Philip Britton of UKinbound advises hoteliers, restaurateurs and publicans on how they can make the most of the inbound tourist market and ensure tourists are heading their way when they visit the UK.
The inbound tourist industry is a huge revenue driver for the UK economy, with hundreds of thousands of jobs being dependant on it. The Olympics has provided Britain with a world stage to sell itself and promises to leave a legacy, but how do you ensure the influx of tourists from abroad will head to your business?
Step 1: Choose who you want to work with
To work out the best way to attract inbound tourists to your business, you will firstly need to decide whether to partner with a tour operator or not. There are two types of travellers, those who organise their own travel, which we call Fully Independent Travellers (FIT) and those who rely on someone else, such as a tour operator, a travel agent or a coach company to put their holiday together.
Working with an operator can bring more consistent trade but at lower rates as you will need to pay a commission. Going the direct route may mean higher costs to sell yourself and often trade can be inconsistent.
A trade association, tourist board or local authority can offer a way in to the industry and is a good place to start, but once you are in, the onus will be on you to make it work.
- Working with an operator
If you choose to work with an operator it is important to understand its quirks, lead-in times and people. It is good to build up a working relationship with an operator. That may be a time consuming process but the rewards can be worthwhile as it is unlikely you will get a coach party of high-spenders arriving at your business after just one meeting.
Step 2: Understand what you can offer inbound tourists
It is worth asking questions of your business before you get involved with an operator. For example, why would a coach operator put you on their itinerary? What is your USP? Are you in the right location and what facilities do you offer? Ask yourself why an operator should choose you over your neighbour and then you will be able to sell your business to them in a more efficient way, but be honest about what you can offer, don’t chase four star business if you are at a three star level.
It is worth bearing in mind that larger operators are often influenced by capacity and will be looking for low rates. Recent years however has seen the growth of the ‘specialist’ operator, such as church groups, WI trips, history & cultural trips from both domestic and overseas operators. Operators are always creating new itineraries so keep up to date and tailor yourself to their needs.
Step 3: Communicate and tailor your offer
Once you have won a contract with an operator or have decided that you want to target the tourist market, you will need to think about several things. Ensure you are aware of what offer has been sold to an operator or that you are offering to tourists and ensure staff are aware of the details too. Staff should be aware that they need to make guests feel special and that recommendation goes a long way, so ensure all members are kept in the loop and are as courteous and accommodating as they would be usually.
Another way to winning over customers and ensuring they return next time they are in the country is to create a special menu. You should make sure you tailor it to the country where your customers are from. Think big portions for the Americans and good beer for the Germans. Never put a Chinese visitor in a room with the number four in it and ensure you have a constant supply of green tea for them. Follow the stereotype and you won’t go far wrong.
Step 4: Be flexible
The ability to be flexible when it comes to dealing with foreign visitors is absolutely key to working with the travel trade. Volcanoes, airline strikes, delays, breakdowns, itinerary changes, or even events such as the Olympics can all impact the travel industry.
If you can understand, adapt and find a solution to these problems if and when they arise, the industry will become your best friend. Make the tourist feel special and you will produce a thousand smiles, sell more bottles of wine and keep consistent business in the time when you may well need it most.