After years of planning, the 2018 Commonwealth Games are finally about to kick-off.
We already know millions of dollars have been spent preparing for the event and that millions more will be spent during those two weeks in April when hundreds of thousands of athletes, support teams and visitors descend on the Gold Coast.
And, if we play our cards right, millions more could be spent in the years to come that could also be attributed to the quality of the experiences our visitors have while here for the games.
By providing every one of those visitors enough reason to feel this is somewhere they’d like to come back to, we also have the opportunity to establish the Gold Coast, Queensland and indeed Australia, as a destination of choice for future travel.
If successful, then the legacy of this two-week event will continue to benefit not only our tourism industry but the wider economy for many years to come and the 2018 Commonwealth Games will indeed become the gift that keeps on giving.
So, what do we need to do to make this a reality?
I was fortunate enough to deliver the visitor host training for Brisbane Marketing ahead of the 2014 G20 Leaders Summit here in Brisbane.
This program, “Brisbane Welcomes the World” was provided to the hundreds of wonderful volunteers who had offered their services to host visitors at the many activities in and around Brisbane across the weekend of the meetings.
We also extended invitations to the wider tourism and hospitality industries to send their teams along to get them ready too for the arrival of the 4,000 or so visitors who were to visit Brisbane for the G20.
Essentially, we were building a team of Brisbane Ambassadors. Not just the volunteers who knew their roles in hosting the guests but also, as many people as possible, who were likely to interact with those same visitors in their every day capacity as waiters, shop assistants, concierge, front desk staff, cab drivers, etc.
The thing is, many of these people may never have considered a trip to Australia, let alone Brisbane, were it not for the G20. So, while the eyes of the world were on our city and we had this relatively captive audience to introduce our city to, we were going to make darn sure they had a good time.
Central to this approach was this quote I’ve shared many times before from the famous American Author, Maya Angelou:
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you’ve said,
they’ll forget what you’ve done but
they’ll never forget how you made them feel.”
We believed maintaining the highest possible standards in the way visitors were greeted and served, would likely have them walk away from their time here feeling good enough about their stay in Brisbane to consider coming back.
We wanted them sitting in coffee shops and on planes blogging on their way home about how friendly and helpful the people of Brisbane were and what a great place it was to visit.
Our goal was to ensure that from the moment they arrived until the moment they left, every visitor experienced what we called a “Warm Brisbane Welcome”.
This was the “Welcome” we shared with all those who attended the training:
“In Brisbane, we welcome you as our own and ask you to become a part of it, letting you in on our secrets not just observing through your camera.”
This was something that had been developed in conjunction with the global brand consultancy, Interbrand as part of Brisbane’s destination marketing strategy. It was inspired by a discovery uncovered in research by National Geographic that is referred to as “Untourism”.
A funny word that essentially points to the fact that most tourists are now looking for an opportunity, whenever they visit somewhere new, to immerse themselves in the culture and gain an appreciation of what it’s like to live there as a local. They want more than a pile of photos and the ability to tick somewhere off their bucket list. They want to truly experience that place and everything it has to offer, through its people.
This happens best when we make sure our visitors feel we are genuinely pleased to welcome them and introduce them to “our place”.
The two essential components of being a fantastic visitor host we introduced in the training were “Welcoming” and “Wayfinding”.
This may seem fundamental enough, but it’s often forgotten by many working in busy environments who let the hectic pace of the day override the way we know we should meet and greet people.
Taking even just a few moments to establish a more personal connection and a little rapport will provide a very worthwhile platform for the rest of the interaction and deliver far greater value for each person you assist.
If they feel that warm, happy welcome, they’re far more likely to open up, engage more effectively and share more information. This information often enables you to serve their needs more completely.
The trick is to show plenty of friendly enthusiasm, so they sense you are pleased to meet and assist them.
Use open questions to engage them in conversation. Asking things like “Where are you guys from?” or “What events are you going to?” will almost always get them talking.
