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By Alan E. YoungPresident and Co-Founder of Puzzle Partner

There are some companies that claim they are guest or traveler engagement companies. These companies have developed software platforms or apps to communicate more effectively with the traveler. Their technology enables travelers check in online, purchase upgrades, and supports text messaging capabilities to order amenities while on-property as well as to send post-stay surveys.

However, is this really engagement or just enhanced communication? 

I think we have lost the essence of what true engagement should be.  I fully understand that different travelers require a different level of service. Some may want to use their mobile device as the only way to interact with the airline or hotel, and others may want a higher level of service.

Here are 3 great examples of true traveler engagement:

1. Traveler engagement does not always have to be face to face

One of the most challenging issues that airlines and hotels are faced with is dealing with the plethora of review content, which needs to be sifted through and responded to.  

For example, a TripAdvisor review of a Kimpton hotel experience stated that the hotel was great, however the staff was quite grumpy. The response by the hotel was perfect. It directly addressed their likes and dislikes and invited the guest to return. Even though this is an electronic communication, there is true engagement here.

“Thank you for your feedback from your stay. We appreciate your kind words about our comfy and modern rooms with stunning views and EPIC’s overall ambiance and design. However, we are saddened to hear your comments about our hospitality and service. We are usually known for our friendly and attentive staff that treats each guest with the same amount of respect and understanding. We are truly sorry that you felt different and for that would like to apologize. We hope that you will give us another chance and return to the hotel in the future”.  EPIC Hotels

This is now a potential win because of the way the response was delivered - with respect and understanding. This is true engagement.

2. Content is also key in creating an engaged traveler

Airlines are getting very good at creating engaging content through the use of traveler stories and videos. 

One of my favorite examples involves WestJet. WestJet created a Christmas ad where they set up a kiosk in the departure lounge for a cross-Canada flight. Guests, as WestJet calls its travelers, were asked, by Santa, what they would like for Christmas using the kiosk. 

During their 5-hour flight, WestJet employees set about purchasing the items that each traveler had wished for while chatting with Santa. A huge mission indeed.

Upon arrival at their destination, WestJet Elves gleefully went about giving the passengers their surprise Christmas gifts. It created a media sensation on YouTube that went viral - and embodied what true traveler engagement is all about.

3. Creating memorable experiences

This last story came from my time at Four Seasons Hotel many years ago.

A family had just checked out of the hotel, and the doorman was helping them into a taxi for the trip back to the airport. Once the bags had been placed in the trunk of the taxi and the family was seated in the cab, the driver took off for the airport. 

The hotel doorman noticed, after the taxi had left, that the little girl who was traveling with her parents had dropped her teddy bear outside of the cab. Without hesitation, the doorman hailed another cab and went after the family. When they arrived at the airport, the doorman puled up behind them and gave the little girly her teddy bear. Needless to say, the family was amazed at this level of service and engagement.

I believe that the travel and hotel industry needs to take a step back and fully review and appreciate what engagement is versus communication.  I guess it really focuses on something that we do not discuss much anymore, and that is customer service. The travel industry is a service-based industry. It revolves around creating great moments and memories for the traveler. Whether you are an airline, a hotel or car rental company, you must keep in mind that while the digital age and technology can be leveraged to communicate more effectively with your traveler, finding ways to engage with them on a more personal level will always be the most important element of a trip. It is the great differentiator and it is service that delivers the highest return on investment.

About Alan E. Young

Alan E. Young is the President of Puzzle Partner Ltd. and Co-founder of Next Big Thing Travel & Hospitality ( Previously, Alan has held executive level positions with startup companies such as Newtrade Technologies, (acquired by Expedia), Hotel Booking Solutions (acquired by IBS Software) and TrustYou. Alan is past Chair of The Board of Directors of The OpenTravel Alliance, and been very involved with other industry associations most notably AHLA, HEDNA and HTNG. With over two decades of experience in the travel and hospitality technology world, Alan specializes in helping innovative companies achieve winning performance and dramatic growth.

Contact: Alan / 705.241.5244

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