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How Will You Manage Your Visitors’ Expectations This Year?

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As the world reopens after COVID-19, tourists are ready to get out of their houses and visit all the parks, museums and heritage sites that have been closed for more than a year. While we all want these trips to return to the normal of a few years ago, things have changed, it’s time for a refresher on making sure you can meet the expectations of your visitors. 

Helping Your Travel-Ready Visitors Prepare For Your Destination

According to the June 7 Destination Analysts newsletter, “a pandemic record-breaking 80% of Americans say they are in a travel ready state-of-mind.” The site also says more than 70% of travelers are ready for  large outdoor events, but the site pointed out that people expect to see pandemic protocols in place. Here are some tips on how to meet visitor expectations:

  • Communicate with potential visitors. Do it loud and make it clear. Do it on your website, in newsletters, on social media and directly with your followers via email, texts, phone messages and whatever you need to do to ensure your guests understand if and how things have changed at your site. Returning loyal fans might expect the same experiences they had a few years ago, but if you have reduced days/hours, changed ticketing, or require two-week lead times for tickets, your guests need to know before they show up at your door. 
  • Be compassionate. Help your guests understand that you are following all regulations that apply to your site, but be prepared to offer assistance in having the best experience possible.  
  • Encourage safety. Post your health and wellness policies so that visitors know how you plan to protect them. Make it positive: Tell them what you are doing to keep them safe: masks, sanitizer stations, plexiglass dividers, social distancing. Think of everything that can impact an experience. Make sure they also know your policies on pets and service animals.

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Don’t Forget To Communicate With Stakeholders

Communicating with stakeholders, business partners and direct marketing organizations is smart marketing, especially if you have changed hours due to a reduced staff or building capacity regulations. Make sure that this is clear to potential visitors, and be transparent in all communications and especially on your website and social media platforms.

If you have to cancel an event, or even if you worry that you might have to cancel an event, draft and post a policy for refunds right along with your announcement about the event. It’s best to be prepared.  

Adapting To The New Normal

One nonprofit that has the most thorough instructions for guests is Fallingwater. The popular Frank Lloyd Wright site requires reservations for all visits, and recommends ticket purchases two weeks in advance. Fallingwater also has a most-extensive list of helpful tips on planning a visit. It includes travel times and warnings about traffic, road conditions and busiest times of the day, week and month. All of these points can help visitors choose when to visit. 

It’s critical to know what kind of crowd you can safely accommodate. To do that, many museums, including Heinz History Center, are still selling tickets based on dates and times. It gives visitors choices and controls the number of people in the museum at any given time. This is a win-win, and guests know what to expect. 

Be honest with the public and with your staff about your ability to handle crowds. Many tourism destinations still lack adequate staffing. You can even make that a positive by promoting that you are looking for associates to join your great attraction as employees.

The days of heading to our favorite attractions on a moment’s notice might not be possible at some destinations, but keep in mind, larger venues have been requiring advance reservations for years. Obviously, spur-of-the-moment visits may not be possible, but as long as you communicate how to schedule a visit in clear and friendly terms, you can keep your employees and visitors happy with the flow of traffic. 

When you discover that it’s impossible to accommodate a visitor’s needs (and we all know this will happen), have a backup plan and offer alternatives. Maybe a nonprofit partner site has some great events if yours are sold out. That’s often how tourists discover a perfect gem they might never have uncovered if their plans hadn’t fallen through. As part of this, you can connect partners and stakeholders in advance on ideas in efforts to market your whole region, not just a single amenity.

The goal for managing visitor expectations is to create a positive and memorable experience that will bring visitors back many times in the future. Ad Age suggests that “60% of consumers are likely to become repeat buyers after a personalized experience, so if you’re investing in personalization you’re investing in customer loyalty and future sales.” 

You can use all your communication tools to help meet visitor expectations long before they arrive at your tourist destination.  

Pam Parker
Pam Parker is an award-winning reporter and editor from Gannett's Erie Times-News who recently retired and is now a project manager at the Erie County Historical Society - Hagen History Center in Erie. She has worked in marketing and publishing most of her life and had careers as an account executive and media director for multiple ad agencies. She has also been a freelance writer who has written about homes, women’s issues, hard news and in-depth features. She is a proud wife, mom/stepmom of six, GramPam to seven and a wicked-good tennis player.

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