Why visitor perception is the ultimate metric for tourism industry

Bra Willy Seyama | eNitiate | HelloPeter | Visitor Perception | Aug 2021-Banner-

I had the privilege of participating on the #Tech4Tourism panel that was part of the TIA360 eThekwini Tourism Investment Symposium last week, where I made a case for the importance of sentiment analytics in the tourism sector. 

I shared a view during the panel session that visitor perception – the feeling of satisfaction, or lack thereof – expressed by tourists in online reviews and social media mentions, is tourism’s single most important output metric.

I expand on the subject above in this eNsight. 

Table of Contents

About online metrics

There are 3 groups of online metrics, which across industries:

Community Metrics

Likes, RT’s, Comments Shares

Conversion Metrics

Leads, Visits, Views, Sales

Perception Metrics

Reviews, Mentions, Questions, Responses

This eNsight is based on Perception Metrics, the group that has a major influence on the other 2 metric groups in the tourism industry. 

Why is visitor perception the ultimate output metric for the tourism industry?

Dr. Gang Li, Professor of Tourism and Economics at the University of Surrey (UK) and also the Director of International Relations for the School of Hospitality and Tourism Management, says:

  • Satisfied tourists stay longer, spend more and come back
  • They promote the provider on social media and online ratings, thereby contributing to business and destination competitiveness
  • They bring friends and family on their next visit
  • Satisfaction with vacation time impacts their overall quality of life
  • Tourism is about consuming an unknown product in unfamiliar surroundings, and is classified as an “export” in economic terms


Will public sentiment influence election of the new President in #ANC54?

Let’s face it. Tourism is a perception business. 

Those who are lucky to afford tourism have expectation to enjoy the experience as a key indicator of value for their money, with the result that they will relive the experience for as long as possible through sharing of their memories about the destinations they visited and associated activities to friends, family and colleagues. 

Therefore, on the downside, if the anticipated experience is not enjoyed, it leaves the affected tourists feeling cheated out of their hard-earned money and thus needing to vent, and thereby warning others to not waste their money going to the destinations that cannot deliver experience that is commensurate with what they paid.

But on the upside, the satisfied tourists will sing praises about the destinations they visited and related experiences. With the people-like-us principle (or FOMO, if you like) playing its part, prospective tourists will likely include the destinations with positive reviews in their bucket lists.

TripAdvisor is not simply a place for people to air their grievances. When asked about their motivations for writing reviews and sharing their stories on TripAdvisor, the top reason given by 87% of people is that they want to share good experiences with fellow travelers; this is further supported by the fact that the average worldwide rating on TripAdvisor in 2018 was 4.22 out of five.

Why visitor perceptions are important for South Africa

South Africa stands out as one of the most beautiful countries in the world worth visiting.

However, the Mzansi’s tourism prospects have 2 main speed bumps for foreign visitors:

  • The country is far away from many of the lucrative foreign markets, such as North America and Europe, making long haul travel costs prohibitive.
  • The country has a poor safety and security record


How to build a community of influencers from within – lessons for Tourism KZN

While there is not much that can be done about the geographic location of South Africa, let me demonstrate how acute the safety and security speed bump can be, citing the 2010 Fifa Soccer World Cup example.

Did South Africa's hosting of the most prestigious event in the world almost hit a snag?

You may remember that South Africa hosted the 2010 Fifa Soccer World Cup, but the period between the announcement of the award and the actual event was not plain sailing.

Bra Willy Seyama | eNitiate | Goal.com | Sep Blatter | Announcement of Host of 2010 Fifa Soccer World Cup | Visitor Perception | May 2014
Source: goal.com

Subsequent to the awarding of the 2010 hosting rights on the 5th of May 2004, rumours started circulating that Australia was campaigning actively to urge the world soccer federation to reconsider its decision, citing spectator safety as a major concern given South Africa’s poor public safety record.

Whether the rumours were true or not, is not the point. The point is that this type of risk can derail our country’s tourism prospects on a grand scale, unless there are deliberate mitigation plans in place.

Thankfully, The People of The South delivered one of the most memorable soccer showpieces without any major incident, on behalf of the continent, proving the sceptics wrong.

The example above points to the need to monitor visitor perceptions, in order to bring to light issues that impact – both positively and negatively – on their experience, and put risk mitigation strategies in place where required. 

Why Venice is in my bucket list

An average person would like to visit a place of their dreams in their lifetime. 

My theory is that there are two primary factors that determine choice of a destination to visit by many travellers: perception and disposable income.

Much as people talk about “the dream destination”, in many instances they either read about, heard about, or saw on tv the place they would love to visit in their lifetime. 

In my case, Venice – the 1 200-year old Italian city that floats on the Venetian Lagoon – is in my bucket list. 

Where did I learn about this destination?

