The Role of Service Design in Tourism

Due to COVID-19, our travel bucket lists have been temporarily put on hold, as we are no longer able to travel around the world so easily and enjoy all those amazing cultural experiences. This situation has of course been reflected in many economies, especially Georgia’s, where tourism was before this a rapidly expanding industry with a wide range of economic benefits. If we take a look at the statistics, tourism revenues to GDP were 19.9% in 2018, and 4.4% in 2009.

Tourism is actively supported by the Georgian government, which is in the midst of a 10-year development plan (until 2025) with the goals of raising awareness about Georgia on the international market and supporting sustainable tourism development. The number of international non-resident visitors was 7.8% higher in 2019 compared to 2018. However, the visitor dynamics are not evenly distributed throughout the year, with the summer season still the peak and other seasons tending to lack the needed tourist numbers. For instance, in August, Georgia usually sees more than double the number of tourists as compared to January. As such, we need a new approach to develop Georgia into a new, cultural tourism destination: using Service Design.

There is no single interpretation of Service Design. It is a human centered, creative problem-solving methodology. Service Design is all about understanding the user and coming up with various, creative alternatives to solve their problems.

How can we utilize Service Design in the tourism industry?

Customers change over time, seeking out meaningful experiences beyond the regular service provision. Due to digitalization, customers now have choices from all over the world, so the standard offerings are no longer enough.

Tourism is a human-centered activity which should be built around empathy, response to customer expectations, professionalism, creativity and trust. These days, consumers undoubtedly desire experiences, and more and more businesses are responding by explicitly designing and promoting them. Because of that, the people involved in the tourism industry should think about creating memorable experiences that last a lifetime.

In order to understand more about Service Design and connecting it with the tourism industry, let’s take a look at the main philosophy on which Service Design stands.

5 core principles of Service Design

Service Design is user-centered: Services are created for customers; therefore, service providers should keep customers at the heart of the process. They should gather not only simple statistical data (gender, ethnicity, age, etc.), but also insights about wants and needs (what they dream of, where they work, what their friends say and do, how they spend their time, which social media they use, how they communicate, etc.). We should take to heart all such details so as to be able to learn and design tourism services for them.

Service Design is co-creative, which means that besides users and customers, other stakeholders should also be involved in the design process, including back office employees, managers and non-human interfaces. Often, there are a lot of people involved in providing a service, thus we should listen to everyone, from the chef at the restaurant and the security guards at the hotel to the neighbor that lives next to the guest house you own.

It is important to remember that services are not static: they are sequential. With the help of Service Design, we can create a Customer Journey Map and plan "before the trip experience", “during the trip experience” and "after the trip experience." With this in mind, we can make sure that our customer has full satisfaction in their every interaction with our service, for example, that our company is easily searchable, the booking process is flawless, offerings are described in detail, pictures are relevant and trustworthy, and the whole stay is kept in mind.

It is crucial to make services tangible and memorable for customers. Physical evidence enhances customer experience, triggers positive emotions, and extends the post-service experience. In this case, we can make special souvenirs, send a thank you note, suggest special offers, and so on. These kinds of activities increase customer loyalty and make them more likely and eager to recommend it to others.

Last but not least, all of these processes are holistic and interconnected: They all thrive for one goal. Service designers should look at the bigger picture, keeping in mind the whole environment a service takes place in; consider every single aspect of a service and the alternative sequences that may happen.

Examples of Service Design in the Tourism Industry

Airports and Airlines: Many international organizations have transformed their services through Service Design. For example, Heathrow Airport used it to provide information in a more efficient and pleasant way; Virgin Atlantic Airlines redesigned the whole customer process in order to match pre-, post- flight and in-flight experience via customer journey maps and other tools. According to Virgin, the new design resulted in a 75% decrease in check-in times and a 30% increase in the Customer Service Index.

Visitors Centers and Direct Marketing Organizations: In Saint Paul, Minnesota, the Visitor Center was losing relevance because of the internet evolution. Through the Service Design process, they revamped the ‘Visitor Center Experience’. Based on customer needs, they discovered that mobile visitor centers would be more effective, and they say it has been a huge success and people are actively using it.

Hotels: Using this approach, hotels around the world have designed new experiences. For instance, in one hotel, after observing customers’ behavior, they changed the lobby experience and created a more immersive and personal check in, where both parties could see the check-in screen and verify the information easily and transparently. Moreover, Hyatt now has nine prototype hotels globally with the sole purpose of trying out new ideas with customers, getting feedback, and improving on ideas until they are good enough to become a standard for their all their hotels.

Online marketplace: Airbnb is another good example. In 2009, Airbnb almost crashed, and was on the verge of bankruptcy. Then the founders of the company found out that the problem was the low-quality pictures that were being posted by the hosts. They rented a camera, visited hosts and enhanced the quality of the pictures (putting themselves in the shoes of the customer) and within a week, Airbnb’s revenue started to increase and today it is one of the most successful and innovative companies.

To sum up, Service Design is an interdisciplinary approach for improving and innovating customer services specifically. Considering that tourism is a service, we can connect these two disciplines and constantly create behind-the-rope experiences.

By Natia Gogotidze

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30 July 2020 20:47