Monitoring the Visitor Experience in New Zealand

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1 Monitoring the Visitor Experience in New Zealand Summary Prepared for Tourism Industry Association New Zealand (TIA) The New Zealand Tourism Research Institute Auckland University of Technology August 2013

2 TIA is leading a project to create Tourism 2025, a national tourism framework to drive the long-term growth of the New Zealand tourism industry. Establishing a sustainable superior end-to-end visitor experience is a core focus of this initiative. On 15 August 2013, TIA requested support from NZTRI, to provide an overview of: 1. Mechanisms that various industry organisations (e.g. public agencies and private enterprise) have put in place to monitor the quality of the visitor experience in New Zealand (industry monitors/barometers, regional, sub-regional or local visitor surveys, in-house survey and feedback forms etc). 2. Themes of visitor dissatisfaction derived from a variety of feedback mechanisms focused on the following elements of the visitor experience: Accommodation, Transport, Retail, Activities and Tours. Given the short time-frames involved, NZTRI adopted a desk-based approach to review available online information. NZTRI researchers reviewed information from tourism core datasets including the International Visitor Survey (IVS), Domestic Travel Survey (DTS), Commercial Accommodation Monitor (CAM), the Visitor Experience Monitor (VEM) and Regional Visitor Monitor (RVM). Results from a series of online searches for related research/reports/surveys from the past five years were also included in this review. To add to the mix, TIA provided input received from several key stakeholders collected via informal communications (e.g. ). Reports from visitor research conducted at the New Zealand Tourism Research Institute since 2008 were added to the list; some of these reports are publicly available, some are unavailable for download. NZTRI have incorporated into this overview the key findings from research completed by: Angus & Associates under their Visitor Insights Programme (VIP) specifically related to Question 2 - the Evaluation of Airport Facilities/Services with responses from a sample of overnight visitors interviewed at Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch & Queenstown Airports (see Appendix 1). Waikato University an analysis based upon data provided by TIANZ and TNZ relating to Australian and Chinese assessments of accommodation and food and beverage in New Zealand for two time periods, and (see Appendix 2). This summary presents findings of this review of national, regional, sub-regional, and local efforts (as well as those by individual tourism businesses/organisations) to gather visitor feedback and the areas of dissatisfaction with the New Zealand travel experience. A few thoughts are offered on where gaps lie in terms of the measures and mechanisms in place to monitor the visitor experience, recommendations are made for immediately actionable 2

3 steps/tactics ('low hanging fruit). The time available to complete this work does not allow for anything more comprehensive than this approach but further research is worthy of consideration in the future. Findings The majority of research available on visitor (dis)satisfaction has been conducted at the national level by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, Tourism New Zealand, and the Department of Conservation. The core tourism data collected by MBIE is some of the most regularly collected data; however the main focus is on visitor numbers, visitor nights and visitor expenditure there is little focus on visitor satisfaction. The IVS and DTS ask about overall satisfaction with the New Zealand trip on a scale of Should a respondent indicate a satisfaction score of less than 6 in the IVS, they are asked for further comment. To-date these comments (themes of dissatisfaction) have not been fully analysed the analysis by Waikato University (Appendix 2) is a first step to do so and is not yet available online. Themes of dissatisfaction (for visitors from Australia and China) are related to accommodation and food & beverage, (perceived as being expensive, in need of modernising or refurbishment) and customer service. Other themes that emerged from the Australians were based around the cleanliness of accommodation, the friendliness of hosts, the comfort and facilities of rooms, and value for money. For visitors from China, there are issues with the standard of food being provided by many Chinese restaurants with a need to understand regional differences (e.g. between Shanghai and Beijing) in cuisine and offer visitors a wider variety. The RVM conducted between 2006 and 2011 collected data on overall visitor (international and domestic) satisfaction on a 10-point scale for major areas visited in New Zealand (Auckland, Rotorua, Wellington, Christchurch, Queenstown and Dunedin). The data is broken down by key visitor markets and also by sub-categories within transport, accommodation, infrastructure and amenities. There is no further analysis of comments related to dissatisfaction. The Visitor Experience Monitor (VEM) (2011/12) collected by Tourism New Zealand uses similar categories as the RVM. The VEM is run annually with international visitors and explores a variety of themes of which one is international visitors satisfaction with key components of their trip to New Zealand. The Visitor responses are measured in terms of overall satisfaction and are also broken down further into categories including accommodation, food and beverage, internal transport, activities, i-sites, environment and safety. Key areas of dissatisfaction were too expensive, old facilities for accommodation, too expensive, poor customer service for transport, and too expensive, did not live up to 3