The simple act of asking questions about them will show you are interested in them and keen to provide them with the assistance they are looking for.
For more tips on Welcoming, please refer to my last blog: 8 sure-fire tips for building better rapport
Wayfinding is about connecting visitors with our place by helping them understand more about what’s out there for them to enjoy and the easiest way for them to get there to enjoy it.
The best way to explain it is through a likely example of how it might work.
Imagine you’re on holiday on the Gold Coast, sitting in a restaurant with friends and the person waiting on your table is very friendly and happy to chat as they take your order and deliver your meals.
During your meal the conversation turns to what you’ve got planned for the next few days. As you discuss your plans you realise there’s a half-day where you don’t have anything on and you decide to ask the waiter if they have any recommendations.
Hopefully their response will be to first ask something like “What sort of experience are you looking for?” or “What sort of things do you like to do?” Because remember as a host, their goal is to recommend something for you that is going to appeal more to your liking than their own.
Let’s say you respond with “Well, we’d love to see some wildlife or visit one of Queensland’s famous heritage listed rainforests”.
The ideal way to answer this would be to then say something like, “Well one of my favourite places to go is...” or “One of the places I hear is beautiful is...”.
Even better still would be to share stories about how much they or someone they knew enjoyed the same experience. This helps to emotionally connect you with what they’re suggesting and inspire you to want to experience it too.
I know when I’m somewhere new, I look for the busiest coffee shop because when we see others enjoying themselves it makes us feel more confident we will too.
Just like when you’re shopping for something that you know you can get from several different outlets or on a dozen different websites, most consumers prefer a referral from someone they know and trust because it means they can feel confident they can trust that business too.
Whenever I travel, my favourite questions are “Where do locals go?” and “What do locals do?” Both are quick ways to uncover the best things to do while I’m there.
But, not everyone’s like that. What if the diners in our story didn’t ask for suggestions? This might mean they missed out on some of the best of what the Gold Coast had to offer.
For example, let’s say their conversation included a suggestion to visit Australia Zoo but then one of the other diners said it was too far away.
In this scenario, if they were to ask the waiter a specific question like “How far is Australia Zoo?” instead of a more open question like “Where can we see wildlife?”, then finding out it was over a hundred kilometres away might lead to the decision not to go so they miss out on seeing any Australian wildlife on their day off.
If, however, the waiter had taken the time to ask a question like “So, what else are you guys looking to do or experience while you’re here in Queensland?”, they might have still discovered the visitors’ interest in wildlife and been able to tell them about Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary, which is right there on the Coast.
This is why, to be a truly great host, we need to proactively engage with people and draw them into a conversation with lots of open questions to make sure you help them get the most out of their visit.
That way, they get what they expected from their restaurant visit, the meal and your great service and also what they hadn’t expected, suggestions on what to do so they have a great time while they’re in here in Queensland.
You’ve gone above and beyond in what you’ve provided but you’ve also probably helped make their Queensland experience so much more than it might have been.
They may have primarily come for the games but hopefully they will have discovered just how much there is to do in Queensland and decide they should return or at the very least, tell their family and friends about it all when they get home.
By the way, in this story the business setting was a restaurant, but this approach is equally effective and important in any business where you’re serving visitors. Whether you’re selling coffee, newspapers or souvenirs, driving a cab, renting a car or helping someone at an information booth, look for ways to provide more than they are expecting by being a great Queensland Host.
Just as it was with the visitors who came for the G20, we are about to receive a huge number of visitors who are here primarily because of an event.
The strongest legacy we can hope for from the 2018 Commonwealth Games is that many of those visitors have such a wonderful time they walk away looking forward to coming back and raving about their Commonwealth Games experience and everything else we have to offer.
Please remember folks, this is not only your chance to support Australia in the games but also represent Australia during the games.
So be terrific visitor hosts to everyone you bump into and give them every reason to want to come back.
Have fun and enjoy the games.