Our MD David Lakins speaks about the future of tourism at digital festival hosted by Dorset Council
Festival of the Future 2021 is a week of talks from guest speakers and a celebration of digital innovation taking place in Dorset. Organised by Dorset Council, each day of the festival hosts a range of experts to cover a different theme, including education, business and healthcare.
David Lakins, Managing Director at Key Digital was invited to participate in the discussion about Tourism of the Future. There were guest speakers from Eden Project, Lulworth Estate and The Tank Museum. With our expertise in the holiday park sector and the successful launch of our Holidaymaker App platform, we were in a unique position to offer our insight on tourism and digital guest experiences.
Festival of the Future 2021 was a fully-fledged hybrid experience. Attendees joined in person, as well as being able to access events via a live online broadcast. David joined Deborah Smart and Penny Syddall from Dorset Council for a chat in Lyme Regis. Watch the video below…
Tourism of The Future Q&A
Tourism in Dorset
Deborah: What do you think about what Dorset offers tourists today?
David: Over lockdown we saw lots of changes – a bit of a rollercoaster ride. But I think the Dorset tourism sector absolutely stepped up to the mark.
COVID-19 struck at one of the worst possible times, just as the peak UK summer season in 2020 was about to start.
For the tourism sector – it was about protecting their revenue streams but also ensuring their guests were kept safe when they stayed or visited them. So, this really did mean Tourism businesses being agile to change the way they operate at very short notice.
Our hospitality and tourism clients were hit very hard right at the start back in March 2020 – when they were ordered to close by the government. Overnight half of our client base closed for business – and who knew for how long. That was a scary time – but we coped.
And then in July there was a surprise announcement that they were allowed back open – but with some new restrictions in place.
That was a frantic time – as suddenly it was all hands to the pump with our hospitality clients coming back online.
For those tourism businesses that could open they had to abide by social distancing measures and look to take some of their processes online.
Things like the Governments requirement for test and trace was one of the first such events – to challenge businesses.
We launched a test and trace application for Palmers Brewery – 55 pubs turnaround of a QR code solution within 2 days of the government announcement. And it also gave us an opportunity to develop our own contact-less app product for the holiday park sector.
There was the issue of managing advanced booking and cancellations.
I think this was the catalyst for many accommodation providers and tourism businesses turning to online – and like your website there are so many different ways to offer online booking.
In the later months we saw restrictions being lifted and suddenly we saw lots of pop-up campsites appearing – a testament to being able to launch a campsite with online booking, minimal outlay – but also the need for some tourism businesses to manage attendances at events and activities by using online booking with allocated time slots and controlled queuing systems.
- Lockdown saw lots of changes / protecting revenues keeping people safe
- Catalyst for tourism businesses to be agile / change and go online
- Test & trace / pop-up campsites this year
Penny: What do we know about tourists’ expectations?
David: We saw so much change over the first 3 or 4 months – many more consumers taking to the digital space whilst they were at home.
More time on Zoom and Teams, people using online shopping and delivery ordering, and just trying to keep those connections going (work, family and social) – but now doing it online rather than in person.
They were using tech for work, shopping, socialising, and entertaining themselves online more than ever; some for the very first time. Some consumers want that “always-on” option to connect.
We had QR codes appear (or reappeared if you didn’t know they already existed) but suddenly everyone was comfortable using them.
I think consumers have increased their comfort with digital technologies and experiences, and their appetite for them as well. For tourism organisations, this should be seen as an invitation to innovate and invest in digital technology.
We also saw a shift in consumer expectations around both their interaction with tourism and hospitality businesses.
They want the flexibility for booking and arranging things on their terms, and I also think they have become less patient. Things need to work, and they need to work quickly and efficiently.
The changes in WFH (and for some that has meant now there is more flexible work patterns – has meant there are more opportunities for short breaks and staycations)
- Lockdown saw lots of changes for tourists too
- More tech for work, shopping, socialising, and entertaining themselves online more than ever; some for the very first time. Some want “always on” connection
- QR codes!
