Smart destination organization managers are building budgets for next year with new initiatives designed to set them apart. Many plan to invest in visitor, partner, and resident satisfaction. Their strategic plans include ways to evaluate the return on investment and return on expectations for visitor experience education.  

Knowing how to measure the effectiveness of training is important for everyone including education in next year’s budget. When you can project the return on investment (ROI) and return on expectations (ROE), you are much more likely to gain the buy-in of your chief financial officer and board.  

The Evolution of Community Partnerships in Visitor Experience Education

Innovation is key for competing in today’s tight leisure travel market. Destination organizations are expanding their reach in many ways, including the adoption of new community partnership strategies.   

Kurt Krause, president and CEO of VisitNorfolk, is leading residents through a major change—the opening of a Carnival Cruise Lines port. The city expects 200,000 more visitors every year because of the new port. While attractions may welcome more tourists, some residents do not want the influx of visitors. 

In an interview with Destinations International, Krause said his organization listens, learns, and prepares. When tension flares, VisitNorfolk and other community leaders are ready. Through thoughtful planning, VisitNorfolk is inspiring residents to “be part of the collective tourism future.”  

Krause’s message to destination marketing organizations is to, “attract stakeholders who create value, activating places and spaces, supporting community engagement, while balancing the needs of residents and visitors.”  

A Key Building Block for Community Partnerships: VX Education  

Treat ‘em Right DMOs engage community partners in many ways, including offering online visitor experience education to their employees. Hotels, restaurants, retail stores, and attractions take part in Destination Niagara Falls USA’s EXP education. When they do, their employees exceed customer expectations and expand their view beyond their corners.  

In other cities, DMOs offer visitor experience education to:  

  • Major retailers, including Nordstrom and North Face, 
  • Group tour operators,  
  • Short-term rental owners, 
  • Parks and recreation rangers, 
  • Parking attendants, 
  • Property management firms, 
  • Business associations, 
  • Chambers of Commerce, 
  • Real estate firms, 
  • City governments, 
  • Airports, and 
  • Hospitals, including the Cleveland Clinic.

In addition to training current employees, destination organizations create talent pipelines via VX education. They supply online VX courses to public and private universities, community colleges, high schools, and trade schools.  

Building a Case (and Budget) for Visitor Experience Education 

If you are like many destination organization managers, you see the value of visitor experience education for both employees and the community. When it comes down to paying for it, though, the way forward is murky.  

Funding any new initiative requires justification. When the ROI is easy to see, you are much more likely to receive funding.  

Project the ROI on VX education by setting objectives and then figuring out the benefit-to-cost ratio. For example, your organization may want to improve employee retention and increase the referral rate. Follow these steps to quantify the ROI for these objectives: 

1. Put together pre- and post-training data.

Make a chart with your objectives, current data, and what you hope to achieve. The data may look like this:

Objective  Pre-training  Post-training 
Improve employee retention YOY  15%  20% 
Increase the percentage of guests referred by an earlier guest  3%  5% 

2. Calculate the dollar value of achieving the objectives.  

Our examples of improving employee retention and increasing guest referrals can be quantified as follows.

The dollar value of improving employee retention

The average cost of replacing an employee is 50-150%. Using a conservative 50% cost, replacing one employee earning $50,000 per year costs $25,000. 

If an organization with 50 employees improves retention by 5% in one year, it saves $100,000 in costs related to replacing employees who resigned.  

The dollar value of Increasing guest referrals

Guests who refer friends and family received superior service throughout your community. Ask every guest how they learned of your organization and keep track of how many were referred by friends. Multiply the average value of a visitor’s stay by the number of increased referrals then subtract the cost of training from the total. This will be the ROI of VX education. 

For example, the net revenue of an average guest’s stay may be $500. One hundred more referrals in one year yield $50,000. 

  1. Add the dollar value of achieving the two objectives. 

  $100,000 + $50,000=$150,000 

  1. Figure out the benefit-to-cost ratio. 

      Value Added/*Cost of Training=ROI 


For every dollar invested in training, the organization yields $15 in increased revenue or cost savings.  

*The cost of training varies by program and size of the organization.  

Show your projection to your finance officer and expect to receive the funding you need for VX education.  

Measure the Return on Expectations, Too 

Your VX education program affects much more than the bottom line. Visitor satisfaction, employee happiness, and job performance improve with the right training. After all, you cannot exceed visitors’ expectations until you exceed workers’ expectations. Once you drive the worker experience up, so follows the VX.  

Give leadership a more accurate assessment of your education program’s effectiveness by projecting both the ROI and the return on expectations (ROE). The ROE system of measurement is known as the Kirkpatrick Model. Created by learning and development leader Don Kirkpatrick, the model evaluates training on four levels: 

  1. How learners react to the training. 
  2. Whether they understand the material.  
  3. How well they apply the training in their jobs. 
  4. Whether the training leads to the desired outcome. 

To measure ROE, set up a system for monitoring employees’ behavior before and after training. First, decide the target of your training program. Potential targets fall into one of three categories: 

  • Behavioral targets such as greeting guests more enthusiastically.  
  • Learning targets in which employees gain an understanding of the culture of the area. 
  • Outcome-based targets such as improving the net promoter score of each employee.  

Targets for VX education ROE include: 

Job performance 
One of the easiest ways to prove the effectiveness of your education is by measuring a specific job activity. Visitor experience education is designed specifically for tasks like greeting visitors, making a connection, doing your job, then thanking and inviting guests back.  

According to the most recent retention report from the Work Institute, the cost of turnover to employers has more than doubled since 2009–employers lost more than $700 billion to turnover in 2021. Fortunately, education goes a long way to keeping employees around. Many workers value education because they link it with opportunity. A Gallup study found that 57% of workers want skills education from their employers and almost half of workers say they are willing to leave their current job for a company that does provide upskilling. 

Career growth 
Employees are so interested in education because updated skills mean more room for career growth. Gallup’s study found that workers who had experienced upskilling reported a better quality of life including increased pay, more fulfilling work, and advancement opportunities within their current organization. This is not just a perk for the employees; it is also good for partners when employees’ talents are nurtured.  

Customer experience 
Are you getting complaints from visitors, or worse, are they complaining about your destination on social media? If so, you may need to train for VX. A way to do this is to offer soft skills education. Soft skills are people skills–the skills that make your team pleasant to work with: body language, empathy, good listening, and communication are all soft skills that VX workers need to provide exceptional service.  

While you may think people are born with soft skills and that they cannot be taught, that is not the case — soft skills are skills. People skills may come naturally to some workers, and others may have learned them on their own, but the rest of your team members can learn them.  

Course completion 
Sometimes it’s not the content of your education that needs to change. It’s the way you deliver it. If your workers are not taking or completing your education, it may be time to look at the technology you are using to provide education. For example, if you are not offering mobile education, you may want to consider it.

Where VX Education is Paying Off 

Organizations that have implemented VX education programs often see results on many fronts. A WalMart employee in Manhattan, Kansas, participated in VX education offered by Visit Manhattan. She appreciated learning about the store’s important role in the community. She also enjoyed the soft skills training, saying she now reminds team members to smile every day. She says the ROI of treating people better is endless.  

Another Manhattan, Kansas, resident participated in the VX education program “to learn even more about Manhattan and how to share the amazing times people of all ages can have in this beautiful place.” 

Treat ‘Em Right provides custom training solutions to destination organizations and the leisure travel industry. Contact us online or by calling 314-221-6037.