4 expectations for activities and tours. There is no further commentary provided by the VEM on areas of dissatisfaction. Tourism New Zealand s Active Considerers research is segmented into 10 key markets who are seriously considering visiting New Zealand in the future (though some have visited and may be considering a repeat visit). A summary of these reports indicate that overall New Zealand is weakly associated with having a vibrant urban environment and having events and festivals of interest. New Zealand s strengths could be better leveraged to address important emotional needs. There is room for improvement on perceptions of delivery on areas such as reducing stress, feeling relaxed, being happy, feeling safe and feeling welcomed. The Department of Conservation (DOC) implements a number of visitor monitoring studies that incorporate visitor experience dimensions. DOC focuses on monitoring areas of visitor satisfaction with national parks walking tracks and related facilities. The Department also makes the information gathered available online. Themes of visitor dissatisfaction are often associated with the following: crowding on tracks, the quality of toilet facilities, lack of available information, and noise from air traffic. Getting here Often the first impression of New Zealand as a welcoming destination is formed on arrival at our airports, or during the arrival and immigration/customs procedures i.e. before the visitor enters the country. New Zealand Customs monitor service performance with a biennial survey of travellers' and commercial clients' satisfaction with their service though overseas visitors have not been part of the key stakeholders covered in the survey. For immigration services, themes of dissatisfaction relate to waiting and processing times, queues, and customer service. When evaluating Airport facilities/services, with responses from a sample of overnight visitors interviewed at Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch & Queenstown Airports, most were satisfied with facilities and services. At Auckland Airport, themes of dissatisfaction related to the range and quality of food and beverage options (this was also evident for other airports), toilet and shower facilities, and access, between international/domestic terminals. Airline check in services, baggage reclaim facilities and range of food/beverage options as areas in which improvements are needed. Declining levels of satisfaction with the range of food and beverage options at Auckland Airport, airline check in services and availability of public seating also exist. 4

5 Industry Associations and RTOs and others Surveys conducted by industry associations were predominantly of their members. If visitor satisfaction research of domestic and international guests/visitors has been completed, reports are not usually publicly available or accessible by non-members. It is possible these may be stored in a member only section of their websites. Overall, only a few regional research reports found online include reference to (dis)satisfaction with the visitor experience (See Appendix 3). Of those that are available, the majority relate to the activities and tours sector and accommodation. Fewer studies emphasize the transport and retail sectors. Some studies have to be classified as other as they do not have a specific focus that fitted the other categories, i.e. where respondents were asked about overall trip satisfaction. Online Search results showed that around 35% of the RTOs had conducted some form of visitor research in the past five years (see Appendix 3). Usually these surveys are just one-off projects, or in a few cases conducted annually in other cases there was not enough information available to assess frequency of surveys. Not all of these surveys/results are made publicly available. Areas of dissatisfaction were not generally elaborated upon in these surveys. From the online search, it emerged that a small number of Regional Tourism Organisations (RTOs) have had a private research organisation conduct monthly private household surveys. However these surveys aim to monitor visitor numbers and nights, and do not gather visitor satisfaction data. Far from all RTOs are collecting their own visitor satisfaction data. Often RTOs simply make use of the nationally collected data for their region such as the RVM, CAM, and the Regional Tourism Forecast reports. However, it is also likely that RTOs are conducting visitor surveys (or other ways of gathering visitor feedback) however we did not find much evidence of this information online. Through our work with Museums Aotearoa and Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Wellington, we are aware that galleries/museums do collect visitor satisfaction data but very few make it available online. Te Papa conducts a VPI questionnaire Visitor Profile Interview and this feedback mechanism is mostly concerned with satisfaction related to the experience of visiting the Museum (not Wellington, or New Zealand). At a local scale, we are aware that common themes of dissatisfaction relate to transport and parking. Research of visitors (domestic, international) to several local areas in Auckland reveal that difficulties with parking and the associated business of traffic detract from a visit to retail areas and recreation spaces. 5