The city of Venice – an agglomeration of 118 small islands separated by canals – has been the shooting location for a number of movies over the years, including 3 Bond movies (From Russia with Love in 1963, Moonraker in 1979, and Casino Royale in 2006) and a 2010 romantic thriller, aptly titled “The Tourist” and starring Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie. 

Bra Willy Seyama | eNitiate | Unsplash | Perception | Aug 2021
Source: Unsplash

While I do not remember a lot of the details of the relevant movies that I watched, what I still remember are the featured boats with beautifully carved shinny two-toned brown wood, and that has always stuck on my mind about this Italian city.

Clearly, movies used to play a big part in raising interest about places to visit for me. But things have changed, thanks to the Internet and social media.


Brand South Africa In Numbers – Part 1

Does the South African tourism industry place any value on visitor perception metrics?

To answer this question, I looked at 3 sources:

  • The Tourism Grading Council of South Africa
  • The Tourism Lilizela Awards
  • Strategy, Insights, and Analytics arm of SA Tourism Board

My findings indicate that visitor perceptions do not play a big part in assessing success of the country’s tourism industry, based on the metrics the 3 sources above measure.

Let me share the highlights of my desktop research.

The Tourism Grading Council of South Africa (TGCSA)

I checked the detailed criteria used in order to grade the various tourism businesses by the TGCSA, including accommodation establishments such as hotels, from 1 to 5 stars.

Understandably, the focus of the criteria does not include visitor perceptions, with as many as 58 categories that include aspects such as quality of hotel buildings, parking facilities, communication facilities, cleaning, security and meals.

Bra Willy Seyama | eNitiate | Tourism Grading Council of South Africa TGCSA | 5-star certificate | visitor perception | August 2021

Strategy, Insights and Analytics (SIA)

I checked the information related to collection of visitor data by the this arm of the SA Tourism Board, and found that visitor perceptions are captured as part of foreign tourist surveys that are conducted at international airport departures.

I am of the view that the current process, where the relevant survey focuses solely on foreign visitors using air travel, is not sufficient.

In addition, the collected visitor perception data are not comprehensive.

Tourism Lilizela Awards

I checked the entry requirements in the Lilizela Awards – South Africa’s premier annual tourism industry awards – and found a visitor perception related category called “Visitor Experience Awards“.

I am not convinced that the entry requirements for this category are sufficient either, because the entrants are the ones writing about visitor experience as part of their submissions, and not the visitors themselves.  

And how do the 3 sources above compare to user ratings of Booking.com and Airbnb?

I ask this question because I believe it is key.

Booking.com and Airbnb collect user reviews and ratings on an ongoing basis.

The average user ratings of the listed properties are displayed real time on the online platforms of these booking engines, and the listed properties with high ratings are rewarded through more eyeballs.

Bra Willy Seyama | eNitiate | Booking.com | Belair Hotel Durban | Visitor Perception | Aug 2021
Source: booking.com

Can the South African tourism authorities do better in relation to visitor perception metrics?

I believe so.

It will take egging the authorities on by the likes of me, backing this argument with hard, indisputable stats.

Hellopeter has become the South African national standard for online reviews

From a South African context, a topic on online reviews would not be complete without a mention of Hellopeter.

This online review platform was founded by Peter Cheales, and it launched in 2000, the same year as Tripadvisor and 4 years before Facebook.

This makes Hellopeter one of the first online review Websites in the world.

Online reviews give power to the customers to tell their side of the buying story. This provides social proof to other potential customers. Social proof is the level of credibility that the public provides to a service or product.

Categorisation of brands mentioned on Hellopeter

The many businesses that have been mentioned by customers on Hellopeter over the years have been categorised into 37 industries on the platform.

As at the 7th of August 2021, 2 of the industries are hospitality with 3 225 businesses and over 16 200 reviews (or 5 reviews per business), and travel with 1 268 businesses and over 22 300 reviews (or 18 reviews per business).

Hellopeter uses TrustIndex to rank mentioned businesses on its platform

The TrustIndex is calculated based on:

  • average review star ratings,
  • time to reply,
  • the Bayesian average, and
  • a business’s review depreciation over time.

Top 5 hospitality and travel businesses by TrustIndex

Bra Willy Seyama | eNitiate | HelloPeter | Perception | Online Reviews | Top 5 Hospitality Brands | Aug 2021
TrustIndex: Top 5 Hospitality Businesses
Bra Willy Seyama | eNitiate | HelloPeter | Perception | Online Reviews | Top 5 Travel Brands | Aug 2021
TrustIndex: Top 5 Travel Businesses

Bottom 5 hospitality and travel businesses by TrustIndex

Bra Willy Seyama | eNitiate | HelloPeter | Perception | Online Reviews | Bottom 5 Hospitality Brands | Aug 2021
TrustIndex: Bottom 5 Hospitality Businesses
Bra Willy Seyama | eNitiate | HelloPeter | Perception | Online Reviews | Bottom 5 Travel Brands | Aug 2021
TrustIndex: Bottom 5 Travel Businesses

Hellopeter can be a gold mine in harnessing the power of visitor percetpions

Is there an opportunity for South African tourism to collaborate with Hellopeter for purposes of mining of 21 years worth of visitor perception data? 

