Guest managers, fountains of knowledge, problem solvers and yes, sometimes even complaints managers – holiday reps are real all-rounders who make every effort to ensure that guests’ stays are as enjoyable as possible. But what happens when personal contact suddenly becomes impossible? What happens when your holiday reps are no longer allowed to display useful and important information in hard-copy format in hotel lobbies due to hygiene rules implemented on account of the coronavirus pandemic? “The only means of communication available to us during the darkest weeks of the pandemic was the telephone”, says Odette Tillmann as she recalls the winter of 2020 and spring of 2021 when she worked as a DER Touristik holiday rep in Cyprus and Lanzarote. Managing everything via mobile phone is a nightmare for guests and their holiday reps.
It was hard to communicate anything other than essential travel information, in most cases requested return flight details, this way. Guests would have had so many questions at this time, in particular regarding the pandemic but also regarding excursions and events offering a bit of light relief from the whole coronavirus issue. “In the meantime, in the Canary Islands, we came up with the idea of putting all the information in a PDF that guests could access via a cloud-based solution”, explains Odette Tillmann. A simple and creative solution though not particularly convenient. Anyway, a few weeks later, there were hardly any guests in need of information anywhere to be seen. Lockdown had begun.
This gave Odette Tillmann time to think about how holiday reps and guests could communicate differently. In a more digital but still personal way. She opened her laptop and got to work doing something she had previously done for friends and acquaintances as a hobby in her spare time: she came up with ideas for a website – with tools that could do more than provide information on departure times and excursions. The crucial point was that the website should be user-friendly and easy to run. Ultimately, even people who are not very digital savvy should be able to navigate easily around the platform. Not long after, she rang Jürgen Heiss, Managing Director of the destination management company DER Touristik Destination Service AG: “I’ve designed a website on my PC that I’d really like to show you”, said Odette Tillmann. That’s when the project entitled “Holiday reps: a digital approach” really took shape.
From then on, everything progressed at lightning speed. There were no lengthy discussions or complicated approval processes. The team simply got on with it and once it was all up and running checked to see where improvements needed to be made. Jürgen Heiss and his team pressed ahead with the project. “Two months after we got the go-ahead from Management, the ‘dertouristik-reiseleitung.com’ website went live with content for Majorca”, says Odette Tillmann. However, she adds that this was only possible thanks to the enthusiastic input from the local holiday reps right from the outset. Fast forward to right now, early summer 2022, and thousands of DER Touristik guests in 18 popular destinations are using the digital platform every day to ensure that they never miss any important info and can get even more out of their holiday. The website has been visited more than seven million times since it was launched. And that number is still skyrocketing.
The website is easy to use – guests can access it using their smartphone by simply scanning a QR code which can, for example, be found displayed at their hotel, at the airport and in their travel documents. No registration, password or app download is required. The platform features up-to-the-minute information on their travel destination and holiday, for example recommended excursions and information about offers regarding hire cars that can also be booked directly via the platform. Return transfer details are another important feature for guests. These can be viewed 24 to 48 hours prior to the return flight and can even be updated at short notice, which is a huge advantage compared to the old analogue approach. “In these kinds of situations, holiday reps used to have to run around at lightning speed putting up notices in the hotels”, recalls Odette Tillmann.
The holiday reps have of course not disappeared. They haven’t been replaced with digital avatars or anonymous contacts at a call centre somewhere in the world. They are still working on site and can still be reached. Anyone keen to contact them can call them directly by clicking the relevant button on the website or send them an email. It is also possible to arrange to meet them at the hotel. “The job description is also changing as a result. Holiday reps are no longer simply employees who, armed with their clipboard in their hand, provide guests with information, organise excursions and deal with complaints. The digital platform gives them the opportunity to act more like hosts, offer personal tips and inform guests about local attractions, for example with their own photos and tour suggestions”, says Jürgen Heiss. No extensive technical know-how is required, and tablets will quickly become the new clipboards as all the holiday reps realised they were the ideal tool for the job. In short, guest management now involves a more digital approach but one that still boasts important analogue features. As such, it provides the best of both worlds.
Many guests discovered just how valuable personal service is during the pandemic, over the weeks when infection rates were skyrocketing and entry requirements were changing from one day to the next. And when holidaymakers had to quarantine or, in many cases, had very personal requests, such as medicines. Guests really appreciated having someone on site to look after them. “Holiday reps are more than complaints managers. They are hosts and problem solvers”, emphasises Jürgen Heiss.
The digital platform will be further enhanced in summer 2022 as additional services and content can be easily added to the website, for example exclusive videos. Jürgen Heiss and Odette Tillmann, who has now been appointed Head of Digital Content at DER Touristik Destination Service AG, have lots of ideas. They are also keen to pilot plenty of things in the future. “Even if a feature isn’t 100% perfect yet, we’ll go live with it and see whether customers like it. If they do, we’ll fine-tune the details that still need work. If they don’t, we won’t develop it any further”, says the Managing Director.
Sometimes, Jürgen Heiss and his team will learn something new along the way that even surprises them and so they’ll change course accordingly. A prime example of this was when they were designing the hire car and excursion sections: because they were pushed for time, they initially decided to omit a payment function on the website. This quickly turned out to be a good move because lots of guests really like the fact that they don’t have to disclose any personal payment details on their smartphone or tablet. They can book via the platform and pay later, for example when the hire car is handed over.
Guest managers, fountains of knowledge, problem solvers and yes, sometimes even complaints managers – thanks to digital support, holiday reps will be able to fulfil their roles as real all-rounders even better in the future. These days, holiday reps are increasingly adopting a hybrid approach to the work that they do: sometimes they help guests virtually online and sometimes physically in person, but they always prioritise the guests’ needs. “Coronavirus definitely acted as a catalyst, expediting the development towards holiday rep 3.0,” explains Jürgen Heiss.
Having digitally accessible content instead of paper-based information is also good for the environment. Holiday reps have to travel to hotels less often to update notices. Most importantly, a lot less paper is required in order to provide guests with all the information they need. Tenerife is a prime example: at its hotels there, DER Touristik used to have around 130 information folders each containing 70 sheets of paper and around 130 return journey folders each containing 10 sheets of paper, all laminated in plastic on both sides. In total, that made around 10,400 sheets of paper in the folders, plus around 4,000 sheets that had to be changed every year. Then there were around 20,000 sheets of paper containing departure lists. DER Touristik also used to produce destination information brochures every two years. For Tenerife, this meant around 40,000 brochures each containing 84 pages. Paper that is no longer needed these days.
The latest news, for example up-to-date information on the coronavirus situation, test centres, updates on local crises (for example, fires in Greece) and special events.
Information from A to Z
Extensive content replaces the information folders that used to be displayed in hotels.
Up-to-date info, opening hours and contact details of holiday reps at the hotels and in the office.
Everything guests need to know about departures. By entering their booking reference, guests can retrieve their personal pick-up time.
Information and prices regarding hire cars arranged by holiday reps, including the booking form for informing the local holiday rep office that a booking is required.
Information and prices regarding excursions arranged by holiday reps, including the booking form for informing the local holiday rep office that a booking is required.
Just a click away: guests can contact holiday reps by telephone, by email or via the contact form.
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