“It is a very, very tough business to be in,” says Byron Jeacocks, Business Partners Limited regional general manager. The tourism industry is a highly competitive jungle in which entrepreneurs, their businesses and their dreams can easily die if the rules of survival are not followed.
Jeacocks identifies the five most basic rules that, if broken, will lead to the demise of any tourism business:
1. Have a passion for people
Tourism entrepreneurs see human beings not only at their best – relaxed, humorous and enthusiastic – but also at their very worst – spoiled, entitled, demanding and hung over. Only those business owners who love and understand people, and who know how to deal with both their ups and their downs, will survive in this industry, says Jeacocks.
2. Location, location, location
The Durban beach front is a very good illustration of the importance of location in the tourism business, says Jeacocks. The hotels on the beach are able to charge so much more per room than those merely one street back. The intangible foundations of so many successful tourism establishments are directly tied to their location – the ambiance, the view and the convenience.
Location used to be the biggest success factor by far, says Jeacocks. It still is big, but then the next factor arose.
3. Work on your global presence
Today, tourists planning a trip to Outer Mongolia can take a virtual tour online right into the hotel rooms they plan to book before they even set foot out of their homes.
“In the old days, your business on the one side of town used to compete with the guy on the other side of town. Today, you’re competing with the world,” says Jeacocks.
The internet has made the tourism industry “immeasurably more competitive”, and has raised the expectations of customers to unprecedented levels. Tourism businesses are at the mercy of online customer reviews. “If a guest writes a comment online that the bed linen was dirty, and even if they were wrong, there is not much you can do about it.”
The only way to survive is to raise your standards higher and to maintain a strong internet presence.
There is also a very positive side to the internet’s impact on the tourism industry, says Jeacocks. In the past, if a tour operator didn’t recommend your service or if you did not advertise in glossy magazines, you had little chance of survival. The result was that the bigger establishments grew and smaller ones easily fell by the wayside. The internet has leveled the playing field, and business owners need to embrace fully the competitive opportunities that it offers.
4. Start with quality management
In such a hyper-competitive industry, the quality of the management is crucial for survival. Service quality used to be a differentiator, setting the leading business apart from its struggling rivals, says Jeacocks. Not anymore. “If you want to be in the market, you have to give good quality service,” which can only come through good quality management.
It goes for all businesses that staff and management should have a united vision, but in the tourism trade it applies from top management “right down to the guy who cleans, because one off-the-cuff remark can ruin it for you. The customer goes online, puts a comment down and then you’re in trouble,” says Jeacocks. “So every staff member has to be focused on the vision, happy about it, and know exactly what they’re doing.”
5. Build a quality team
Hand-in-hand with quality management goes quality employees, which Jeacocks describes as “empowered, happy and problem-solving employees”.
“You can have the best management going around making sure that everything is going according to plan, but it only takes one unmotivated staff member who is resentful of the customer being there, and you’ve lost the battle,” he says.
The struggle for emerging tourism entrepreneurs is that well-trained staff are in demand and expensive. The best strategy is to recruit high-potential youngsters and train them on the job, even if you run the risk of losing them to better-paying, more established businesses. By working on retaining them in your business, you are raising their motivation levels at the same time, which your business needs in order to survive.