Episode 48: Give Your Customers a Great Experience, with Tom Mulliez
In this episode, you will learn about providing a great customer experience and building partnerships that help you do that from Tom Mulliez.
Tom is a father, husband, entrepreneur, and the visionary behind iTREKKERS. Tom founded the company in gu2014 after realizing that bringing together vetted professional captains and guides on one platform would help guarantee everyone a better experience in the outdoors. iTREKKERS is a combination of Tom’s desires to share his love of nature and to simplify the process of booking guided outdoor activities. His mission is threefold: to get people to experience the outdoors through iTREKKERS; to help people get outdoors, period, by providing useful tips and referrals; and to educate people about the outdoors and ways to be mindful.
Tom, who earned a Bachelor in Commerce from Canada’s McGill University and an MBA in marketing at Virginia Commonwealth University, was raised between his hometown of Roubaix, France, and a small town near Atlanta. His love of nature is derived from early memories of camping in the Georgia mountains with his father. For Tom, the only passion greater than a love of the outdoors is his love of family. Tom and his wife often spend time outdoors camping, at the beach, or on their boat with their three young children.
More on Tom’s background
Thank you so much for joining me Tom.
For sure, thanks so much for having me. I really appreciate it, Nicole.
Yeah. I’m really looking forward to speaking with you and for our listeners to know that you are based out of Florida so you can tell us a little bit more about where you’re located. Before we dive into these questions, could you tell us a little bit more about your journey and how you got to where you are today?
Yeah, for sure. My journey kind of started when I moved to Florida with Capital One. I was fortunate enough to come down from Richmond, Virginia and I came down here to run a call center. My background was analytics. I got moved into the call center world where I needed to get operational experience to continue moving up in the company, but everything I did was about customer experience and customer oriented thought process. I brought a different mindset to our call centers, changed their view from always looking at what we’re not doing well to looking at what we’re doing well and expanding on that and basically bringing service up across the board that way.
Doing that was a great experience, but call center manager was not for me and they knew that and they wanted me to go back to Richmond and I said, “You just moved here with two kids, no. Sorry.” They’re like, “Well here’s a nice package and we’ll give you kind of a BS job for an extra six months and we’re sorry.” From that, that’s kind of where I was like, “Okay, now what do I do next?” I faced that question that many people face. It was the moment where I decided to bring my passion and work together and create iTREKKERS. I spent that time working on the business plan and getting things ready and starting to go after all the assumptions that were in place and bring passion and work together in something I love doing.
I love that because passion in your work really makes a difference. I think it makes a difference in terms of not only how you get up in the morning and what motivates you to go to work, but also in the service and the product or whatever it is you’re delivering in your delivery of that, so I think that’s really cool. Can you tell us a little bit about iTREKKERS and what it’s all about?
iTREKKERS is a vehicle to get people outdoors who don’t get outdoors. That, in a nutshell, is what we’ve always tried to do. Now we’ve pivoted a few times and we’ve kind of maneuvered our way to the new iTREKKERS of what we are today. In the beginning it was a platform where we could connect consumers with independent vetted guides, and we’ve got 125 guides, we’re across the entirety of the state of Florida, we offer multiple activities, fishing, camping hiking and paddle, where we basically take people who don’t have gear and we pair them up with people who do have gear and are experts in their field to increase a chance of having the best possible experience in the outdoors.“iTREKKERS is a vehicle to get people outdoors who don't get outdoors.” - Tom Mulliez #podcast Click To Tweet
Our big assumption there was people weren’t getting outdoors because they didn’t know where to go or they didn’t know who trust and we thought we could be that trusted voice and we had that. We were successful in bridging that gap, but what we realized while doing this was when people went on adventures with our in-house guides their experience was typically twice or three times better than when they went with one of the top vetted guides in our network. That’s not because of a skill set difference or anything like that, but that’s because we worked really hard to train our in-house guides on the personality side of things, the customer first mentality, really going and taking the service that next level, whereas most independent guides, they’re their own businessperson and they weren’t really doing that as much or didn’t have access to that training.
