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The term ‘roadmap’ is being used a lot at the moment, and the feeling of relief for many businesses in the Visitor Economy Sector is palpable—and understandably so. This sector has arguably been hit harder than most over the last year, and even once the doors are able to open again, it will be some months (if not longer) before many businesses are back to break-even point, once you take loans and delayed rent payments into account. We may have an idea as to when we will be able to reopen our doors and of the support that will be available to us as we head towards each milestone, but the trouble is that many businesses are missing the critical part of the puzzle, leaving them wondering what the picture will look like once we’ve crossed the imaginary finish line and how they will fit into this new picture.

This isn’t necessarily because these business owners are unaccomplished or set in their ways and unwilling to adopt new ideas. On the contrary, rather like the Conscious Competence Ladder developed by Noel Burch from Gordon Training International in the 1970s, these business owners find themselves at the unconscious unskilled/unknowing level; they are unaware that they don’t have what will be needed or of the fact that they will need to change in any way to adapt to the new normal.

The business owners that are consciously unskilled or consciously skilled are the ones seeking support to prepare themselves for the new normal. However, for every business I support that is in this frame of mind, there are sadly three others that haven’t yet recognised the changes occurring in the human psyche, which will greatly affect what ‘new normal’ will mean for us all.

 

Imagining the New Normal

In fairness, no one truly knows what the new normal will look like, and we don’t even have a precedent to help us get a sense of what is to come. Without having a data-backed vision for the future, it is practically impossible to start making the best use of the remaining pre-reopening time to get our ducks in a row and come through the storm stronger than we were before the pandemic.

In their article ‘Adapt Your Business for The New Reality,’ Michael G Jacobides and Martin Reeves suggest that the first and most important step is understanding how consumer habits have changed and the effects of this change on our specific business models. Most importantly, they highlight that whilst some habits can be temporary and have been developed through regulation, habits that have been formed as an amplification of an existing trend are more likely to remain, becoming part of the ‘new normal.’ 

Indeed, James Clear in his book Atomic Habits suggests that it only takes 66 days on average for a habit to become embedded as normal, which is far less time than the global population has been forced to change most aspects of how we work, shop, exercise, meet people, entertain ourselves, and even relax.

 

Existing Trends Amplified by Enforced Change

Back in 2017, in life prior to the pandemic (if you can remember such a time), John Bowen and Elizabeth Halen from the University of Houston undertook a global study of trends shaping tourism. Their research adds to other studies that sought to understand the Importance of being digitally connected by highlighting the growing consumer demand for increased speed and convenience in the hospitality sector. Uses of such technology include things like online bookability, artificial intelligence, robots, autonomous vehicles, holograms, and virtual or augmented reality, amongst a nearly endless list of technological advances. Bowen and Halen’s study further highlighted the importance of social media in influencing customer decision-making, enabling communities of brand advocates to form and ultimately resulting in increased sales and brand innovation.

The desire for personalisation and personal experiences is another trend that has continued to grow in the past twenty years. Eventbrite suggests this has developed from the millennial generation, who were brought up believing in their own uniqueness and have had readily accessible information provided to them in a way that previous generations have not. However, this phenomenon, albeit to a lesser degree, is also being embraced by Generation X and the baby boomers, who also reap the benefits of moving away from a depersonalised society. 

The third trend, which has been gaining momentum since 1990 and has now been widely adopted in society, is the need to reduce the impact we have on our planet. This is being taught in our schools and universities, being adopted by workplaces, and being discussed by governments. In fact, an online global survey by GlobeScan in 2020 identified that 73% of the population would like to reduce their personal impact on the planet, but they want suppliers that will make it easier for them to do their part. This means that many consumers are switching to experience providers who demonstrate that they are operating in a sustainable manner and that sustainability is a priority.

 

The New Norm and the Visitor Economy Sector 

What does all of this information mean for visitor economy businesses? Well, if we are to believe the studies and statistics, it’s a simple equation. Our businesses must embrace technology for the benefit of our customers, operate ethically and sustainably, and provide personalised experiences for customers; otherwise, their hotels, pubs, restaurants, visitor attractions, and venues will not survive beyond the initial rush of pent-up activity. The wants, needs, desires, and expectations of customers have changed, and so must our businesses if they are to be economically viable.

