By Phil Bruno

Anyone working in the hospitality and tourism industry for the past few years knows there has been upheaval. But there is an old saying: “The obstacles that are in your way aren’t meant to stop you. They’re designed to point the way to a new route, new possibilities, and new doorways.”

I’ve spent some time documenting what’s wrong with the industry, both from the viewpoint of employers and that of employees. Those are the challenges. But they are not meant to be all doom-and-gloom! It’s now time to see the new path, and the new possibilities, that are before us.

Between the pandemic, the recovery, inflation worries, and the social climate in general, the behaviors and expectations of travelers have changed. This means that we will need to change with them. Those organizations that manage to retool and retrain quickly will be the ones that prosper.

What does that mean, to “retool and retrain”? In a nutshell, employees and leaders in the hospitality and tourism industry have to change their skillset to better navigate travel and tourism as we find it today.

The following three skills are a good start. The more people can learn these, the more they will set up the entire organization for success.

I personally believe in these skills so much, I am adding a bonus: If you follow this link, you can create an account in seconds to access my short video-based courses teaching each of these skills, free of charge. You can use them to begin training your own team, and when you are ready, our learning management system has dozens more available for purchase.

So what are these key skills? They are earning trust, empathy, and referring and recommending.

#1. Earning Their Trust

Today’s traveler is stepping out of their safe zone at home and into your bubble of reality. To calm their fears and anxiety, it’s important for you to make an even greater effort to connect on a personal and professional level.

In other words, you need to earn their trust. Everything you say and do should send the message “Hey, we got you!”

This requires skill at making customers feel heard and addressing their needs. If a tourist or traveler feels you really are in their corner, that will go a good way toward building trust.

#2. Empathy

So how do you make customers feel heard, and address their needs? This is where the skill of empathy comes into play. Empathy is simply the outreach, the connection, the acknowledgement, and the honoring of people with whom we are dealing. With empathy, you can recover from a tense situation and turn it into a positive one.

And you don’t need to understand everything someone is going through to be empathetic—you simply need to connect with them in the moment and see things from their point of view.

Empathy is critical because emotions have a huge impact on how human beings behave, but it is our thoughts and perceptions that influence our emotions. Have you ever snapped at someone because you were angry at someone else? Or were annoyed by something else that happened that day? How you interacted with that person was due to your emotional state. But you were in that emotional state because of how you perceived your day was going, and what you thought was the cause.

Travelers and tourists can often get angry or frustrated. Those are the emotions they feel, and that affects their behavior. By learning empathy, you can start unearthing the real issue and analyze what is happening, instead of getting caught up in it.

Once you unearth the real issue, you now have an opportunity for recovery—that is, turning the potentially negative experience into a positive one. When you can remain calm and connect with a person, it often changes their attitude towards you and towards the situation. Many positive reviews have been left online for venues simply because employees treated guests with empathy and understanding!

#3. Referring and Recommending

As an employee or manager, you are not only a source of trust and empathy. You are also a source of knowledge. Remember, the traveler or tourist is out of their comfort zone, and so they are constantly learning even the simplest things—like where the restrooms are located, or what are the best local restaurants.

Some questions will have been asked (and answered) hundreds of times. Some will be new and surprising. No matter what the case, the key to surviving them is anticipating what those questions will be, and tailoring your answer to the person standing in front of you.

For example, if you work in a hotel, you can easily brainstorm the top 10 questions that a guest is likely to ask. You can even break these up into categories—for example, what questions are they likely to ask at check-in? And which questions are they likely to ask when they go to step out in the morning to explore around town?

Get others involved in this exercise, too. Collectively, you’ll be able to anticipate most common questions. And when you can anticipate questions, you can have answers ready.

For example a common question someone might ask the hotel desk staff is “Where is a good local place to grab breakfast/lunch/brunch?” What kind of place would you recommend for a family of four with young kids? What kind of place would you recommend for a young couple hungry for something new and trendy? What about a couple of conventioneers who want to “go off campus” and eat where the locals eat? Each of these have different goals and expectations; if you can tailor your recommendation to those, you’ll come out the hero every time.

Mastering the 3 Skills

Again, these three skills—earning trust, empathy, and referring and recommending—are just the start. There are many more skills to master, but these form the foundation of positive customer experience.

I hear every day about how “customers have become so rude” or “no one believes in courtesy and decency” any more. And those statements might be true. Given everything that has happened to our nation during and after the pandemic, I can see how people would easily get anxious, tired, frustrated, and—ultimately—angry.

My point is not to defend that behavior, but to challenge you: What are you going to do about it? Are you going to be anxious, tired, and frustrated back at them?

Or are you going to give yourself and your team the skills to defuse the situation, recover gracefully, and earn their trust?

It doesn’t take much to choose to do the latter. You can start with my free video courses as a first step. We can talk about next steps from there.


Photo credits: Photo by Andrea Piacquadio via Pexels