We have started bringing in more in-house guides and bringing our own actual gear to the table and providing these experiences. Recently we just added a new marketing pivot to our business where we’re offering these basic experiences that are still at such a high dollar cost. We’re talking like $450, $500 for a basic four-hour fishing trip or $250 for a night of camping. What we realized is a lot of people still weren’t getting outdoors because they were hesitant and that hesitancy was caused due to emotional internal feelings. Like a mom with two kids who wants to get outdoors, get her kids disconnected from their phones, she wasn’t actually pulling the trigger, not because she didn’t want to do it but because she was in the back of her mind, “Where am I going to go to the bathroom?”
It’s just a simple emotionally driven questions that are holding people back and so our new pivot that just happened three weeks ago, I’m sharing this with you guys live right now, was specifically to introduce very low cost, very low barrier to entry experiences to get people to learn simple skills in the outdoors and grow them as a customer through some type of outdoor university. We’ve added that whole thing to the mix as well, which I’m super excited about, and really drives back to our mission of just getting people outdoors who don’t get outdoors. The hope is the more people we get outdoors the more advocates we’ll create for the outdoors and the more people will change their own lives and spread the word of why nature is so important to the human psyche, to our health benefits etc. So I’ve been ranting for a while.
That’s awesome. No, it’s great. You keep going. It’s good stuff. I love that. You and I were talking before we started the interview. First talking about this whole idea of not having the gear and being able to have the experience and it’s such a high investment, to buy all the gear if you’ve never done it before. So that’s one barrier that you’ve taken away because now you’re providing not only the guide, but the gear, and then to think about it and take it to a whole another level this whole idea a lower cost. It’s kind of like a lower risk experience. I wanted to experience something new and it’s not as high of a risk because I’m not dedicating myself to four or five-hour trip, it’s something shorter, I’m going to learn and experience and I can grow. I think that’s really awesome.
Well, thank you.
Yeah, we’re really pumped about it. If you think about the gear alone, the number of stories I’ve heard of a family going camping and they buy $2,000 worth of gear and they get out there and, “Yeah, I camped when I was young. I know what I’m doing here.” But now you’re actually leading the trip and you’re out there and you forget headlamps, for example, just the simple fact ruins the experience, right?
Or being out there and not having enough water because you didn’t think through, “Oh, we’re going to go hiking and the amount of water we need and you don’t have the purifier.” Just the number of camping trips that have been ruined because once it gets ruined once you don’t go again and every year you move your gear from one side of the garage or the attic to the other side of the garage or the attic until eventually, you throw it away because it’s molded and ruined. So we’re trying to limit that.
That’s awesome. Yeah, that’s very cool.
Taking the Experience to the Next Level
Well, I’m going to get started with these questions, but as we go through the questions, we’re going to dive in more to what iTREKKERS does and how you’ve pivoted several times through your evolution as a business. As you know, on this podcast we focus on the tourism and hospitality industry, which, of course, you are right in the trenches within Florida, the Sunshine State, but also understand that this industry is very competitive. I’m wondering if you can share what iTREKKERS has done to try to stand out from the crowd?
Well, we’ve tried a variety of different techniques obviously. We work closely with our CBD’s and our DMO’s. We’ve also are part of MPI, Meeting Planner International, the Hotel-Motel Association, all the variety of different organizations, but just right there I’ve mentioned four organizations that are all separate and segmented and there’s another like 30 that we’re a part of. Not only is the tourism industry very competitive, it’s also very fragmented with each little group trying to position themselves and kind on their own. For us, we really try to hone in on a message that goes across all those groups.“Try to hone in on a message that resonates with all the tourism groups you're part of.” - Tom Mulliez #podcast Click To Tweet
The reality is we want to help tourists enjoy their vacation, and when people come to a destination like Florida they’re here for the weather, they’re here for the attractions, and they’re here for the beach, but there’s only so many days of Disneyworld and Universal and things like that that a family can do, and so to keep them coming back we’re trying to help by diversifying the portfolio of activities that are available and providing really those unique experiences. Once we are able to communicate effectively to our partners the type of unique experiences that we can provide, that’s really when they help us by telling those who are asking, “Hey, I’m really looking for something unique and how can I do that?” Be it either an individual family or a group of 300 people that are coming down and will be at the conventions center. We’ve done pretty well through that channel just by kind of getting the word out there and really getting people on the street talking to people, meeting people and networking.