- Increased comfort using tech – is the invitation for businesses to innovate and invest in digital
- Change in WFH and work life balance also brings opportunities
Meeting tourist expectations in Dorset
Penny: Do we meet these tourist expectations in Dorset?
David: For some business we very much do – We have seen some of our clients start to promote the use of smartphone apps with mobile check-ins and keys, app-based services, virtual reality, hybrid events like these and more.Others have invested in food and beverage apps and enabling their guest to order food online. Some tourism businesses turned to social media in a big way – and doing it very well.
However, for some tourist businesses I think a change in approach is needed. If they can innovate to offer experiences that visitors want and expect they will do well.
For me this is all about moving customer touchpoints online and expanding the experience across the tourism sector, companies will need to take every opportunity to move touchpoints online as part of a broader effort to engage with customers and employees alike.
Touchless technologies and IoT are two major technology trends that I think will now accelerate in the post-Covid world.
The increasing availability of 5G is obviously the enabler for these technologies.
However, moving these touchpoints online means that the tourism and hospitality sector organizations can’t deliver the personal touch and interpersonal interactions that traditionally played a key role in the overall customer experience.
So there needs to be a balance. Businesses will need to find ways to deliver a unique experience to differentiate themselves, strengthen their customer relationship, build customer loyalty, and retain their brand.
For instance, how can tourist attraction like a museum make that visitor experience memorable? What can hotels or holiday parks do to ensure their guests feel special and even pampered when they no longer talk to the front desk or usher room service into their rooms?
The key for all tourism organisations will be to strike the right balance between technology-enabled self-service and the need or desire for human interaction in service-based offerings.
I have seen only this week one holiday park doing a “cash-less” trial – and many of their guest simply don’t want that – it is giving guests the choice!
Upskilling the workforce is another thing to consider – as I have seen first-hand how one tourism business who did invest in several digital solutions early on found that the skillset of their staff to operate these tools needed a considerable amount of training to…
- Holiday park businesses starting to promote the use of smartphone apps with mobile check-ins and keys, app-based services, virtual reality, hybrid events
- Food and beverage apps and enabling their guest to order food online. Some tourism businesses turned to social media in a big way
- More innovation needed – looking at moving touch points online and IoT
- 5G is the enabler
- However, moving these touchpoints online means that the tourism and hospitality sector organizations can’t deliver the personal touch and interpersonal interactions that traditionally played a key role in the overall customer experience
- “cash-less trial” – some guests don’t want it
- Upskilling workforce
Launching a contactless app product
Deborah: Can you tell us a bit about what Key Digital has been doing?
David: Lockdown gave us a chance to look at our own longer-term business strategy and develop a product alongside the main services of our agency.
It gave us an opportunity to develop our own contact-less app product for the holiday park sector.
Over the last 18 months we have taken the concept of downloadable app, and developed it int a full-blown platform. Holidaymaker is such a simple but clever idea – imagine adding content in one place (say your website CMS) and then it being pushed out to different devices or surfaces – so that could be your website, the app, digital signage, a tablet in reception.
We now have 11 holiday parks using the app and also Dorchester Town Centre. By the end of September, we have had nearly 50,000 downloads and the feedback has been phenomenal – 90% of guests are arriving at their park with the app already installed.
The app integrates with their booking system, they can upsell activities and take orders for food take-aways. Send out push notifications for special offers and they can promote their holiday homes for sale. Events, things to do.
Feedback and then encourage rebooking at the end of a guest’s holiday.
We are exhibiting at the Holiday Innovation Show in November and hopefully after Christmas look to start a round of funding so that we can development the platform further and perhaps expand the offering into other tourism sectors.
- Lockdown chance to develop our own contact-less app product for the holiday park sector.
- 11 holiday parks using the app and Dorchester Town Centre. By end of Sept – nearly 50,000 downloads.
- Great feedback – 90% of guests are arriving at their park with the app already installed.
- Exhibiting at the Holiday Innovation Show next month Birmingham