8 Visitor Information Services ‘Collaborate for Success’ Insights and Inspirations

Staying true to its theme 'Collaborate for Success' was an experience at the Visitor Information Services, just like this entire year, that we'll never forget!

A first Master of Ceremonies experience, what was initially going to be facilitating zooms, escalated to MC'ing a full out virtual conference over two days with the company of over 260 delegates!Finding comfort in discomfort daily, we made the most of the resources we had to continue to make meaningful connections and discuss matters that are meaningful to all of us in the visitor servicing and wider tourism, travel and hospitality industries at the moment.

Only through collaboration with like-minded, hard-working, solutions focussed humans who can handle the heat and stay in the kitchen is this possible. Over two half-days, delegates had access to leading insights, inspiration and re-energised with new hope for the future of visitor servicing. A summary of some key takeaways I jotted down in between bursts of terror when the technology would play up, a guest would drop out or time would fall out of sync on the schedule, an essential part of the role of an MC, keep to time! Here are some gold nuggets from each speaker:

1st Insight: Collaboration – Unlocking Team Success with Janine Garner

Janine delivered the perfect blend of the burst of energy and engagement talking all things powerful networking, collaboration and unleashing your leadership brilliance. Janine believes that today, more than ever we need people, teams and companies willing to put in the extra needed to be genuinely brilliant. We need leaders connected to their purpose and who will drive change. We need individuals competent enough to lead both in today's complex environment and into tomorrow's unknowns."We can not move quickly enough ALONE, and collaboration is critical to creating a new reimagining future.

"Collaboration matters because:

  • together we are smarter
  • together we move quicker
  • together we create diversity in our solution finding!
It is not the mountain we must conquer; it is ourselves and three key takeaways to collaborate, transform and leverage demands for better conversations and connection requires you to be three things:
BE BRAVE: Have courageous conversations because what got you here won't get you there. Adapt challenge and change to adapt to something new.
BE DIFFERENT: To avoid looking, doing, thinking and acting the same as everyone else, be a flamingo in a flock of birds! Also, avoid 'comparitivitis' by staying in your lane. Work out and get clear on which gold medal you are chasing and know that the greatest competition is yourself!
BE READY: For you to fly with eagles, surround yourself with eagles and people who help you become more! Janine shares it's who you know and the importance of finding 12 people in your squad who are stretch you, push you, pull you and keep you stable!

All in all, the future lies in the hands of the collective taking action together!

2nd Insight: Consumer Sentiment Research – How VICs can assist with Market Recovery by Associate Professor Gabby Walters

Gabby has a substantial background in tourism marketing with an emphasis on consumer psychology. Her recent focus on COVID-19 and travel behaviour has produced valuable insight as to what Australia's tourism industry can expect from

domestic travellers and how to navigate their way through these uncertain times.

In this study, 528 Australians, males and females were equally represented of the Australian population and surveyed concerning their response to COVID-19 and their future domestic travel intentions. The data has revealed insight into the sentiment of the
Australian community towards travel and how COVID-19 has and will impact domestic travel behaviour.
The findings present important implications for Australia's tourism industry in terms of what they can expect once restrictions lifted and what tourists expect of them.
"People are now starting to have a whole new appreciation for the assets and destinations their own countries have to offer."
Some key takeaways of what Australian travel behaviour will look like post COVID:
  • There is no one size fits all to crisis and disaster recovery.
  • Preference to coastal and regional destinations
  • There is a trust that they will be safe as travel begins.
  • Australian tourists will travel domestically to help the tourism industry recover.
  • Messages that inspire the altruistic motivations of Australians will be useful when targeting those who are ready.
  • Discounting is not encouraged and will not entice prospective tourists. While discounting may appeal to those who are not in a financial position to travel – this cohort is unlikely to travel until their circumstances change.
  • Marketing communication should also depict scenarios that represent the reuniting of friends and loved ones. Destinations, food and beverage outlets, and attractions should aim to position themselves as facilitating social reunions. This will appeal to those who place significant emphasis on the need to reconnect with family and friends. Millennials, in particular, will respond well to this messaging.
  • Resilient markets include those who are risk-averse, risk moderate or risk-tolerant the latter being the preferred traveller to target.
  • Frequent travellers may reflect loyal visitor segments; hence businesses are encouraged to reach out to these tourists citing messages that welcome them back to their destination/business.
  • Most importantly, websites and booking functions active and social media communication active. Tourists are exploring options for future holidays now amid the pandemic, and destinations need to assume they have an audience despite there being no visitors. If the business is non-operational, avoid negative announcements but instead reassure prospective tourists that the closure is temporary or if making improvements communicate a 'building back better' style of message. Ensure booking functions are active, and cancellation policies are easy to find. Imagery that represents a pre or post COVID-19 world will help prospective visitors envisage their future holiday with confidence and minimise risk perceptions