I’d say the second big thing that we did is we did radio for quite a while. We just stopped it in order to put more resources into this new event based marketing platform. Radio was really helpful just in terms of awareness, but the conversion rate of radio is also more difficult to track and when you’re doing radio locally, you basically have to hit that person right in the moment. They have to be here, they have to be listening to the radio as a tourist in order to get out there, but we also hit business people who are here such as restaurateurs and servers and the etc., who are listening to that. One day when someone comes to their bar and says, “Hey, I really want to go do something cool, do you have any ideas?” Well, that’s where we come up in a lot of those conversations, so that’s been helpful as well.
That’s really great. What I like about that is you had talked about working closely with all these organizations, the CBD’s, the DMO’s etc. and trying to figure out exactly how you can help them attract their audiences and not just attract them the first time, but also get them to return because you were able to offer them that unique experience. The other cool thing — maybe you could expand a little bit on this — but I’m struck by this whole idea of the local guides, the guides that you have with this experience because so much these days visitors are looking for that. “Authentic” — people say it’s overused, but that real local experience and what better way to get it than to be hanging out with a local for some part of a day. Can you talk a little bit about how you kind of attract and help tell that local story?
Yeah. We go after guides that have kind of a three-phased approach. They obviously have to have the skillset and the gear. One other piece that is actually lacking in this industry is kind of the personality aspect of things. For us, personality is almost more important than skill and gear. I mean, obviously things have to be tip-top shape, but we tend to go after younger, hungry individuals, who are passionate about their craft and not salty old dogs who are kind of over it and think of it as a job. The day it becomes a job for someone is the day that passion disappears. That’s something that we’re really focused on, is going after those individuals and those passionate individuals will tend to share more of their experience, of their story with those that they take on their adventures. So, that’s also important.
Then that local knowledge — it’s hard to get someone local to really share the local knowledge that they have. Yeah, we ask questions and want to learn more, but when someone goes out of their way to say, “Hey, by the way, see that mangrove? That’s so and so. It’s different because of this and it’s actually, without that mangrove there would be no sea life here because it’s adding aeration into the ground and it’s providing a habitat that secures the baitfish.” All of these different things that we can talk about that is critical to the ecosystems here locally and it’s that knowledge can spread and really take an experience of, “Oh, I caught fish.” Or, “Oh, I went camping.” To take that to the next level is like, “Wow, not only was I fishing, but I learned all about the ecosystem and I got to see this wildlife I never would’ve thought I would see.” Or, “If I was just walking myself I never would have realized there was this, this, this going on around me.” That’s really where the differentiation kind of comes.
Yeah. I think you hit it right there. Taking the experience to the next level, I think that’s really what it’s all about and you mentioned the mangroves. In our pre-interview chat, we were talking about my girls getaway in Ana Maria Island and coming up on our third annual. Last year when we went we did a Segway tour and the guide actually explained to us what a mangrove was. She pointed out and talked to us and just made our experience our understanding of the environment where we were staying so much better. So, I can really relate to that. I think that’s really awesome.
Provide the Experiences Your Customers Want
I’d like to kind of switch gears just a little bit because when talking about creativity we always kind of learn when we’re faced with maybe a challenge or some adversity and I find that creativity really can present itself when you’re in that sort of problem-solving mode and really trying to think about things in a different way. Can you share with us maybe a challenge that you faced and a creative outcome that might have come from that?
Yeah, of course. This most recent marketing pivot is a clear challenge. One of our biggest challenges is that we were paying for a lot of traffic, we were hitting vacationers where they were in their own home markets, we were targeting them effectively on social media, remarketing, our blogs. I mean, you name it, we were doing it, but what was going on is we would have a 1,000 people a month get to a cart and only 10% buy. One of the assumptions that we had early on was that nine out of ten people who search for an outdoor experience don’t actually buy it. While the outdoor experience market in the US is about three billion dollars spent on outdoor guides, the direct market opportunity is 30 billion.
