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Tourism and Economy

Creating passion for your tourism business in difficult times

Dr. Peter Tarlow, Tourism Tidbits  Apr 02, 2009

Tourism is a business and like all businesses its purpose is to make money. Simply put a tourism business that does not turn a profit dies. Business, however, is more than merely turning a profit; it is also about people, ideas, and product. Indeed a tourism business that seeks only to make a profit will probably fail, especially during economically difficult times. Perhaps no ingredient makes a tourism business thrive more that does a sense of passion. Travel and tourism customers sense almost immediately if you enjoy your job or are merely just doing it, and if you are passionate about what you do or if you are there merely to collect a paycheck. In order to help you create a passion for tourism, here are several ideas, hints and concepts that may be useful.

Know what business you are in. Too many people in tourism see their business as "heads in bed" or "passengers in seats". While on some level this is necessary, these are not the passion reasons for travel and tourism. Travel and tourism is about people, bringing them together, providing unique experiences and helping people to live longer through creative relaxation. Once we understand the true nature of the tourism business, the other parts of it are simple. First, however, take the time to ask yourself, if you really care about the well being of your customers. Is the travel or tourism experience that you provide one that helps people to distress or does it create greater stress? Are you merely providing a place to stay or a staying experience? Are you in the travel business or merely transporting people from place X to place Y?

Do the right thing. One of the ways to create passion is doing things that are right. If you do not deliver a promised service, make it up to the person. Rather than being defensive about a complaint, try to see the complaint from the customer's perspective. Modern tourism has too often forgotten that we are here to serve the public rather than the public's needing to serve us. Those tourism and travel business that do the right thing not matter how it may impact their bottom line will soon discover greater profits. Those businesses that are merely in business for profit without regard to doing the right thing may discover that sales have fallen and their customers have found other alternatives. Never forget that tourism is based on disposable income, so if the tourism experience becomes too difficult, our customers may chose to spend their money on items other than travel and tourism. One of the key problems that our customers tell us is that we do not own our mistakes and problems but rather shrug them off by stating that that is just the way things are. Own the problem and you will find a solution, pass it off and it will merely fester and get worse.

Be creative and listen, listen and listen some more! Passion comes from a willingness to serve our customers' needs. While we often put out comment cards or offer suggestion boxes, the public know intuitively that these suggestions are rarely read and if read usually ignored. While not all suggestions are doable, they often contain a kernel of truth. For example, if you are receiving a lot of food suggestions then what collectively these letters may be saying is that there is a disconnect between what you are serving and what the traveling public wants. The Japanese emphasize the idea of working where the rubber hits the road, that is developing ideas from the ground up. This means that they encourage those on the front lines to provide as much input as possible. Leadership means allowing those on the front lines to be creative, to use their passion to better serve the customer and to make creative suggestions that never would have been considered at the level of the corporate office. Just because we do not like what we hear does not mean that is wrong. Passion comes from hearing the negative, siphoning off the real from the incorrect and then attempting to transform the negative into a creative new positive approach.

Passion comes from caring about your customers and their travel experience. Caring is much more than mere good customer service. Caring is the idea that what happens in both a formal and informal setting matters to us. If we believe that travel and tourism are important to the wellbeing of both groups and individuals then we will act in a manner that says that people are more important than money or things. Caring also means trusting our employees to do the right thing. If you cannot trust your employees to care, then the time has come to separate your business from them. If you trust your employees to care, then demonstrate this by not micro-managing every detail of their professional lives. Good employees note very quickly that the business sees them as people and not merely as tools to accomplish a goal. During economically challenging periods, tourism and travel leadership needs to show that it cares by not asking employees to do anything that they too would not do. Tourism and travel employees are the industry's front lines and that means that they should never be afraid to tell management what they believe to be a truth. When employees are afraid to speak, the lines of communication soon fail and vital information is lost. When we treat our employees with respect we set a tone in which we unconsciously communicate that they are expected to treat customers with respect and passion or find another job.

Think how you are going to handle a potential downturn in the market. It is very possible that 2009 may be a year of multiple layoffs and tourism closings. Ask yourself what plans have been developed should such a scenario happen. Choose your words clearly and communicate to your employees what you are really trying to say. While not always possible, whenever it can be done downsizing decisions should be made as a team rather than simply by fiat. When employees have a sense that a company cares about them they are more willing to pull together to make collectively hard decisions. Make sure that your decisions reflect the ethics and morals of your tourism business. Howard Behar the former Startbucks' president reminds us that: "there are no such things as stressful situations, only stressful responses." His worlds could not more correct when it comes to travel and tourism. If we are passionate about what we do, then we can turn the distress almost any situation with a sense of passion for people. Behar goes on to remind us that each of us, be we in management, on the frontlines or a customer is first and foremost a person. Passion is the travel and tourism industry depends on our understanding that our real business is being passionate about and caring for people, especially during economically trying times.

To contact Dr. Peter Tarlow, visit Tourism and More’s website at or e-mail us at

Creating passion for your tourism business in difficult times
Photo by Nelson Alcantara

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