The Travel Agent for millennials: a lesson in digital customer experience from Europe’s smartest tourist agency

In a recent release from the Rough Guide people, the country voted the most beautiful in the world was the perhaps unexpected Scotland (my home country). Not making the top 20 was Australia (my adopted country) which was subject to some discussion and debate. I myself can vouch for how nice Manly Beach in Sydney is on a Spring morning vs a wet February day in the old country but the heavily young readership of the Rough Guides don’t lie so the title is Scotland’s.

Now it’s not just the pretty pictures that get the job done. It’s worth saluting the people at VisitScotland (who have some serious game) who have the customer experience right in the middle of their thinking. Namely;

–         Focus on creating moments

–         Build an adventure and an experience

–         Be authentic and unique and let people do the work for you

–         Be smart in the engagement

 The Instagram Travel agency

Let’s start with something really clever. In late October, Visit Scotland set up a Instagram Travel Agency in a physical location in London. Believe it or not, Scottish tourism has the biggest Instagram following of anywhere in Europe (which is extraordinary if you think about it) and of that following, the biggest group is from London.

What they did was to create an Instragram wall in a physical shop with a range of photographs from which people picked their favourites and the agents were there to build an itinerary for you based on those picks.

https://www.visitscotland.com/blog/events/instagram-travel-agent/

So what?

Here is where knowing your customers is pretty smart. The number one problem for Scottish tourism is the weather. There is no guarantee of good weather at any point of the year so it is always a lottery. Going back to Australia losing out in the top 20, you could reasonably expect Sydney to have better weather on 350 days a year vs Scotland so if you are planning a trip for three weeks, you’d be smarter to pick Oz right?

Not anymore for the Instagram generation. There is an incredible desire to create ‘moments’ which you can record and share. Finding a perfect moment becomes a primary objective to judge the success of your trip. Now, for Scotland this is perfect because in between the rain or the clouds, you will always get a few pictures of astonishing beauty.

It is for this reason that Scotland is Instagram’s biggest fan.

The North Coast 500

I saw recently that a friend on Facebook had completed the ‘North Coast 500’ which I had never heard of. Having looked at the pictures and had a look at the website (which you can too) I discovered that it is in fact a brand new creation of a Scottish ‘Route 66’ in the far north coast (An area which is not renowned for large visitor numbers). It has been created from nothing as an adventure, you can subscribe be a ‘member’ which includes a £250 gold package with free merchandising, offers, a bottle Scottish gin etc, but importantly, a regular update on what is happening and access to a special ‘club’. It has also been simplified beautifully to make it easy to plan. Pre-set itineraries – basic to luxury, different sections; top, bottom, all. Themes; adventure, relax, indulge

It has been created in the way you would create any modern product to sell. ‘This is our most popular package’, ‘simple click to plan your route’, ‘interactive map (Instagram connected)’, ‘Aston Martin driving experience’ (message; it’s a dream for driving and doing it in your 1998 Nissan Micra will be just as good).

Having never been to this area in my 30 years living in Scotland, I am now as an outsider furiously desperate to go.  This is not how you’d typically sell tourism but….increase in numbers 29,000, £9m extra investment which is a big number for a pretty remote and not commonly visited.

It’s an experience, it’s simple to buy and you can be part of a community

https://www.northcoast500.com/

 #scotspirit

For a few years now, Scottish tourism has been desperately pushing a hashtag friendly motto to encourage engagement. #homecoming  #scotspirit  and even changed the name of the tourist board to the twitter friendly  #visitscotland.

Personally, I thought they were trying too hard but I’m wrong. The Instagram following is around 400k and as with any good social media, it is a virtuous circle of the community feeding more pictures which encourages more interest and engagement.

The plan for this year at Scotland’s marquee day Hogmanay (New Year), is to use real people from amongst the 20,000 carrying torches to spell out a giant #scotword with a word to be selected by a vote from the people of Scotland on what ‘makes them proudest to be Scottish’. This will in turn become the next iteration of pushing their Social Media (with a ready made fantastic visual)

The push for authenticity comes from enabling people to push the positive messages about Scotland knowing that Scotland is a country almost designed for Instagram. Each of those pictures is a real and personal view of Scotland and with your typical filter, looks great.

Be authentic and unique and let people do the work for you

Engagement

Going back to the Travel Agency, Visit Scotland are following a trend in sales and marketing which is to create ‘experience centres’ where the Digital presence is used to drive physical stores. Amazon, Apple etc are already all over this but it shows that it’s applicable everywhere.

There are lots of examples (usually in airports) to push VR or visuals to market tourism but this jump into the sales/service aspect is really fascinating for tourism. Our Celtic cousins in Ireland produced my all-time favourite marketing campaign

Ireland in VR

With the near absolute market penetration of Irish bars globally, they already have experience centres everywhere in the world. It’s perhaps no surprise Scottish tourism numbers lag way behind Ireland’s (around 3m trips vs 9m trips per year – even with UK visitor numbers skewing that a bit). You can have a Guinness in a bar in Manila and it you can pretend you are in Dublin, which gets you thinking…..

The opportunity afforded by social media to build brand awareness and engagement is considerable and the mix of the sales, marketing and service channels will increasingly be smart business for tourism. Scotland can’t overnight build a pub in every city but VR, Instagram etc is a very cost effective way of doing something similar.

So, Scotland can be commended for its approach to customer engagement – numbers this year are up 28% on last year overall and 49% from North America alone which even accounting for the Outlander effect and the £ sterling Brexit Armageddon is pretty good.

www.thecorporatefuturist.com

Scotland ‘The Most Beautiful Country in the World TM’ – To see why, have a look at the #scotspirit on Instagram or Twitter.

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/nov/01/scotland-feels-the-strain-as-tourism-causes-disruption-across-the-highlands

I would stress that I have no connection with VisitScotland other than as proud Scottish person (who does agree that it’s the most beautiful country in the world…. maybe joint with New Zealand, or Canada, possibly France….