3rd Insight: Department of Jobs, Precincts & Regions and Visit Victoria: Demand Insights for Recovery Paul Matthews, Paul Albone and Julian Major

Paul Matthews, Head of Regional Tourism and Strategy for Visit Victoria in November 2017 and works closely with Regional Tourism Boards and government shared some great insight of the Click for Vic campaign.

More than anything the Click for Vic campaign is an excellent example of the art of storytelling of the makers and creators to elicit conversion.
Further to this Paul Albonne, Manager of Industry Support in the Tourism Events and Visitor Economy Branch of the Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions, based in Melbourne, shared the learnings post first lockdown and the pent up demand for travel. Paul also shared how this experience has not only changed the way we feel, also the way we act!
Head of Consumer Insights, Julian Major shared the Consumer Insights team have been tracking consumer sentiment around travel and COVID-19, in both Intrastate and Interstate markets. Julian ran through how the mindset of Victoria and Australia has changed over time and what it tells us about the upcoming recovery for the Visitor Economy.
Key insights shared included:
  • Positive sentiment is growing
  • Travel is fundamental in peoples lives
  • The demand for nature-based tourism is growing Freedom, Connection and Mindfulness will be three driving forces to encourage local patronage.

4th Insight: Destination Marketing: It's all about collaboration, Glenn Harvey

Glenn has been leading the tourism marketing team since 2011 at Bendigo Tourism to help position Bendigo as a leading cultural and arts destination. One of Bendigo's biggest success stories has been the tourism's team's collaboration with the Bendigo Art Gallery to promote its major International exhibitions across Australia and Internationally.Glenn shared insights into how they have turned exhibitions into a full destination experience through collaboration with the local and regional businesses and 3rd party sponsors.Key takeaways:

  • Collaborating, building partnerships and collective marketing, is one of the most vital tools to ensure potential visitors hear your voice.
  • Glenn shared a real example of the collaboration of the success of Bendigo Tourism's national award-winning Tudors to Windsors campaign.
  • Bendigo businesses worked together to promote their destination and achieved record visitation, increased spending, and more people considering a holiday in Bendigo in the future.
  • Getting really clear on the market the region wanted to attract helped drive the experience by identifying the would market to the cultural enrichment seekers.
  • The examples kept coming and you only need to explore Bendigo to see for yourself.
  • Key to success for Glenn of the true spirit of collaboration is that partners have shared aims and values, long term partnerships, themed experiences, only look at solutions that benefit all to gain momentum and support.

Above all aim BIG, Be Creative and Be Playful!

5th Insight: Enhancing Visitor Services: a collaborative approach between a capital city and regional - Tanya Bonte, Wendy Spong

I loved this story collaborative insight from Tanya Bonte and Wendy song. Tanya has worked across City of Melbourne's visitor services for the past 12 years and worked as part of a team to Project Coordinate and lead the team through changes of Melbourne's visitor services model. Tanya coordinates the Melbourne Visitor Hub team and daily operations to ensure visitors have the best Melbourne experience.

