Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Tale of Two Tour Companies

"He who has a thing to sell and goes and whispers in a well is not so apt to get the dollars as he who climbs a tree and hollers." - Author Unknown

In the service industry, poor marketing is as treacherous as bad service. If the people you are trying to reach do not know what you have on sale, what you have to offer, then how will they know to use your service over someone else's - a service that may not necessarily be better than yours, but is marketed better.

Case in point: my vacation.

So when I am on vacation, as opposed to quick trips, I love seeing the place. I love tours. But not all tour companies are the same and you have to really do your research to get the best bang for your buck. I did 3 tours while on vacacy, two with Apples Company, and which were easy to select and I will discuss later. The other took some doing and much googling  but I managed to find it and booked it with the Bananas Company. I really wanted to do this tour so despite a total lack of web presence on the Bananas company, I booked it anyway.

So the Banana Company tour started off okay, with a greeter meeting me at my hotel and accompanying me to the tour bus. While on the bus, the driver indicated that there were 2 tours that day and Group 1 would stay with him and Group 2 would transfer to another bus. It was then I realised there was no Group 3 mention, which should have included me. Okay, so... scary. I indicated to the driver that he seemed to have forgotten Group 3. He did not know about Group 3 - the group of one apparently. Okay...so... poor communication. Things were now on a slippery slope with this tour. He told me he would get more information when he dropped off Group 2.

Anyway, eventually I met my "guide" and he told me he had to pick someone up and he would get me in 10 minutes. Half hour later, I am still working on my not-needed tan in the sun, waiting for my "guide". When he eventually gets back, and I get into the Escalade (not the tour bus, but I was not complaining) we get to talking and he apologises profusely for being late and offers me another tour free of charge. However, this tour was the one I had planned for the next day with Apples, and which was already paid for. This led to a discussion - a bit of a bad minded one - about the competition, Apples and how they were out to get his company. He asked me why I did not choose his company for my tour and I told him honestly I had never heard of his company and in none of my searches did the company ever show up, whereas Apples was all over the place. And not only were they everywhere, but they got awesome reviews on travel sites like Tripadvisor, by which I swear when planning many a vacation. To my horror, homie asks:

"What is Tripadvisor?"

This is where I was gravely alarmed! How could you be running a service in THIS particular industry and not know what Tripadvisor was? Or Fodor's? Or Frommer's? Or Lonely Planet? I was aghast that this dude did not know any of these and how they could impact the success of his business. I don't make a travel move without consulting fellow travellers on these sites. To make it worse, brace yourself, their website is not functional. You heard me. They have a website but they don't really use it, update it, market their business using it. So I had to ask, "How on earth do you expect people to know you?" I think I was so overcome by shock that I did not hear the answer, but he was blaming Apple's underhand tactics for his business' lack of immense success. I listened to what he was saying but really did not want to hear. He claimed Apples' management gave $5 discounts to customers if they would give a review of the tour. Now I dunno about most of you, but if the tour was horrendous, it would take more than $5 to get me to glorify it. I found the Bananas company's tour through sheer persistence and even then, they operated via a third party website and not their own corporate site.

Needless to say, I gave the guy some tips - basic tips like
  • revamp your website - I mean, seriously??
  • love traveller-driven sites, like Tripadvisor
  • network with travellers via social media
  • create a mailing list using email addresses collected during bookings to stay in touch with travellers, share promotions etc so they can pass on to their friends etc (subject to a subscription, of course. Noone likes spam!)

What was scary was that this outfit was run by people under 30! Apples on the other hand was being managed by two 40-somethings. So don't let anyone tell you that technology is youth driven. Apples' website is fantastic. It is updated daily, has an awesome chat feature which facilitated my questions about the 2 tours I booked with them, has information about the company, the staff. I mean, I knew about my driver before I met him.

And to add insult to injury, Bananas' tour sucked. Let me clarify. The tour itself was fantastic because I had a really fantastic guide - ME. This "tour" with Bananas involved them picking me up LATE from the drop point, dropping me off at the place and telling me, someone will be back in 3 hours to pick you back up. Three hours later, I was baking in the sun again, and having to use my expensive roaming to call and argue with the office staff cause I was seeing an afternoon of shopping slipping away as I sat there for over an hour waiting. In the sun! So of course when I get into the Escalade (the saving point of this whole experience) I told him that my review would not be stellar. I felt bad cause he was a nice guy and he apologised again, but on top of poor marketing, the service was not awesome. So what was I supposed to do? And he did not even offer me $5 to lie! lol

Apples' two tours though, were fantastic, and not self-guided. The driver was polite, knowledgeable, EARLY. I had mentioned to the customer service rep  on their online chat service, that I would be taking the tour on my birthday while making my booking a week before, and as soon as they picked me up at the hotel, they were waiting for me with cake and singing. The service was amazing and any allegations of paying customers $5 had to be a lie cause I would not have taken their $5. Their service spoke volumes and they deserved every single positive review they got on Tripadvisor.

So on top of a fab wesbite and great social networking, add super great service and after service. Apples came out a huge winner and got a great review from me to add to a slew of glowing reviews from fellow travellers. Bananas...well, I wish them well.


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