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  • Writer's picturesarahhabsburg

Inspiration on how to engage your hotel guests

I have been to Machu Picchu 51 times. That’s crazy right?

The first time I was 19 and backpacking around Peru and Bolivia during my year abroad to Chile. The last time I took my Mum to the site after decades of listening to stories about my favourite viewpoints and hidden corners.

The 49 times in-between were as a tour leader. I led trips across the Latin American continent for 10 years in my 20’s. It was the most incredible job and Peru was one of my favourites. Some of the trips back then were 6-week epics from Rio to Lima or Panama to Mexico. But the Peru trips were often just 2 weeks long, taking in the main sights and of course, the famous citadel on the mountain.

10 Peru seasons, 4 or 5 trips a year. It was easy to rack up those 49 visits.

People often asked me if I ever got bored of going back to the same places. “How could I?” was always my response. Yes, the destination was the same, but the journey there, the company, the conversations, the clouds, the weather, the logistics, were different every single time.

But what I remember most is the excitement I got to share with every client. I still recall the breathless feeling (no altitude pun intended 😊) that rose in my chest the countless times I bore witness to their silent wonder as they first set eyes on the ruins.

It never mattered if we had hiked the 4-day trail, done the overnight trek to reach the sun gate, or taken the bus to the main entrance. It was an immense privilege to play a leading role in that emotion, that excitement, that story that I know every one of them continues to tell today.

I know for sure those moments continued to spark my innate curiosity about life, but also about people. Through my unwavering commitment to make sure everyone had a great time every day, I learned a lot about psychology, and subjectivity, and how to balance both among 20-strong groups of diverse personalities.

As someone who works in tourism hospitality, I bet you agree when I say that you just *know* if a customer is going to complain or cause problems for you and your staff after your first interaction with them. Am I right?

It’s like a sixth sense that gets honed over the years and that niggly feeling can even be triggered by a series of difficult questions in an email, a clipped response over the phone, or even just with a look as someone checks in.

People who work in customer facing jobs get really, really good at this. I knew within 30 seconds of meeting each client at the airport who was going to play which role during our trip. Who would become my right-hand support, who would be the one who lost everything, who would always be late, and of course, the one who would have a tendency to complain.

This confidently silent awareness probably stems from the reptilian part of our brain that seeks to protect us from general unpleasantness. By *feeling* that a certain client or customer might be needy in any way, we can share our thoughts with other staff members and take a moment to see how we could deflect any potential problems by anticipating what the customer might want to fulfil their expectations.

Engaging your customers and creating great guest experiences is not just about pre-empting problems. It also has a lot to do with empathy, with tactfully employing mental triggers, with using psychology to mirror the gestures of a customer to make them feel more comfortable, even if they don’t perceive that on an emotional level.

But most of all it is about you believing in and truly feeling the experience you want your customers to feel.

Imagine if I had ascended those last steps to that once in a lifetime view of Machu Picchu with a grumpy face and in silence. Would I have instilled confidence in my clients that I was there rooting for them to enjoy the moment and the unique experience they were about to have? No. I wouldn’t.

Too often we are so immersed in our daily tasks to take that moment to share wonder, to stay watching that falling leaf until it touches the ground, to verbalise which shapes you see in a cloud.

Anyone who has ever tried to walk a young child anywhere fast will know that anything related to speed is probably best forgotten until they can ride a bike. Children stop at every stone and every caterpillar, they stop to count the same doors over and over, and they are fierce advocates of that timeless trend that they can’t possibly tread on the cracks between each paving stone. Sometimes they just stop, and stare at the sky, contemplating life, or probably just nothing.

We have lost the ability to do this, and yet this is what people come on holiday to do. To relax, to disconnect, to get back to nature, to share. We have a responsibility to help those people find that joy and experience it to its maximum.

You know your property and destination better than they ever could. You know where the best viewpoints are, where the shadiest bench is at each time of day, even where their kids might have the best chance to find a whole army of caterpillars.

If you cannot show excitement that matches theirs or help generate it for them if they are struggling to step into that disconnection, then who can?

Hosting guests is much more than offering a seamless check in. It is about humanising the experience by sharing it with them so that you generate emotional connection. That in turn generates trust, amazing reviews, repeat visits, and word of mouth recommendations. In a nutshell, it is what every marketer sets out to achieve, but most usually miss the mark by not taking that extra moment to tap into that sixth sense and match it with the right sprinkle of excitement that each customer doesn’t even know that they need.

If I had not worked on front desks, had not kept all those plates spinning while managing my property, had not raved about the lodge and destination I represented at international tourism fairs, had not hosted dozens of successful FAM trips, I would not be able to get excited about the powerful role clarity has in how you talk about your property to the people you want to sell to.

But I have done all of that, and that prolonged and immersive experience of being around people as a tour leader, combined with my hospitality marketing experience, facilitates my ability to ask the right questions that get the most practical answers and sustained results, fast.

I am an explorer at heart, and though I may no longer trip around a distant continent every day, the continuation of that journey is now to take those who resonate with my perspective of brand marketing on a voyage of discovery that culminates with clarity and confidence about the way you talk about your business to get people to sit up, listen, and buy from you.

I also have loads of great stories to tell about my tour leader days too!

To find out more about how I can support you on your own journey to marketing confidence, drop me an email at , or better still, schedule a free call here.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Caveat: Responsible Tourism and Machu Picchu

In support of the responsible tourism efforts by Journey Latin America, the company I used to tour lead for, I must share that, while back in the late 90’s and early 2000’s Machu Picchu was on every itinerary, that soon changed to include many other incredible and lesser visited Inca sites in the area. Overtourism is a problem that cannot be simply solved. Many local communities came to rely on the busy train arrivals that created jobs and opportunities, but the ruins themselves could not continue to support that footfall. In support of these concerns, many companies operating tours to the region sought out alternative destinations marketed in new and exciting ways and the Machu Picchu authorities developed a scheme that allowed for better control and management of visitor numbers.

For more information on Responsible Tourism and Machu Picchu click here


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