6 Benefits of a mystery shop for your tourism business and destinationApr 19, 2023
Mystery shopping, also known as secret shopping, is a technique used by businesses to evaluate their customer service and the overall customer experience. In the tourism industry, mystery shopping can be a valuable tool for destinations and tourism businesses to assess their performance and identify areas for improvement from a visitor's perspective and experience.
Mystery shopping involves sending a trained evaluator, or a "mystery shopper," to a tourism destination to assess various aspects of the experience. This can include everything from online desk research or the initial booking process to the actual visit or post-visit follow-up. The mystery shopper will evaluate the destination's staff, facilities, amenities, and overall customer service, and then provide a detailed report of their findings.
We have conducted several mystery shops as part of our destination development training programmes, both online and onsite. Below are some of the questions we may ask prior to commencing.
Important questions to ask when conducting a mystery shop for a tourism destination:
- Imagine you are a family looking to book a holiday, what information is online and what child-friendly services are available?
- How difficult is it for me to reach my destination?
- Are there helpful options for accommodation, places to eat and other things to do in the locality?
- Imagine you are going away with a friend or a romantic partner, does this business or destination excite me?
- Imagine you have some form of disability, (cognitive, auditive, mobility, etc.), can you prepare for the visit easily?
- How friendly and helpful are the staff and locals when calling prior to the visit and when visiting?
- What is your experience online in comparison to your experience in-person?
Through our mystery shop research, we have noticed several common areas that are overlooked in particular with fledgling tourism businesses and destinations:
The online experience can fail the in-person visit
With so much to juggle when initially developing, some fledgling tourism destinations and businesses can oversee the importance of online information. With the digital age we now live and work in, it is important that your visitor can plan efficiently ahead of their trip. Many visitors comment on the enjoyment they get during the planning process and the excitement generated through the anticipation prior to their visit. The more enjoyable and exciting you can make their online experience, the more enthusiastic they will be when visiting. This is also a very important point to take into account for families travelling with children and people with disabilities. The planning process is essential for them and enables them to fully enjoy themselves without many inconveniences on arrival.
Let the locals know what you have on offer
It is important to get the locals on board and for them to be familiar with what is in their area. For example, here in our local county, an initiative called ‘Be A Tourist in Your Own County’ has been launched by Visit Clare to motivate locals to get to know the tourist attractions and sites in Clare. Particularly in Ireland, it has been said that our international visitors come for the people here - 96% in fact! Visitors like to get the local recommendations. Informing locals about your offering creates pride in their place and hometown and they can be your referral. Word of mouth after all is said to be the best form of marketing.
Parking and transport
Make it as easy as possible for your visitor to reach you. Offer options on how to arrive, including sustainable and public transport alternatives. Inform them on where they can park and if there are services such as bike racks and e-charging facilities in the area.
When your visitor arrives, make it easier for them to navigate and move around without having to refer to their phones or a map. Indicate where they are and any services or facilities such as toilets or wheelchair access.
Signage can also give your visitor that ‘wow factor’ making their experience special so they know the importance of visiting your tourism business or destination. It is important to find the sweet spot between no signs and too many - which can be a deterrent and take away from natural landscapes.
Things to do
Dwelling time is decisive when it comes to the development of your tourism business or destination. The longer your visitor stays in your area, the better for the local economy - which of course is a pillar in the viability and sustainability of your business and area. Get to know local businesses and refer each other. When it comes to destination development, ensure you are all singing from the same hymn sheet and relaying the same message of your place to ensure consistency and avoid confusion for your visitor. Collaborate with each other and inform both online and in person when your guest arrives what is on offer in the surrounding area, where to go to eat and what to see and do. Offer sample itineraries to your visitor, as mentioned before, visitors always want a local perspective and recommendation.
So, now let's get to the benefits of a mystery shop for your tourism business and destination
1. First hand visitor experience
A mystery shop is designed to show your tourism business or destination the experience on offer from a visitor’s perspective. Many things, such as those mentioned above, can be overlooked as you are in the midst of development. It may feel like everyone is already familiar of your destination or business, however that may only be those with whom you surround. Make sure those outside your circles are included and informed too and understand their perspective and experience.
2. Objective Evaluation
One of the benefits of mystery shopping for tourism destinations and businesses is that it provides an objective evaluation of the visitor experience. As the mystery shopper is an independent evaluator, they are not influenced by personal biases or relationships with the destination or business. This means that the report provided by the mystery shopper is an accurate reflection of the visitor experience.
3. Identifying Areas for Improvement
Mystery shopping helps tourism destinations and businesses identify areas for improvement. By receiving feedback on what aspects of the visitor experience are lacking, destinations can make changes to improve the overall experience moving forward and for future visitors. For example, if the mystery shopper identifies long wait times, unhelpful staff members or poor signage, the destination can implement changes to improve these areas.
4. Ensuring Consistency
Another benefit of mystery shopping for tourism destinations and businesses is that it can help to ensure consistency across different locations. If a destination has multiple locations, mystery shopping can be used to ensure that each location is providing a similar level of customer service and experience. This can help to build brand loyalty and reputation among visitors.
5. Building Brand Loyalty and Continuity
It's worth noting that mystery shopping is not a one-time solution to improve the visitor experience. To truly improve, tourism destinations and businesses must be committed to ongoing evaluation and improvement. Mystery shopping can be a valuable tool in this process, but it should be used in conjunction with other feedback and evaluation methods.
6. Staff Training and Destination Collaboration
The feedback received from mystery shopping can be used to provide staff training to improve customer service and the overall visitor experience. From a destination perspective, it can highlight if all stakeholders of a destination are sending out the same, consistent message.
In conclusion, mystery shopping can be a valuable tool for tourism destinations and businesses to assess their performance and identify areas for improvement. By providing an objective evaluation of the customer experience, mystery shopping can help to ensure consistency across different locations and destination stakeholders and build brand loyalty among visitors. However, it's important to remember that mystery shopping is not a one-time solution and should be used in conjunction with other customer feedback and evaluation methods to truly improve the customer experience.
The Tourism Space™ is a leading tourism consultancy, training and professional development practice based in the West of Ireland specialising in sustainable tourism, regenerative tourism, food tourism, stakeholder engagement and networks and destination collaborations. To learn more you can get in touch at [email protected] or visit our previous destination and business development tourism projects here.
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