There are some challenges nevertheless. Brexit is an obvious one that is likely to impact on visitor numbers from Great Britain and Northern Ireland. AirBnB is also a big threat to traditional accommodation providers. But the bigger issue is one of pricing. As a nation, we are seen to be expensive. When presenting an upbeat strategy for 2019, Paul Kelly the CEO of Failte Ireland, referred to the ‘softening of Ireland’s reputation as a value for money destination’. The VAT increase, new minimum wage, and rising insurance costs all add to that.
We charge premium prices compared to other lower-cost destinations. Premium as a strategy for ‘Ireland Inc’ is okay, provided the customer gets a premium experience to match those prices. Imagine if in your business you tried to get premium prices for a poor customer experience, where would that lead you? Against a very competitive backdrop and rising customer expectations, that’s a watch-out.
There are a number of issues here for consideration to reverse the growing negativity about value for money, that are totally within our control.
1. Reboot and refresh the customer experience in your own business. Before the season kicks off in earnest, stand back and take a fresh look at your proposition. Your customers judge you on your ‘product/service’, your ‘place’ and your ‘people’. Is your hotel with four stars being pulled down by a two-star receptionist? Is your taxi or bus clean and comfortable? Is the standard of your restaurant food matching your prices? Is your B&B up to the standard of your prices?
2. Embrace ‘destination thinking’ by engaging with your local tourism associations. Be magnanimous and think beyond your own business. Picture a visitor coming to experience The Wild Atlantic Way. They possibly experience on-line booking in advance… then arrival at port… road /rail infrastructure… transport… first impressions on arrival at accommodation… check-in… concierge… the bedroom… dining/bar facilities… shopping… entertainment… and so on until their departure. Where does your business fit in to that chain?
3. Then we might look at how we as independent business owners can work together in our local area to promote our town. Like passing the baton in a relay race – are our visitors getting a consistent premium experience in all moments of truth or are they getting mixed and confusing messages? How can you play a key role in ensuring that the customer experience in your overall destination is premium?
The Last Word
There are three aspirations common to every business. Firstly, you want customers to buy from you today. Secondly, you want them to come back again in the future. And thirdly, in a world where review sites wield such influence – we want our customers to recommend us to their friends. You won’t be surprised to hear that there is so much research that proves that the single most significant driver of those three outcomes is the quality of the experience that customers have.
At the very least, all businesses should hold up the mirror to themselves and ask – ‘as a stand-alone business, would my customers recommend me to their friends?’ Let’s not look and seek to cast judgement on others until we get our own house in order first. It doesn’t mean that we all have to be four and five star in our premises or product offering. But if we want to be true to our reputation for ‘cead mile failte’, then we should encourage our people to be the best they can be in their behaviours and interactions with visitors.
© Copyright. Alan O’Neill. All rights reserved. 2019