How will your tour or attraction business fare in the post-pandemic business landscape? Commentators offer myriad (and contradictory) predictions from wildly optimistic to bleakly pessimistic (via ‘plus ça change’). One rock-hard certainty remains: the skills market as we knew it has changed – forever.
The biggest shift concerns the most vital skills employers in our sector need from your workforce right now to deliver better productivity, lower costs and enhance resilience. These skills will help you recover economically from the pandemic and equip you best for the challenges ahead. And your most pressing challenge is to attract post-pandemic customers: highly informed, very discerning, with greater expectations regarding health, safety and the environment.
In this blog we focus on the skillset which best promises to boost your business: digital capability.
How is digitalisation changing our sector?
Digitalisation was already an accelerating trend within tour and attractions businesses pre-2020 but the pandemic cranked it right up into 6th gear. As lockdown spread around the world, we switched over to online working processes in unprecedented numbers. Companies suddenly realised that they could adapt to new technology much faster than they previously thought. In a June 2020 McKinsey survey of 800 executives worldwide, 85% had accelerated digitalisation and Microsoft reported “two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months.” As 2021 rolls on it is clear that – either for reasons of efficiency, efficacy, and/or health and safety – the brave new age of digital is here to stay.
And what a gift horse. Digital capabilities offer unprecedented opportunities for businesses like yours. The internet has revolutionised distribution channels: in a 2013 report, the leisure and tourism industry was – even back then – the largest category of products and services sold over the internet. By 2020, internet penetration was 51.7% globally (rising to 80% in North America and Europe).
You already know that your customers slavishly scan online resources to help inform their choices and decisions before booking their experiences – almost always on their ever-present smartphones. So by having the right digital skills on your team, you won’t just be increasing footfall and ticket sales (by making it easier to reach and sell to customers); you will also be accessing and exploiting the means to remain permanently connected to them, tracking their preferences over time and using this valuable insight to enhance their experience and thus build real loyalty.
But that hard-won loyalty will depend 100% on how well you meet (or even exceed) their expectations for unique, customised and highly personalised experiences. And you haven’t a hope of doing this without the right digital knowledge, strategies and systems in place. Specifically:
- To effectively collect, manage, interpret and respond to customer data;
- To optimise your online marketing; and
- To capitalise on innovations (such as social media platforms and new online distribution channels).
And as for your customers’ concerns about the environmental impact of their leisure activities? Reassure them of your commitment to operating sustainably by investing in digital innovations such as carbon calculators and environmental management systems.
The tours sector is traditionally perceived as lagging behind when it comes to fully embracing the digital age (particularly non-existent in European SMEs). However, innovation is now snowballing freely with the surging use of visitor apps, digital ticketing, cash-free payment and social media platforms.
Digitalisation is equally transforming every aspect of our internal operations: from human resource and supply chain management to inventory control, staff monitoring and accounts.
So what are the vital skills you need right now to unleash your digital potential – and what are your two biggest barriers to doing so?
The skills you need to succeed
The Journal of Tourism Futures considers digital skills to be crucial to businesses’ future success. A recent PwC report on the reimagined workplace is even more blunt: “Employees are going to have to be comfortable with digital technologies.” The bottom line: a tech-savvy workforce will respond better (and faster) to changes in the business environment and/or customer expectations; which will ensure you build – or maintain – your competitive edge.
So what are the skills your business needs on board to wholly unleash the huge potential that digital tools offer? Recent surveys reveal that although businesses are aware of the importance of digital skills, many are not yet entirely clear which they need to attract.
Start at the top. Your senior management team should include experienced members with the strategic understanding of the potential of digital capabilities to deliver business transformation and know how to avoid losing your competitive edge in the digital landscape. Then drill down: your teams must include employees who are digitally savvy through every level of your organisation, including employees at operational level.
Digital means data. Lots and lots and lots of data. But how can you get it and how can you use it? Enter the ‘data whisperers’. The volume, variety and velocity of data you receive, as well as frequency and number of channels delivering it, is mushrooming. So you need skilled employees who really know how to meaningfully harvest the most useful insights which you can then use to enhance your customer experience and boost satisfaction. You also need experts to translate internal feedback data to evolve your own key processes. (Little surprise, then, that analytics is the hottest recruitment area for HR executives right now.) Every layer in your organisation should understand when (and how) to feed back data insights so management can use them to hone your strategy.
