This is a follow on from my previous blogs.
So when you do it all yourself, the first things you start worrying about are whether the bookings you made will be honored. I printed off 2 copies of everything including copies of our passports because there is always the risk that your luggage will not arrive at the same place as you do. I emailed copies to myself as well so I could access them from a variety of sources as well.
Some properties are really good at responding to your requests and others seem to have all the technology but really don’t manage it very well. I once arrived, excited to be at the Pink Flamingo in Las Vegas, booked through a travel agent who through time zones were asleep, when the front desk told me they had no record of my booking and were full with a conference. After a lot of pressure they found me a room for one night and then I was on my own, so I have reason to be cautious. When I booked my first night’s accommodation at the Days Inn at New Orleans Airport using the Booking.com app on my iPad, I requested a quiet room and confirmation that they would pick me up at the airport when I arrived at the airport. I didn’t get confirmation, so I rang them a couple of days before I left. They told me to call from the airport when I arrived. No problem there.
Another thing I would recommend if you are going on a long trip and have kids or family at home you need to stay in touch with, is to arrange free-calling from home to the country you are going to. I have that set up with Orcon already for my music business. Effectively from home anyone can call any number on the USA, including mobiles for up to one hour at a time. We used that a lot.
I also tried a few VOIP / Mobile apps for low-cost communication. The one we used daily was Voxer. They promote their application as a Walkie Talkie and one of its key features is a push to talk function. The nice thing is that the other person doesn’t actually have to be there or respond straight away. It also allows you to send photos and TXT messages without using the mobile phone system, so much cheaper. It was also an easy way to let them know to call us.
One of the things I found when I did my research on how I was going to be able to plan our trip on a daily basis was which properties had applications of their own, such as for Apple devices. In most cases what I found was that a very large number of properties in the hospitality and tourism industry had very nice brochureware applications. They seem to be typically template driven, designed to keep the cost down, but the weakness with most of them was that once the property had set up the application, or paid a developer to do it for them, they forgot all about it and didn’t keep them up to date. This reminded me very much of the tourism industry in general when it comes to web sites. It doesn’t inspire people to visit the property which is surely the reason they pay for them in the first place. I also found that hardly any of them took advantage of the ability to use the GPS in Smartphones and provide directions based on your location.
I suspect that many destinations do not appreciate the number of people using Smartphones and web applications and also the fact that those people are typically at the higher income level and the type of customers they want visiting their business.
One that really impressed me big time was Oak Alley Plantation in Vacherie, Louisiana. Not far from New Orleans. I was keen to enjoy some history about plantation life and slavery and based on their web presence, booked 2 nights in a historic Doctors House, which was restored to original condition, supplemented by a massive spa bath, cable TV and air conditioning.
They have a great website, excellent iPhone and Android applications, which are well worth downloading and trying out even if you don’t go there, because they are excellent examples of getting it right. They also have a Facebook page, are on Pinterest, YouTube and much more. Many of these pages are updated daily and their use of social media and location is matched by their professionalism when you visit. It is little wonder that they do exceptionally good business. Anyone looking at how to grow their destination business could do well to use them as an example.
There are several plantations in the area, but this one is by far the busiest and I am sure it is their use of technology combined with Southern hospitality and attention to detail at all levels that gets random people like me from the other side of the world to visit. If you are in Australia or New Zealand and want to do something similar, we have partners at GeoSmart who can assist, but you do need to understand that setting up applications and pages are the start, not the end. It is not build it and they will come, it is about maintaining it consistently and engaging with people. This will come up again and again during this series of blogs about road trips and FIT tourists and travellers.