Catering to travellers: Part 2


Our recent trip to Thailand provided some great insights from the other side of the industry. Instead of supplying the technology, we were using it.

This week we highlight some things we felt differentiated our stay at particular guest houses or hotels; something that made us want to reward that hotel with a good review.

Catering for all nationalities

We were astonished at the range of catering options offered at almost all the places we stayed — large and small. People visit Thailand from all over the world: Europeans, South Americans, and Asians. At breakfast we saw everything from cornflakes, bacon and eggs, cold meats and pastries, to salads, noodles and dim sum. We developed real respect for those chefs!

African establishments have started offering many more health options in line with guest preferences. However, if we want to appeal to other parts of the world, we’ll have to sharpen those kitchen knives.

The importance of WiFi (again!)

International travelers can’t live without WiFi. It is becoming one of the major differentiators when guests decide where to stay. There are several reasons, but staying connected with office or family; exploring things to do in the area and updating social media are some of the main ones.

I needed to keep up with e-mail and resolve any issues back at the office. You are a lucky person if your boss or customers are happy to leave you alone for two weeks, but for the rest of us, remaining connected while away remains an important consideration.

Secondly, the WiFi enabled us to explore the area we were in and decide what to do each day. Although this might not seem of much benefit to the guest house, we actually stayed on longer in one location simply because there was more to do than we had first thought.

If your WiFi offer is still not free and very easy to connect, make the change. The hassle factor for guests is simply not worth the imagined risk of them using too much bandwidth.

Information and maps

ex-milan-rfInformation is so important to the traveller, especially where there may be large cultural differences. Many English tourists find South Africa a home-away-from-home, but what about an Asian guest?

Can you drink the water? (If you don’t provide bottled water, put a cold flask in the fridge – at least that indicates it’s safe.) Can I walk out at night? What about language difficulties for the notices in your room?

Maps! Your website is not just for enticing people to your place, but also to help your guest arrive. Please put maps in an obvious place on your website so you can show the taxi driver. Make the address clear and potentially put directions in a couple of languages (we often had our iPads out, with screen shots of the map/directions, which was very helpful to taxi drivers).

Some guest houses had cards printed up with address details in Thai script, which their guests could hand to Tuk-Tuk drivers when really stuck.

What makes an establishment stand out?

Finally, I should describe some of the nice touches we saw. One guest house left a note on our bed that gave us translations for different colours in Thai. We thought that was great! It was a way of exposing us to some aspect of Thai language and culture that we would not have picked up elsewhere (how about an old Zulu story or parable for your international guest?)

Towel shapes were also quite popular, with one turned into a lovely elephant. Interesting local artifacts were also used to decorate the room, which were offered for sale at reception; items such as soap dishes, carvings, and other ornaments. I felt they were a way of inviting the local community to share in some of the benefit of my visit.


So what did we learn?

Thailand is an experienced tourist destination. From 336,000 tourists in 1967 to 22 million in 2012, Thailand now rates 18th most visited country in the world (South Africa gets about 8 million). We found their offering sophisticated and catered to a wide-range of travelers (from backpacker to 5 star).

Our experience is that Southern Africa does very well in many regards, but the real lesson we took away is how well Thai guest houses anticipated our problems or needs. I suppose it comes down to the basics of customer service, but putting yourself in the shoes of your travelling customer is not easy. It takes research.

Read Part I here.