’ passion was clear – as was his knowledge and talent. I could almost see the delight in his eyes as he explained the process. It made me want to support this winery because it was clear that it mattered to him.

Lesson 2: Be patient and open to questions from those who know much less than you.

While I have been known to sip a glass of wine or two now and again, I know next to nothing about the behind-the-scenes workings of a real vineyard. Nicolas answered all my questions, never spoke down to me, and encouraged me to ask more questions. He opened my mind to many aspects of winemaking and he educated me, making me want to learn more about what he does.

Lesson 3: Embrace who you are. Not once did Nicolas apologize for being a small winery. In fact, he was proud of it and confident in the quality of his wine. Black Estate is a boutique winery and it embraces that – it doesn’t try to be a big winery; it focuses on being the best it can be. Not trying to be anyone else.

While these lessons might not seem to be communications lessons – they are. Nicolas lives the Black Estate brand. He is clear and consistent in how he speaks about the grapes, the process, and the art and craft of making wine. And he clearly loves it. His passion shone through and he used humour to explain things to me. He is an excellent communicator when it comes to his wine.

Next up: Fiona and Chris of Hapuku Lodge in Kaikoura.

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Trenz_logo_nauticalHere at AHA, we are preparing to head to New Zealand for the 5th year of TRENZblog, the social media campaign that has us blogging and tweeting from the country. First, as we check out areas on a familiarization trip (this year it’s Wellington, the Marlborough region, and the Christchurch & Canterbury region), and then from TRENZ, New Zealand’s largest travel trade show.

We are always excited to head back to New Zealand – it’s a fabulous place. The beauty of the country is breathtaking and each region has its own unique charm. And the people of New Zealand are exceptional. Friendly, welcoming and more than a little bit cheeky.

Five years ago, TRENZblog was a bit of a leap of faith on the part of Tourism New Zealand. In 2008, the online world was just finding acceptance in the mainstream. In fact, five years ago I had the opportunity to interview New Zealand Prime Minister John Key and I was the first travel blogger to be granted an interview with him.

TRENZblog has now become a bit of a “regular” connection between trade media and New Zealand tourism operators. This project is a resource in providing trade media and travel trade professionals with timely and relevant information about tourism activities in the country.

We have recently been working on several proposals and that always makes us take a look at ourselves as communicators and what and how we do things. TRENZblog is a good example of seeing a shift in the landscape and moving that way. We recognized that the online world and social media were game changers when it came to PR and strategic communication and we knew that in order to serve our clients well, we had to evolve. TRENZblog is one of those projects that could have easily slipped by without much fanfare. It’s kind of workhorse PR initiative. It’s not big and flashy and it likely won’t win us any awards, but it gets the job done – and it gets done well. TRENZblog produces results and over the past four years, we have measured and reviewed what we could do differently, what works and what doesn’t, how we can continue to improve.

We’re really proud of TRENZblog. It’s a good project that meets its objective. The fact that we get to spend time in New Zealand while we implement it is a bonus.

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It isn’t often that I get to write a post like this – one that celebrates an organization that authentically lives its brand and keeps its brand promise. However – I just had (yet another) excellent experience with WestJet and I think they deserve to be acknowledged for this experience and for consistently behaving in an authentic, respectable and customer-focused manner.

I recently flew my father and his wife into Vancouver for a visit. My dad had a bad fall last year, shattering his femur, and he is still recovering from that. He still has some mobility issues, so when I booked his flights, I requested a wheelchair.

Well, I have to say, WestJet treated my dad and his wife like royalty. They were treated with respect and they were well taken care of – and not on WestJet’s schedule, on their schedule. They got to the airport early and because of a bad snow storm in Ontario, their flight was delayed – they were taken to a restaurant and were told to take their time; the person who was chauffeuring them around the Toronto airport in one of the carts would come back when they were done and take them to the gate.

On the return flight, it was the same approach – completely customer service focused. Everyone from the person at the ticketing counter to the person loading the plane to the flight attendants to the person who helped them get their luggage treated them with respect and went out of their way to help them.

Every airline has planes that get delayed or issues that happen, and WestJet is no different. But I have to say, as a traveller and a customer, even when stuff happens, I have found WestJet to be responsive, to be accountable and to focus on what they can do to make me, as the customer, feel better about the experience.