You don’t need all of your staff members to be digital specialists. Many SMEs outsource or buy in/subscribe to specialist tools – such as our ticketing platform! (Furthermore, about 70% of executives in a recent survey expected that, within two years, they will be using more temporary workers and contractors than prior to the pandemic.) However, all your employees should have digital skills respective to their job position: whether they are operating electronic payment or eTicket/eVoucher scanning devices; or manning visitor experience and staff management apps – to name but a few.
The increased use of online booking systems may mean making various support and administrative roles redundant. However, new roles are opening up for online marketing managers and social media managers – especially in medium to large businesses – due to the increase in online sales and marketing, customer self-service and promotion via social media.
And there are also roles for the more technically-challenged! To survive in the digital economy, as well as good digital skills you also need a healthy mix of cognitive (problem-solving, creativity, learning to learn) and socio-emotional (communication, collaboration) skills. For example: communications specialists with a very non-digital skill: content writing or the informal but polite “human voice” comms style that will maximise the impact of your social media platforms.
With the rise of digital capability, sadly you will also need the expertise that ensures the security and integrity of your systems: cyber security specialists. Again, most SMEs outsource this but all your employees need to be ‘cyber-wise’ so they can identify scams.
Mind the gap … (and fill it!)
In 2016, The World Economic Forum reported that the most in-demand occupations that year did not exist five years previously. New skills are emerging at a dizzying pace.
In most markets, the demand for employees with even general digital skills vastly outweighs supply. If you are seeking to recruit from an even smaller talent pool – that of top drawer strategic or technical experts – you will be competing with companies who can offer eye-watering salaries beyond the gift of all but a few companies in our sector. As a result, many tour and attraction businesses currently plug this gap with external specialists on a project or retainer basis.
Another popular means to plugging your skills gap is by encouraging and incentivising employees to continually digitally upskill, for example by nurturing a culture of continuous learning and training. Covid-19 dramatically accelerated this shift: as businesses like yours were forced to expedite their digital transformations, as a consequence they also had to ramp up their digital learning initiatives.
As technology, business and social trends continue to reshape the workplace, companies in all sectors (not just ours) need viable options to meet the unprecedented demand for digital reskilling and upskilling. Long before the pandemic, many tour or attractions operator clients were rethinking your workforce development strategies.
Ideally, employee training requires flexible, technology-driven learning environments that support the constant acquisition and updating of digital skills for an expanding range of jobs and work procedures. Luckily, training options are now broader and more flexible. The pandemic accelerated the shift from classroom-based instruction to virtual, instructor-led training and self-paced learning: a particularly useful during social distancing restrictions.
In the UK alone, the Workplace Training and Development Commission (WTDC), established by the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) called for a “renewed focus on digital skills and innovation” to assist the economy’s post-COVID recovery. Among its many recommendations was the call for help for smaller firms to identify and invest in the skills needs of their workforce and more available bite-sized, flexible learning options that will support people already in work to gain new skills faster. Some companies have built programmes to retrain employees losing jobs to automation in new skills that complement automation. Retraining employees typically costs companies less than laying them off.
To thrive – even to survive – in the post-Covid era of rising digital supremacy, you must ensure your tour or attractions business has access to the most relevant digital skills – either employed internally or outsourced to external providers.
Digital skillsets will be crucial at every level of your business: from the strategic knowhow of how digital capability will transform and develop your company in your upper echelons, to the understanding how to best transform that strategy into effective action, to the operative knowing how to implement the action and when to feed insight back up the chain (and how). Each piece of the digital puzzle is equally essential to your ultimate success.
The good news is that you are not alone. If you are already partnering with us and using our platforms, you will know that a major digital aspect of your business – your ticketing processes – is in excellent hands! Our user-friendly platform is intuitive to operate (so even your least technophile employee will find it a breeze). We also have inhouse teams available to help tailor the platform to best meet your unique commercial requirements and technicians on hand to troubleshoot.
So you can focus your energies on what you do best: running your business.
Find out more about how our ticketing platform will streamline your ticketing processes or arrange a demo today!
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Ventrata is a comprehensive booking solution for tour and attraction businesses that are looking to win back control of their sales channels and maximise profits. With Ventrata as your booking and ticketing partner, you not only get industry-leading software you also get 24/7 support from our global team!