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 Riding the high-season wave


 Tourism insiders know that their industry is not for the faint-hearted. Every year, almost every tourism business faces a gigantic wave of seasonality which is thrilling to surf, but which can just as easily wipe you out. How do you get ready for the big wave?

Most tourism businesses’ turnover at least doubles over the high season, says Anton Roelofse. Some experience up to a ten-fold increase. “Imagine doing R100 000 per month during the year, and R1m over the high season.”

The key to surviving the high season is thorough planning, says Roelofse. Sometimes you have to start planning way in advance. Improvements such as renovations are not the kind of thing that you should do a month or two before the season kicks in. If you are fairly new in the game, it is always a good idea to start planning early.

First, make sure that all your equipment and infrastructure are fully functional and well serviced. “You don’t need breakdowns in the middle of the high season. If you’re in the tour operator industry, make sure your buses are serviced. If you’re in the hotel industry, make sure your rooms are ready and your showers are working,” says Roelofse. A tourism business must be able to use its entire asset optimally in the tourist season in order to survive and grow.

Second, make sure your staff is well trained before you hit the high season. This is particularly important for businesses that ramp up by bringing in extra contract personnel for the season. It is unfair to everyone if you leave it for the last minute and scramble to recruit inexperienced workers when things become overwhelming. The workers are then expected to learn under very difficult circumstances, your guests are not well serviced, and your business suffers harm to its reputation.

If you do need to make emergency appointments in the high season, make sure that you place your most experienced personnel at the “flash points” in the business where they interact directly with your clients. Inexperienced recruits are best used at the back of the business where interaction with clients is minimal.

Some tourism businesses have a clear limit to how big they can go in the high season. Guest houses, hotels and bed-and-breakfast establishments only have a certain number of rooms they can fill. It is relatively straight-forward to ensure that your plan includes a 100% occupancy scenario.

On the other hand, businesses with less of a clear limit, for example tour operators, have to be careful not to over-trade, in other words to take on too many clients, during the high season. “Remember that when you’re chasing turnover, you increase the amount of working capital you need. You need to be able to fund the cycle. If you run out of working capital, it can cause the closure of your business,” says Roelofse.

Once again, it boils down to good planning. Before you go into the high season, know the maximum number of clients you can take on.

One way to ease yourself into the wave is to try to extend the length of the high season as much as possible. Make special offers to locals in the periods running up to and also after the high season. You get the benefit of tapping into a secondary market and it allows you to ramp up, prepare your staff for the rush and iron out any wrinkles in your operation.

Once you are in the rush of the high season, it is easy to forget that there are ways in which you can make sure your business benefits optimally. It is rather like a surfer who is simply trying to stay on top of the board, as opposed to one who is able to maneuver around on the wave. “You have done all the hard marketing work to get your guests there for the season,” says Roelofse. “Now make the most of it.”

Think of value-adding services that you can offer. These can be done in collaboration with businesses that complement your own. Your guest house can facilitate a massage service or beauty treatments on certain days, an adventure operator can earn extra income by referring his clients to similar, complementary experiences.

Another way of optimising the high season is to offer a loyalty programme of some kind. “Throw in a freebie when someone buys a certain package, for example,” says Roelofse.

Of course, the most optimal use of the high season is when you give your clients such a good experience that they come back for more in the future. Then you will find the wave getting bigger and bigger every year, as you become better and better at riding it.




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