We thought our platform would bridge that gap in a greater way than just the internet does today because we vet our guides, we offer 100% money back guarantee, and we really have taken the customer experience to the next level by making our customer service is far superior to anything that you would get. Yet, that gap was still not being bridged and it was understanding, okay, our assumption was they’re not doing it because they don’t understand the value of their experience and we solved for that. They’re not doing it because they don’t know who they’re going to go with and who their guides are going to be and what type of people they are. We solved for that and we’re doing 100% money back guarantee so that risk is gone. Why aren’t people buying?
Well, doing a lot of research into that we found that people aren’t buying because of that emotional trigger that we talked about earlier. There’s something stopping people from doing something that makes them feel uncomfortable and how do we challenge that how do we address that? Our creative solution was, “Well, you know what? Let’s change our mission. We still want to get people who don’t get outdoors, but how are we going to do that?” We’re going to do that by offering free or very, very inexpensive introductory outdoor experiences to people. So, when you’re coming down from Michigan and you’ve never been on a boat before in the ocean and that’s fearful for you, how do we bridge that gap?
The industry has created these own self-rules where the minimum is a four-hour boat trip because a guy that’s not going to put their boat in the water because it costs $200 just to do that. We’re like, “You know what? Let’s destroy the industry. Let’s break all the rules. Pretend there are no rules and create products that will fit what our customers would actually want.” You know what? People are asking us, “Why can’t I just go for a two-hour boat ride with my kids?” Well, you know what? We do that now. Two our boat ride, $60 a person. Unheard of, right?“Pretend there are no rules and create products that your customers actually want.” - Tom Mulliez #podcast Click To Tweet
We’re not making any money on it. We’re actually losing money, but we don’t care because the point is we’re offering something that customers want and it’s not the customer’s fault that it’s not working for me, it’s for me to figure out how it’s going to work and that’s how we’re turning everything on its head. People want to learn to fish. They’re used to bass fishing, they’ve never gone ocean fishing before. They don’t know what they’re doing. They’re throwing worms into the ocean. Well, you know what? We now have one-hour introductory courses for five dollars at a pier. You have an hour open in your week when you’re here on vacation. Well, let us take you on a pier and teach you the basics of, “Here are the baits that we use why we use them and what fish are going to eat it and how it’s going to happen and how to hook it.”
By the way, a fishing pole for the ocean is different than a fishing pole that you’re used to, so you got to hold it this way and here’s how you cast and all of those things that we’re teaching them, it’s all based on the creativity behind, “We have a problem. We’re not solving the problem. The industry itself is not solving the problem, so what can we do differently? What is it that the customer wants and how do we offer that?” It’s up to us to figure out how to make it work on the back end that’s what we’re working on right now.
That’s really awesome. My favorite line that you just said in that description is it’s not the customer’s fault that the industry has these rules and you’ve really thought way outside the boundaries to try to come up with that solution. When you were describing this new university concept earlier in our conversation it hadn’t occurred to me how different that was from the experiences that are on the market right now and you’ve not only have solved a challenge, but you’re creating a whole new product and I think that’s really cool. That’s really awesome.
Breaking the Technology Barrier
What other things are you working on that you’re really excited about that you’d like to share with our listeners about the things you might be working on in the future?
One of the things that we’re working on — and it’s taken just a little bit of a backseat recently with this new kind of marketing push — is working to better understand how we can partner with vacation groups and specific hotels. More on the private side, not the big chains, and become their outdoor service provider. They have a pipeline of people that they’re actively bringing in and they’re competing against each other based on room aesthetics and my restaurant verse your restaurant. We both have the same beach. We both have the same mini-golf course. We both have access to the same parks and they’re looking for ways to become more competitive and bring people in.
If all of a sudden they had basically an activity center, say an iPad or just access to us instantaneously, we can become that activity center for them. They don’t have the knowledge that we do, and essentially it’s outsourcing that out and becoming that partner. We’ve worked at that a lot recently, and one of the frustrating challenges that we’re facing right now is that everybody loves it up until the time that they have to actually implement it, put us on their website, put us into their welcome email, and it’s because of a technology challenge, they don’t have the skills to do that. That’s why we pulled back recently a little bit, but I mean, we’re going to come back full steam once we just test out and validate this new market.