In 2020, the City of Melbourne and East Gippsland Shire Council piloted a program working together to share skills and experience. Tanya was seconded to East Gippsland Shire Council for six months in a tourism development role, working with the VIC team and supporting the East Gippsland's tourism industry through recovery. Wendy Spong is the Supervisor for Lakes Entrance and Bairnsdale Visitor Information Centres (VICs) and a seasonal mobile ambassador service for East Gippsland Shire

This was an excellent initiative between The City of Melbourne and East Gippsland Shire Council. Furthermore, an incredible personal and professional journey for both Tanya and Wendy and inspiration for others to offer similar programs for their shining servicing stars.

6th Insight: Managing the Changing Customer needs during Coronavirus (COVID-19), Susan Kelso

Susan Kelso, the Chief Customer Experience Officer at Department of Transport, has a passion that lies in executive leadership and thrives in transforming businesses through enriching the employee and customer experience, using human interactions, data and digital technologies.

This came through in her presentation as she shared with us her experiences in managing a diverse customer experience team during the pandemic and how the team has collaborated with stakeholders to adapt to the changing traveller needs.
In addition, Susan talked about the role of Department of Transport putting the traveller at the centre of decision making, and how transport will play a supportive role in the recovery of this sector.
More notably and something for all of us to takeaway is that enriching the visitor experience is not just about getting people from A to B it is about:
  • Connecting to information
  • Connecting to place
  • Connecting to knowledge
  • Connecting to journeys

Also, an excellent insight for a new COVID world is that what once was a back of house duty now cleaning is bought to the front and travellers want to see it regularly.

7th Insight: Unshakeable at Work, Sue Anderson

Sometimes life throws challenges at you. You are expected to carry on, unaffected (or at least not show it). Sue shared with us five practical tools to enable to be more resilient and less affected by life's challenges.

I loved Sues unshakeable formula that included asking five important questions:
  1. Are you counting rather than discounting ie focus on what you have DONE not what you haven't
  2. Are you celebrating incremental progress?
  3. Are you setting up your day to get at least ten dopamine hits?
  4. Do you have useful beliefs about you at work?
  5. Are you marinating yourself in curiosity?

What I loved more than anything is that we are meaning makers and staying connected to this will always keep you centred on doing work that is meaningful and be meaningful at work!

8th Insight: Visitor Centres in a COVID-19 World – New Zealand Case Study, Paul Yeo

Paul is part of the New Zealand and Government Relations team for Tourism New Zealand and based in Wellington. His team is responsible for Tourism New Zealand's Destination Readiness strategic area of focus with Paul being responsible for Industry Relations engagement with key stakeholders. He is also responsible for quality partnerships including managing the i-SITE Network, the official national visitor information network that has almost 70 locations across New Zealand.

Some highlights of Pauls presentation:
  • The time has never been better for change and overhaul of the entire tourism system to reimagine what a re-work can look like.
  • Service with empathy like what is provided through visitor information centres is something online channels can't replace
  • The need for smaller, more scalable solutions coupled with digital integration with second-tier locations could be a way forward in this review.
There were a few more excellent breakouts that I didn't have the opportunity to attend and as the presentations become available will update.
Overall a most memorable experience all made possible by the incredible team at VTIC, particularly event manager Grace Maynard and the team at Delegate Connect who swapped it at the perfect time.

With most events on the industry calendar year cancelled it was humbling to be part of an event that persevered and sourced the right people and solution to MAKE IT HAPPEN. Something we all need to do as we reimagine our work, our roles, our businesses and day to day lives to keep going, keep growing, keep connecting and more than anything keep collaborating for success!

Despina Karatzias
Despina is a passionate digital marketer, social media maestro and tourism professional. She is a Certified Trainer, Tourism Hub Podcast host, qualified business coach, author and digital marketing professional with twenty years’ experience in the tourism industry. Despina is the very proud Chief Navigator of leading digital education platform for small business Navii Digital and Tourism Tribe. Outside of the training room, Despina loves planning adventures and above everything spending time with her family. Despina is a passionate advocate for growing small business through shared experiences because every business has a very special gift, YOU!

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