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A “Community Concierge”?
July 9, 2012 - Ernest Hohmeyer
Doesn’t it mystify you when we get the question, “What is there to do here?”
We get this question often enough that we are half-prepared for it. But when it happens we often can’t believe it. We stare in bewilderment for a moment trying not to scream, “Are you kidding me?!”
But is that the question today's visitor is really asking?
I used to know what this question meant. They were usually traveling here for the first time. To many first timers, they see the retail shops and restaurants, our lakes and mountains. They know they can shop, eat, stay somewhere, canoe and hike.
It was simple to answer this question back then. You could tell them about the trails, boating opportunities and places to eat.
It may not be so simple anymore.
With all the online information out there, folks already have a pretty good idea about the lakes and mountains. They can go on to one of many websites for recommended places to eat.
The question may require a much more personalized answer today. It may require us having more of an awareness of what we have to offer.
Are they really asking about a list of things to do? Or are they looking for your recommendation “as a local” about interactive experiences they can immerse themselves in?
When they ask about paddling, do they want more than a list of where but also opportunities to take lessons, see demos on the latest techniques or learn about the latest equipment?
If its places to eat, it can be more than the “what type of food” but what do they do for local food, can they learn more about “Adirondack cuisine”?
What is the Real Question?
People want to interact today; they want to have an experience. They want to touch, feel and learn.
“What is there to do?” is a much more specific question and can mean very different things to different visitors.
And here is the hard part; it can mean very different ideas to individual members of the same party.
How are we supposed to know all of these things? Sure we know that the new Carousel is open. But do we know what specific interactive “experiences” they offer? Do we know that the local retail shop also provides demos or a local artist does critiques on how to take a better nature photo?
Do we really know about the experiences we offer?
Yes, we have fine calendars of events and we have knowledgeable folks in our visitor centers. The weekly bulletins of what is going on are extremely helpful.
But today’s world is based on instant gratification. They want answers now. And they want them from you. They would prefer not to be referred again. Didn’t you know your shop was one stop shopping?! What do we do if it is after 5:00PM and the visitor centers are closed?
As we sit there and stare at these people with this wild expression on our face and appear to be at the dentist’s office by mumbling “Ah-h-h-h-h…” for way too long, is it possible to consider a couple of things?
• Location, location. Know exactly where the community calendars are located. Is it possible to say more than the “local newspaper” or “at the visitor bureau” but actual specific on-line addresses that links them directly to that page? Post the weekly calendar in your shop?
• Community concierge. This was an idea brought forward at the Tomorrow’s Tourism Conference. Similar to a “red carpet” or ambassador’s program for new businesses coming to town, this would be a group of volunteers that would be a recognized resource for community information. In addition to putting our information for events on the community calendar, we would also send our information to this group. This group would be responsible for getting the information out there to our businesses. For example we could do this by industry: an arts representative, food, retail, could make up our visitor ambassador program.
• Community Awareness Training. If this was too much to do, perhaps this “community concierge” team could hold seasonal “awareness workshops” of who is doing what for summer, fall, etc. Those who couldn’t attend could submit their information online and there would be a site to reference this information. Perhaps all of this could be coordinated by a local tourism office.
• Hospitality Training. Each summer many of us are starting over with a new seasonal crew. Perhaps this “community concierge” team could coordinate hospitality training. Customer service is so critical in today’s economy where people are expecting more for less. Perhaps this can be done through one of our local colleges and county employment and training.
This does not need to be a new effort and would be best coordinated through an existing tourism organization.
The point is that today’s traveler is better equipped with information and may be looking for that unique or special “Adirondack experience” that is interactive!
It is not always about that thrill ride and can be as simple as a 5 minute demo on paddling techniques or fly fishing. It can be a carousel ride with a workshop with a local artist on how the animals were carved or an artist with an on-going nature photography workshop.
We Represent Each Other
We may need to understand 4 things to provide the maximum visitor experience:
1. They may be looking more than just for a list of things to do but interactive experiences from you not some other source.
2. All of this means nothing, if we ourselves do not know what “experiences” we offer.
3. Don’t assume with today’s information highway that they know what there is to do. It may have been clear to them when they booked their stay. But in the constant barrage of tweets and Facebook posts, their mind may on the next message and not one of our activities that caught their attention in the first place.
4. And this is key to for us to be aware of: They often choose our area for its diverse experiences. Yes, you do have your hard core paddlers and hikers but for many it also about the other experiences. It might have been clear to them when they booked, it may have become lost in the 100 on-line posts since then.
What may be the difference between them going to our shop or our community may the simple things we can do to provide more of an interactive experience.
But hang on, we are all busy here and often in or small businesses, we are the bottle washer, accountant and sales rep. How can we do this? Perhaps a “community concierge” or a “red carpet” or “visitor ambassador program” may be of help to all of us.
There is really a lot going on. It may take a little bit of coordination and awareness and the understanding that “What is there to do?” may be more about interactive experiences and not lists.
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