Now is the time for action. We have a window of time in which support is being made available through grants and fully-funded specialist advice. Now is the time to consider the following questions: 

  • How can I make my business more sustainable and more attractive to consumers?
    • If they are arriving by electric car, could I provide an EV charging point?
    • How can I reduce all types of waste, including that of food, energy, water, and materials?
    • Where I can’t eliminate waste, how can I ensure any waste is properly recycled?
    • How can I ensure products and materials I use don’t damage the environment?
    • How can I ensure my business supports the wider ecosystem, including staff, suppliers, and the community?
  • How can I make it easier, through the use of technology, for my customers to do business with me?
    • Is information about me and my business readily accessible to my customers?
    • How can I demonstrate quickly and easily that my business is safe for them?
    • How can I make it easier to answer any questions they might have both before booking and when they are on-site?
    • Can they easily check my availability and make a booking for each element of my service offering?
    • How can I reduce contact? Can I supply elements of my service remotely (i.e. online, through deliveries, etc.)? Can I take cashless payments on-site?                            
  • How can I personalise my customers’ experience with my business without being intrusive?
    • Can I recognise and reward repeat customers to show that they are valuable to me?
    • If they are arriving by bike, is there somewhere secure for their bikes to be stored?
    • Can I collaborate with local supply partners to create individually packaged experiences for a range of guest tastes?
    • Can I offer special deals or rates at certain outlets only available to my guests? Organise a theatre package or unique tour?
    • Can I create additional value by anticipating needs through considering my customers’ interests (i.e. providing a dog welcome pack for dog lovers, a packed lunch for cyclists, or a lightweight poncho for hikers)?

Resources to Help Your Visitor Economy Business 

No business owner should remain in the unconscious unskilled level. Most local council administrations around the country have a Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) that will work to bridge the gap between the local business community and the council, ensuring that wider economic interests are represented and supported in their area. Most LEPs offer fully-funded business support schemes designed to help businesses, whether you are just starting out or growing. To find your LEP, check the Local Enterprise Partnerships map. 

In tandem with the roadmap, government funding is being made available that the business support teams within each LEP can signpost businesses to, as well as a number of other grants that periodically become available. Here’s a few for you to check out 150 UK small business grants to apply for right now .

Here in Lincolnshire (and I’m sure it’s similar in other counties), the Business Lincolnshire Growth Hub has a dedicated team of experienced business experts and mentors, most of whom have previously run businesses and offer an incredibly in-depth business diagnostic and support service. This service is supplemented with specialist advisors to support with digital, social media, sales, marketing, growth, diversification, investment, and more. These programmes provide online webinars and masterclasses, checklists and templates, case studies, and guidance for all businesses. Additionally, for those SMEs who are eligible, one-to-one consultancy support is available and is fully funded by the European Regional Development Fund. 

I’ve benefitted from these services and have also provided support as part of the team, so I would urge anyone who runs any business to:

  • Check out your local authority’s Local Enterprise Partnership’s business support programme and make a call TODAY.
    • They’ll ask about your business and your aspirations. Please share as much as possible and then ASK them for advice. This will move you off the bottom rung in the competence matrix, upgrading you from unconsciously unskilled to consciously unskilled, a crucial step to eventually becoming consciously skilled and eventually unconsciously skilled!
    • There will most likely be simple steps to take that are free, but where cost is involved ASK what support—in the form of grants and funding—is available and how to access it. 

Let’s approach this new roadmap with the aim of coming through this era of change more digitally aware, more focused on sustainability, with more profitability, and—of course—stronger, as we will always be, together.

References:

Bowen, J. and Whalen, E. (2017) Trends that are changing travel and tourism. Worldwide Hospitality and Tourism Themes, 9 (6) 592-602. Available from www.emeraldinsight.com/1755-4217.htm

Clear, J. (2018) Atomic Habits. London: Penguin Random House.

Eventbrite (2017) Event Trend Examined – Personalisation. Available from https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/blog/event-trend-examined-personalisation-ds00/

Globescan (2020) Health &Sustainable Living – A Global Consumer Insights Project. Available from https://globescan.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/globescan_healthy_and_sustainable_living_highlights_report_2020.pdf

Jacobides, M.G. and Reeves, M. (2020) Adapt Your Business to the New Reality. Harvard Business Review, September – October 2020. Available from https://hbr.org/2020/09/adapt-your-business-to-the-new-reality

 

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