I believe so, without a doubt.

How can South African tourism harness the power of visitor perceptions?

Negative visitor perceptions:

It will take all hands on deck by the various stakeholders in order to successfully mitigate the risk of negative visitor perceptions, and they include the government, the tourism business and the society at large.

Positive visitor perceptions:

Positive visitor perceptions provide the best form of peer-to-peer marketing for our country.

Positive perceptions give South Africa bragging privileges.

These must be fully leveraged, including through amplification on the appropriate online platforms . 

Recommended process for harnessing the power of visitor perceptions

Here is my recommended process, which should preferably be led by the national tourism board:

  • Start by encouraging visitors to provide feedback on social media and other relevant online review platforms 
  • Track all visitor perceptions over a minimum of the first 3 months  
  • Separate compliments from complaints
  • For each of the 2 super segments:
    • Classify the perceptions
    • Weight and rank the classifications according to predetermined potential impact on future tourism business
    • Add geographic and demographic information where possible
  • Develop dynamic national and provincial Visitor Perception Dashboards
  • Ensure free and easy access to the dashboards


How to be where your consumers are

  • Produce quarterly Visitor Perception reports that can be customised by geography and demography
  • Actively promote the dashboards to all the interested parties, including government, provincial tourism departments and  boards, media, stakeholder organisations, and the South African society broadly.  
  • Engage the tourism industry on the reports by-annually, ensuring that front-line staff are involved and understand the implications of visitor perceptions on the industry, and ultimately on their jobs  
  • Include stand-alone Visitor Perception-specific category in the Lilizela Annual Tourism Awards, and give this segment a decent weighting to signify its importance in driving the visitor numbers, size of spend, length of stay and visitor return prospects
Bra Willy Seyama | eNitiate | 1+4 Metric Matrix | eBook Cover
Click on image to download the eBook

Collaboration between SA Tourism and Brand SA

South African Tourism and Brand South Africa, the custodian of the nation brand, have a common objective – to ensure the country is attractive to the world for tourism, business and investment

For its part, Brand South Africa measures the country’s reputation on an ongoing basis.

Bra Willy Seyama | eNitiate | BrandSA | Reputation Research Report | Visitor Perception | Aug 2021-Banner-
Source: Brand SA Reputation Research Report 2019

This calls for these two arms of the state to collaborate for purposes of more effective reputation management of South Africa Inc. 

Thoughts on the use of other metric groups in the tourism industry?

I introduced 3 metric groups above, and built a case – hopefully successfully – for the choice of perception metrics group by the tourism industry. 

I am aware that, generally, conversion metrics are the most preferred group by tourism businesses, driven by the desire to generate sales. 

3 considerations are worth mentioning, in order to answer this question more comprehensively:

1. Analysis paralysis

There is abundance of technology to enable analysis of a plethora of metrics, but there is the lurking danger of analysis paralysis.

The key is to measure the metrics with the biggest, sustainable impact.

2. Best use of limited resources

Linked directly to the consideration above, not every business has the resources to measure too many metrics.

For this reason, we apply the 1+4 Metric Matrix principle here at eNitiate, which advocates for selection of 1 output metric and maximum 4 input metrics for effective monitoring and measurement of online communications.

For me, visitor perception is “thee” output metric for tourism businesses.

3. Bird in the cage is worth more than the one in the forest

A lot has been written on this sales approach, which states that the cost of acquiring a new customer is higher than the cost of a repeat sale from an existing customer.

Taking it further, the cost of a referral sale is lower than the cost of cold call sale.

Therefore, it makes sense for a tourism establishment to rather ensure satisfaction of its existing visitors which, according to Dr Gang Li, increases the prospects of higher spend per visitor, future return visits and advocacy.

So what am I saying exactly, as I conclude?

It makes business sense to prioritise measurement of visitor perception metrics.

The implication, then, is that all tourism businesses must encourage visitors to provide online feedback on the many available platforms, including Hellopeter, Tripadvisor and Google, and for the businesses to monitor, respond where applicable, analyse the feedback for common themes, bring staff onboard, and address issues raised to the extent possible.

Do the visitor perception metrics apply only to the  South African tourism industry?

No. Mzansi is not the exception in this regard.

Selfishly, I strongly advise all the key tourist businesses on the African continent to seriously focus their attention on measuring visitor perceptions, and ensure that their offerings are in line with this key metric.

I have no doubt that this is the way to sustainable tourism economic success.

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