They have a huge need for us and they can’t execute on the final piece only because they don’t know how to change a signature in an email or how to add someone to a website. I don’t blame them. That’s not their business. They’re not technologists. They’re not all that stuff, but it’s a barrier for us and we’re trying to figure out ways, “Okay, how can we hack into these people’s websites? We can’t ask them for their passwords.” They’re like, “What are you doing?” I’m like, “Well, what’s your password?” “I don’t know. My web guy was three years ago and he left.” That’s an interesting thing about this industry, is the way that the industry is moving and it’s so technology focused and it’s so technology driven, the mom and pop operations, the smaller operations, they don’t have the resources or time to understand that. They’re fighting to make sure that the guests they have coming down, that are finding them, which they don’t know how for the most part, but the ones that are finding them are able to really learn their business and the service correctly on a day-to-day basis.
One thing I’d love to see happen that I don’t see enough or at all is for our partners at the CBD’s and the DMO’s to step up and say, “We need to train these guys and help them in this new economy, in this new direction.” People are buying hotel rooms off of an Instagram feed now.
Yeah, absolutely. I know there’s been a lot of movement in the industry from the CBD and DMO level to help their stakeholders. I’m not sure how far it can actually go, but I think that you’ve really identified a definite need and especially in the tourism industry because although you have your large attractions and your large flagged hotels and the big players, there are a lot more of the mom and pop businesses that are living off of tourism. You’re in Florida. We’re in New York State, also a big state for visitation with New York City here and just so many small businesses live off of that. Training, I think, it’s definitely a key. I think that’s really a great point. I find that interesting, that whole technology barrier that you’re experiencing.
Yeah. We are essentially a tech startup. We’re in the tech incubator and we’re bridging the gap between technology and the outdoors tourism, something that for the most part is not technology driven, but speaking about this, there are trends that are happening in the marketplace I don’t think many people see and realize. They are quite scary to me and I think it’s going to have a massive impact on the mom and pop. I think this is a good platform to have that kind of conversation. Those who understand the game and understand technology are light years ahead of winning the game for traffic and that the only way that mom and pop’s are going to be able to compete later on is to pay, and pay a lot of money, and what I think what we’re going to see is a consolidation of the mom and pops under bigger umbrellas and I think we’re going to see a lot of that disappear, and that worries me.
When I say mom and pop I’m talking about a mom and pop vacation rental, a mom and pop tourism or guide company. All of those things are going to be hurt. I’ll use the fishing industry as an example. There’s a company called FishingBooker and they’re based out of Serbia. They don’t follow the rules and they’re led by some very intelligent individuals. This company has over the last six months dramatically risen in rank for all organic searches for a fishing charter in Tampa, for example. I understand what they’re doing because I wish I could do it as effectively as they are and that’s the truth, but what they’re doing is essentially they’re stealing leads from people who are already buying, they’re stealing that lead and they’re reselling it to the same person who originally would have received it. So they’re decreasing the margin for the actual operator.
At iTREKKERS, we grow the pie. We’re saying, “We want that three billion dollar business to turn into a 30 billion dollar business to really go after a 100 billion dollar business, which those are the people who don’t even know or search for an outdoor activity, yet they know they want to do something cool and different.” That’s who we are actively going after. By going after them we’ll grow the pie for everybody. They’re actively going after the current market, stealing the leads that used to go to individual guides and then reselling them. What they’ve done is incredibly impressive. They understood Google’s algorithms, they understood how to deliver, they reformatted the website. I mean, they spent a million some dollars doing that. Which mom and pop can compete with that? They can’t.“At iTREKKERS, we grow the pie. We want to help businesses grow.” - Tom Mulliez #podcast Click To Tweet
That’s happening in every sector of the industry as these startups and these tech-savvy companies are coming in. What’s going to happen is the same thing that happened kind of with Amazon. I love Amazon, but it still is a fact of life. Being able to buy online is dedicated with where you rank, and where you rank is dedicated based on how good you are at technology, not how good the service that you provide.