6 Private enterprises The Youth Hostel and Backpacker sector do run visitor satisfaction surveys; from past NZTRI research we know that the Youth Hostel Association of New Zealand for three consecutive years conducted a guest survey however these reports are not publicly available. The BBH hostel network annually also conducts a hostel ratings survey hostel ratings are available on the BBH website but lack any further information on the reasons underlying the satisfaction levels. Many large hotels, including Accor, conduct guest satisfaction surveys however the results are retained for internal/head office use and are not disseminated online. Many tourism business websites have a customer feedback form but whether these really count as regular satisfaction monitoring mechanisms is questionable. What are the gaps? Without a more comprehensive research approach to gather data from key stakeholders on ways they get feedback from their visitors, and the nature of that feedback, it is difficult to highlight gaps in mechanisms to monitor visitor feedback. There are, however, some simple improvements that can be made: Issues of availability There are a number of reasons why it may be difficult to access visitor satisfaction research via an online search. For example RTOs and various industry associations may have reports available in a members only area of their websites. Academic research is usually restricted to academic journals and therefore not readily available to the industry. A number of reports may not be publicly available due to the commercial sensitivity of the data collected. Often reference to a visitor survey appeared in strategy documents or public agency reports - giving reference to visitor surveys undertaken. However it was often not possible to find the link to the actual survey or survey results. There were also references found to visitor surveys in media releases however again it was not possible to find the actual research reports. The search found no evidence of small accommodation providers, transport, activities and tour operators collecting visitor feedback. However it is we know from our own research that many tourism SMEs do have a visitor satisfaction survey/feedback form that they collect from visitors and they do not make the results publicly available. Frequency of monitoring Not all reports found during this search provide data of how frequently monitoring takes place. Often national research is more likely to be undertaken on a regular basis compared 6

7 with regional/local research. A visitor survey may also be conducted as a one-off to feed into a strategy or concept plan as a one-off survey. It should also be noted that there is a great range in the quality of visitor data collected from various organisations and businesses. Some organisations may use their own in-house approach to gather data from visitors, where others may formally outsource the data collection to a private consultancy. Overall, visitor research conducted at a sub-regional or local level is difficult to find and not usually publicly available online. There is a lack of in-depth research about visitor satisfaction. Most surveys that ask about satisfaction only ask respondents to indicate their level of satisfaction on a scale (e.g. 1-10), and do not ask the reason why people are satisfied or dissatisfied. Social media While this summary does not specifically account for social media channels, it was noted that the majority of RTOs link to some form of social media on their homepage. All RTO websites link to both Facebook and Twitter and just over half of RTOs also link to Trip Advisor. While the majority just have the Trip Advisor link, Fiordland (RTO) has also listed the rating and a summary of most recent traveller reviews. However, it is unknown whether these RTOs actually use Trip Advisor as a mechanism for monitoring their visitor feedback nor what they do with that feedback when they get it. Anecdotally, tourism enterprises are using social media to get direct feedback from visitors via a variety of channels (Facebook, Twitter, TripAdvisor etc). For example, two activities and tours operators (NZSki Ltd and Canyonswing) use Trip Advisor (as well as their own internal customer surveys) to gather visitor feedback. There is significant opportunity to utilise a broader range of social media as part of the interaction and information provision cycle with the visitor. The provision of high quality visitor information plays an important role in enhancing the overall visitor experience by creating an authentic and positive image of a destination, and by creating a genuine sense of place. Provision of that information in itself is not sufficient however, to ensure that the visitor has an opportunity to immediately pass on their feedback and co-create the experience with the providers of products and services they encounter. Offering visitors the ability to be heard via a broad range of social media (i.e. not limited to Facebook) will provide a key point of difference and enhance New Zealand s reputation as a welcoming destination. 7

8 Recommendations Develop tools and methodologies to facilitate consistent measurement of the visitor experience for all types of tourism-related service provision (accommodation, food & beverage, transport, tours & activities etc) at the regional, sub-regional and local level. Encourage RTOs to make visitor research reports available online Develop crowd sourcing approaches where businesses can share some elements of inhouse satisfaction surveys Develop a methodology for using a broad variety of social media tools (including but not limited to Facebook, Trip Advisor) to gather and provide valuable feedback to RTOs and businesses about areas for product development and improvement of the visitor experience. 8

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