– By Karen Baker, Sr. Director of Marketing and Branding
When was the last time you visited another country? Were there times you felt uneasy? Or even unwelcome? On a very basic level, visitors to a country want to feel both safe and welcome. While this seems obvious and straight-forward, not feeling welcome is a definite barrier to entry, according to our latest report, Welcome! Profile of International Visitors to America.
Long-time partner H2R Market Research surveyed 985 travelers who have visited or are considering a visit to America from Japan, Mexico, Canada, China, and the United Kingdom. Among the myriad insights regarding their preferences, travel behaviors, and reflections on their American vacations, 86% of these respondents noted that finding “a place that is welcoming to visitors from other countries” was a top priority when considering visiting the United States. Conversely, only 26% of survey-takers felt that Americans are “friendly people,” and only 24% felt that Americans are “welcoming to all people, religions, and races.”
How does a brand like the U.S.A. – and the many destinations within it – turn the tides on sinking sentiment? It begins with empathy. As designers of attractions all over the globe, and avid travelers in our free time, PGAVers understand the basic needs of guests when encountering a variety of attractions, countries, and cultures. We understand the language barriers, the transportation challenges and the importance of wayfinding. We especially notice: front-line staff that go the extra distance to make us feel like special guests; places that surprise us; and experiences that make a trip truly memorable. Learning that feeling welcome is being reported as a barrier, while disappointing, can be overcome.
Three Key Lessons in Making People Feel Welcome:
- Make guest planning as easy as possible with online planning tools. The ability to read reviews, plan an itinerary, research routes/transportation between locations, and buy tickets from the comfort of your home eliminates many travel stressors. Fewer surprises and decisions being made in a new and unfamiliar country while struggling with language barriers will set the right footing for an overall better experience.
- Invest in the “first impressions” team. When an international traveler has gone through all the steps for entry into the country, in addition to sitting on a plane for hours or days, the first impression is so very important. Most often, airports, attractions, hotels and restaurants have the front-line employees who make the first impression. Out of any barriers to entry, being welcoming is something that can be improved with the right employees and training. Pre-conceived biases can often defuse with a greeting and a smile. The Golden Rule applies, how would you want to be greeted in a new country?
- When possible invest in translation services. Bilingual team members, language classes or translation apps can improve the international guest experience. When I’ve traveled overseas with my family, sometimes a frontline staff person could call someone over who spoke English when language became a barrier, or pulled out directions or menus in different languages. Any step to show empathy or kindness was rewarded with return trips and tips. If nothing else, a friendly smile goes a long way!
We all play a role in welcoming guests to our country, cities and our attractions. The above tips are merely a starting point. Want to read the full report? Click here to read Welcome! Profile of International Visitors to America.