How can an understaffed tourism operation avoid disappointing its guests? This is the challenge facing the tourism industry right now, especially with the busy summer season approaching. Hotels, airlines, attractions, tour companies, destinations, restaurants and more… all are bracing for a hot mess of substandard guest service this summer.
This timing is unfortunate, though. It’s a cruel joke by the travel gods to plague the industry with unprecedented staffing issues just when travelers are coming back in droves. They’re eager to shed the restrictive chains that have bound them for the past two years. They want MORE – freedom, choices, amenities, pampering – while you’re trying to figure out how to even deliver your bare minimum experience with LESS.
Sadly, this is a recipe for disappointment. And negative reviews. And social media complaints that need to be managed.
There’s no magic bullet to solve this. Sure you can offer pay that’s double (or more) what everyone else is paying. But that will obliterate your bottom line (and set a risky precedent), so it’s not a reasonable solution.
But you can’t just pull the covers over your head and let chaos take its course. Be proactive with these three tips that will help an understaffed tourism operation avoid disappointing its guests:
Training & Communication
I was in line at the pharmacy recently and the line behind me was growing at an alarming rate while the sole staff person worked with a customer on a tangled issue. She never looked at the line and never said a word to us. I could feel the fuming and resentment building behind me and hear the muttered complaints and huffy breaths. After 20 minutes, it felt like there was going to be a mutiny.
All she had to do was look up and smile every once in a while and say “Folks, I’m so sorry for the wait but I’m the only one here today and I need to give each one of you the attention you deserve when it’s your turn. Thanks for your patience.” That would have diffused 90% of the frustration.
The moral here is… train your people to diffuse frustration. Don’t leave them unprepared to handle difficult guests or situations. Your team should be fully aware of how challenging this summer is likely to be, and you can’t send them into this battle unarmed. They need clear and practical training for handling complaints, lack of service/amenity availability, slow service, supply chain issues, and more. Help them to not fear it and not ignore it. Give them the communication tools they need to address these situations before they become irreversible nightmares for you. And reward them when they deliver.
Sweeten Pain Points
Ski resorts plagued with unavoidably long lift times on peak days often provide entertainment, hot cocoa, and other fun distractions to make the wait more bearable for skiers. This is precisely the concept you need to deploy this summer.
Based on your staffing shortages, you’re likely able to predict where the trouble spots will be and when they’ll occur. Have a plan ready. True, in some cases (like the ski resort example) you might need to devote a staffer (from the already depleted team) to implement the plan, but focusing that precious resource to the challenge is a smart strategy. Stunting frustration before it can build will enable guests to be forgiving in other areas where you have less control. Otherwise frustrations just keep mounting until diffusing them is impossible.
So whether it’s surprising guests with a refreshment cart during long lines, giving a discount or complimentary item for slow room or table service, or providing entertainment where none was expected, be proactive. Have solutions and plans ready to go. And empower your staff – with training and guidelines – to address such problems on the spot.
Choose Where to Make an Impression
I vividly remember the time (pre-COVID) when I was at the Wequassett Resort & Golf Club on Cape Cod two weeks after Labor Day. Knowing that such resorts often employ high school and college kids during the summer – and now they were back at school – I was prepared for moderate service levels. Imagine my surprise when a staffer made the rounds at the pool to polish guests’ sunglasses! That was completely unexpected and impressed the hell out of me.
This season, hospitality operations need to apply a critical lens to the services and amenities they usually offer and say, “What guest touchpoints make the biggest impression and how can we protect them at all costs? Or at the very least, modify them so they STILL make an impression without fumbling?” If you can’t do everything, don’t bother trying or you’ll just do everything poorly. Better to choose some things that get your full attention and do them flawlessly.
This means your entire staff needs to understand where the priorities are, so everyone knows where corners can’t be cut. So once again, clear and direct communication with your staff is essential.
The bottom line is that there’s no simple way to solve this problem. It’s not easy for understaffed tourism operations to avoid disappointing guests. But proactively addressing the situation with a plan and training your staff to be prepared will help mitigate the damage. It might even win you some loyal guest ambassadors.
And by the way, the solutions don’t always have to cost money or require a full staff. These 10 Unexpected (and Fabulous) Tourism Guest Service Stories will give you some inspiration.