That’s a really interesting conversation. I’m glad you brought it up. I totally see what you’re talking about and not even just somebody like a FishingBooker, a bunch of really smart people out of Serbia that came in and created this business, but even so much as like a TripAdvisor or a Yelp or some of those larger brands that are out there that they have to search down. So they’re going to come up above you pretty much every time and making sure that your presence on those particular websites and applications are correct and accurate and that you’re doing what you can to get noticed there too. So, you’re right. I mean, technology can make life easier, but also it can make it a lot more complicated. I think that’s just very interesting insight. I don’t know where it’s going to go, but you’re you’re absolutely right. You’ve got to get the tech part right or you almost, you don’t exist. If you’re not on the internet you don’t exist.
Or we got to get really creative.
Yeah, absolutely, really creative.
I think it’s that creativity that’s going to allow some of us to stand out. We may not have the millions of dollars to do XYZ, but the big box companies, they’re going to fall into rhythms, they’re going to fall into the ways of doing business and that’s going to create opportunity for us to fringe, to break through and go outside of what the big box guys are doing. We’re literally printing yard signs today.
Oh, that’s awesome.
Talk about going way back.
Talk about guerrilla marketing at its finest or grassroots, whichever one you want to call it.
That’s really awesome.
Creating Big Wins with Partners
Well, this has been a great conversation so far. I’m going to switch gears a little. We always end up touching on the second thing that I’d like to talk about on this podcast, which is this whole idea of collaboration, and it’s hard generally to talk about creativity without talking about collaboration and we touched on it a little bit already in our conversation, but I’m wondering if you can be a little bit more specific.
One of the things that I think about when I think about collaboration in the tourism industry is this whole idea of co-opetition, and essentially it’s where perceived competitors actually come together to create wins that are bigger than what they can do on their own. That might be two destinations or several destinations forming some sort of an alliance or a region and going out after a certain market segment or it could be accommodations pairing up with attractions in their area and going after a market segment because they can reach so much more. Do you have anything that you could share with our listeners about a collaboration that maybe is working for you or one that you’re pursuing right now?
Yeah. Here in Tampa Bay, where we’re headquartered, we are doing a cooperation with other water outdoor based activities and we’re cross-promoting each other. I can’t put people on my boats for $10 a head, and I can’t do that only because we are limited by the Coast Guard as to how many people we can have on the types of vessels that we use, but there’s a company here called eBoats and they just do little boat trips up and down the Hillsborough River and for them, they can fit 16 to 20 people on a boat and that’s less than $10 a person for an hour or two. So, if you’re downtown you can just go, and it’s really neat because they’re getting people outdoors and they’re getting exposure.
That’s one of the things that we’re doing. They’re sending us business and we’re sending them business. Even though we are competitors in terms of attractions that involve the water, we’re really understanding that they have a niche and we have a niche and together they don’t actually cross, so that’s been great.
We are also working on partnerships with breweries and brew tours so that we can offer meeting planners a completed package, “Hey, our buddy at Brew Bus will come pick them up at the hotel, take them to two breweries, drop them off at the docks, we get them on our boats, we go out for four hours, they come and have lunch on our boats, fish or do a sandbar, fun day with a beach cleanup in there as well, to make sure we get that holistic piece that we give back and then the bus will pick them back up and then that bus is going to take them to another brewery and then back to your hotel.” There’s one of your days. Take that and go sell it.
We’re trying to do that kind of thing with a variety of partners. It’s time-consuming for sure because we’ve got to create the package, then the package has to be sold to the meeting planners, then the meeting planners have to sell that package to other people, but over time that’s going to a huge win. That’s kind of more the medium to long-term game, that’s kind of where I feel like these types of partnerships fall into. Takes effort, but it could definitely have a big payoff down the road when a couple meeting planners are doing these unique activities and they’re winning more business and then other people kind of like, “Who’s put that together?” And then they come back to you. You know what I mean? I definitely see a lot of value in that. I think you just got to be really smart about the strategic partner that you find.