When given the option, I choose to travel WestJet. I am loyal to this airline because I feel that the people who work there actually care about me as a customer. That means something in this day and age, and the result is customer loyalty.

Now, I happen to be a PR professional. So I am always looking at customer service, how the staff communicates the brand promise and what that means for public relations and building trust and loyalty with their target market. WestJet does it right and everyone in that organization deserves to be congratulated. I have said time and time again that you can create a great brand and develop a fabulous brand promise, but if the people who work there don’t bring that brand promise to life every day, then you are going to have an issue. WestJet isn’t going to have that issue – because they live their brand authentically and they have engaged and inspired the people who work there with their brand promise. Not an easy thing to do, but so valuable.

Thanks WestJet – not only are you our favourite Canadian airline, you are also a great example of an excellent brand being brought to life one person at a time.

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Ruth at the White Palace in Chiang Rai, Thailand.

January is the time of year when we receive those end of year/new year messages, newsletters and blog posts. I know in the past week, I have received about two dozen of them. And I have to say, not many have resonated with me or provided any kind of value to me – which is the point of these communication outreach pieces, isn’t it?

I have heard how people are going to spend more time on finding their passion, travel more, make more effort to focus on their family life, live in Europe or Mexico or Belize for half the year, work a three or four-day work week, find work/life balance… And if I were sitting with a friend and hearing any of these things, my response would be: “Excellent! Good for you!”

However, some of the folks telling me these things are service providers – people who we bring into projects with our clients. Some of these lovely people provide support services to AHA, and our small-on-purpose agency relies on them. Some of these messages gave me pause and had me putting “find new option” on my to-do list. We’re all for work/life balance, spending more time with family, discovering your purpose and passion, and seeking out adventure; but there are ways to communicate those personal goals in a professional setting that showcases how this approach will benefit your client, strategic partner or service provider rather than worry them about how they will manage if you aren’t available.

All of our clients know that we’re travellers – both for work and for fun. We also make sure that they know that when we’re not in town, they won’t even notice that we’re not in the room. I have had Skype meetings with clients in Paris, Rome, Bangkok, New York City, Tampa… well, you get it – from anywhere and everywhere. I have co-presented in a Vancouver-based communications and social media workshop from Queenstown, New Zealand and have co-managed the media relations component of a high profile policy forum from The Bay of Islands, New Zealand.

Here at AHA, we feel a strong accountability and responsibility to our clients – and we want to have a full-on life – so we need to find a way that works for us and for our clients. And, in fact, our travel makes us better communicators, which benefits our clients overall. We see how things are done in other places, we discover best practices, we learn what works and what doesn’t work – and we bring it all home and deliver it to our clients. When we make a business or personal decision that impacts our professional life, it is always kept in mind how this can benefit our clients or what we need to do to make sure it – at the very least – doesn’t negatively impact them. And we clearly communicate that.

We got a newsletter from a designer colleague earlier this week that really got me to thinking about the missed opportunities in many of these year-end/new year outreach pieces. He said he and his partner were thinking about living in Europe for six months or a year – which as a human being, I think is a great idea. However, I think he missed an opportunity to clearly explain that he would be back in Vancouver regularly for clients if needed and that his move wouldn’t cost them anything. He could have explained how he would continue to service clients – citing how easily we can connect these days through Skype, GoToMeeting.ca and other technologies. He could have explained how getting some international experience could influence and evolve his skill set and how that would bring more to clients… but he didn’t. What I felt was concern that he was leaving and that I might be challenged by that.

Another professional connection sent out an email saying that they were going to chase their passion for cooking this year. And about three paragraphs in, I realized she meant that she was going to do this as a hobby or personal pursuit – that she wasn’t changing careers. If I had just glanced at this piece, that’s not the message I would have taken away. That could hurt her business development this year.

I think the biggest thing I noticed in this year’s batch of end of year/new year emails and newsletters is that, for the most part, they were all about the person writing them. It didn’t feel that they were about the recipient. There wasn’t anything in it for me as the reader of this piece (or as the client, strategic partner or service provider).

I think this is a key learning: When you are communicating, and you want the other person to care, give them something to care about – something that matters to them. Tell them clearly, even when it’s about you, what’s in it for them.

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