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What a year! No one could have anticipated the impact or scale of the pandemic that continues to wreak havoc around the world. But we in the tourism industry are a resilient bunch and if there is anything that can be taken from the chaos, it is that we are always adapting to our surroundings. As the obstacles present themselves, we are continuing to look for ways to overcome them.

A recent hurdle has been how to provide high quality and positive customer service experiences while abiding by the various health and safety regulations. This is particularly relevant to the tourism industry. Typically, individuals invest a lot of money in their travel adventures and as such, have high expectations for the tour, activity, or service being provided. So how can we provide service without a visible smile?

Alternatives

Greeting 

It should be first noted that you don’t need a smile to create a connection with the customer. One of the most critical customer service moments is the first impression. This means starting off on the right foot and creating a welcoming and warm atmosphere that will allow the guest to relax and feel comfortable with you. Some useful tips to ensure this occurs include creating a greeting that is respectful of not only the COVID standards but also the client’s standards. For some, an elbow touch might be welcomed while for others this could be a definite no-go! So don’t be afraid of asking the guest what is appropriate for them. Hyatt has recently introduced a new campaign called #NewHyattHello(opens in a new tab), which encouraged different hotels from around the world to create their own greeting unique to their country and staff. Campaigns like this are a great way to engage both awareness and a positive spin on the changing customer service landscape.

 

Body Language 

While a smile can make a world of difference, it isn’t the only way to project a positive attitude. Consider all of the different messages that body language can convey, from improving posture and avoiding the crossing of arms to maintaining eye contact to ensure that the customer feels heard. Wearing a mask doesn’t necessarily mean you should stop smiling either. The ‘Duchenne Smile(opens in a new tab)’ is how we can tell the difference between a fake smile and an authentic one. It is also the concept that makes Mona Lisa’s smile so bewitching. Put simply, it is the way that the muscles around our cheeks and eyes are engaged when we are authentically smiling – something that can still be seen from behind a mask.

 

Voice

The voice plays an increasingly important role when masks are involved. If telemarketers can be taught to express a smile through the tone of their voice on a phone call, then there is no reason why the same can’t be achieved by tour and activity operators. Keep your tone lighthearted and perhaps engage more bubbly and expressive language. Tone is not just related to speaking either(opens in a new tab). It is also a factor in your social media content and the way things are written on your website(opens in a new tab). Consider hiring a professional content writer(opens in a new tab) to ensure that the tone of your company and tours is properly conveyed. Another great way  to spruce up your online presence or show off a more personal side of your company is through a blog(opens in a new tab).

Even more important is to speak loudly. Masks have the unfortunate drawback of muffling the volume of speech, which means that individuals who are hard of hearing will be having an additionally difficult time. This becomes even more challenging for those with hearing disabilities. People who might have traditionally lip-read are now downstream without a paddle. What’s more, deafness and hearing loss is an invisible disability, so be sure to speak loudly and ask if there is anything that will make the guest feel more comfortable. If you’re running a walking tour, maybe offer to wear a microphone that customers can listen to via headphones.

 

Alternative Alternatives

There is a tonne of creative examples of how to recreate the pre-mask physical customer experience. Many in the travel industry have begun using photos more, whether on an ID tag so customers can get an idea of what their host looks like without a mask. Hotel companies have been placing photos of the desk attendant on the COVID protective screens or behind the desk, or even just consider adding additional guide photos to your website. The perk of having a website with Tourism Tiger(opens in a new tab) is that through our TigerCare hosting service(opens in a new tab), any website updates can be made at any time. We’ve been implementing COVID banners across our sites to ensure users have up to date information as well as including additional photos of tours using masks and other safety measures and announcements.

Another fun example is at the Disney theme parks where staff have been using signs of different characters’ mouths to show a smile on their own face in a fun and very on-brand way. Clear masks are also trending although be sure that it follows the necessary standards, alternatively, purchase masks that have your company logo showing. The takeaway? Get creative and don’t be afraid to try something new and different. Your guests will always appreciate the effort.

Help Ensure the Smile is Authentic

Keeping your customers happy and comfortable starts with keeping your staff happy(opens in a new tab). Tour operator burnout is more challenging at the moment with a world full of stressors. We’ve posted before about ensuring your guides’ health are physically in check(opens in a new tab) but their mental health is equally as important. Maintaining an open line of communication is crucial in these times. Consider having regular meetings with your staff where work isn’t on the agenda or have a monthly social occasion where you can all catch up, debrief, and unwind. Providing mental health days are also a great way to convey to your staff that you take their emotional wellbeing seriously because at the end of the day, having a successful tourism business means having happy staff. They are the face of your company after all.

 

Times are tough but there is a lot to be thankful for at the moment! If you’re lucky enough to be operating then you’ll be aware that there is a whole new range of challenges that those in the travel industry are facing. And if you’re currently waiting to re-open take the time to create a new game plan and welcome the opportunity to try something different. Ultimately, leading with positivity is a significant source of reassurance and during these challenging times, a smile and a good day can mean that much more!


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