That is a challenge, most on the standpoint of the level of competition between them as well as the type of people you’re going to be dealing with.
Interesting. Can you elaborate on that a little bit, what you found as you’ve been looking for these partnerships? What is it that makes a good partner for you?
The first thing for me is the actual person behind the partnership. Is this another mom and pop like us? Is this like another startup, someone who’s passionate about what they do and do we share similar passions about my mission for the outdoors? So, passion, then that falls into the values. Is this person understanding of my values and my red line and the things I will not cross and do I truly understand their red line? For us, our values and our mission is critical to everything that we do. We live them every day. We do not compromise. If someone just wants to go out and they want to take, say, 100 people out, and they don’t want to do anything related to the outdoors, they don’t care really about talking about the outdoors, they want us just driving from bar to bar to bar on the water. No, we’re not doing that.
That’s not in alignment?
That’s not aligned with who we are and what we want to do. I think that’s important and third, the person needs to have the win, win, win mentality where the customer wins, they win, and we win. If we start trying to nitpick or if the conversation even turns to money off of the bat I stay away. That means this person is driven by profit and is not driven by the customer experience and if they’re not driven by the customer experience then they’re not a good partner because the better the experience we provide to the customer profit eventually comes and if all they’re driven about is they will look at numbers, numbers, numbers, “You’re getting 10 and I should get 12 because I’m valued more in this deal.” That’s not a good relationship to have.“Look for opportunities where your customer wins, your partner wins, and you win.” - Tom Mulliez #podcast Click To Tweet
Yeah. I love that. Win, win, win. It’s three wins and I think that’s really great way to put it. For the customer and for both parties that are entering into this partnership together. I think that’s really awesome.
Well, before we wrap up Tom I just wanted to thank you for taking the time to share with us this morning and I’m wondering if there’s anything that you’d like to share with our listeners that I haven’t asked yet or you’re wishing that you could have shared in terms of our conversation.
Yeah, and I’m only saying this because I know that there’s a lot of people out there in the CBD’s and the DMO’s that are listening to this. As a small participant across the CBD’s and DMO’s, it would be great if we focused a little bit less on heads and beds and a little bit more on the overall experience. Why am I saying this? How we are funded at the CBD and the DMO level and the metrics that we value that represent our success, they’re always about their tax revenue and they’re always about heads and beds. Where we are really failing, I believe, is looking holistically across the entirety of the experience that our cities and our areas can provide and working with a variety of partners.
I’ll give you an example. The Florida CBD, Visit Florida. We used to be able to market with them and drove a lot of traffic to us and then they decided, “You know what? We’re going to change our program. It’s too hard for us to manage and so we’re only going to allow big-dollar programs.” Well, the only people who participate in those are the big fish and hook. You had small fish giving you $1,000 dollars a month and now you’re asking for a minimum investment of say 10,000 or 5,000 or $20,000 a month.
You know what? Congratulations. Only Disney, Universal and the other CBD’s can participate and so now you’ve completely eliminated the perception that you were caring about all the different variety of experiences that were here local and you’re basically saying, “Florida is only Disney and our big parks and our beaches.” That messaging will get across to those who care about doing more than just that and your partners leave. We don’t participate in Visit Florida anymore, what’s the point? They tell us how important we are and yet we can’t play.
That’s unfortunate. That’s a great example, but it is this whole idea of how we measure the travel and tourism industry and you’re right, traditionally it’s been heads and beads and I know a lot of the DMO’s that I work with in New York State, they’re certainly funded through that bed tax, but there’s been a lot of conversation lately, not just at the New York state level, but even at some of the conferences I’ve attended, the national conferences, about thinking more broadly just like you’re saying and thinking about how we can measure economic impact beyond just the heads and beads. So, what is economic impact for a small business like yours?
But then also, it’s quality of life, which is really hard to measure because tourism allows us to have iTREKKERS, to have these kinds of experiences in our backyard that we wouldn’t have otherwise. There’s that whole idea of the quality of life and how do you measure that as well. I think it’ll be interesting to see how the industry evolves on that topic because I know it’s top of mind not just for you, but for most people in the circles where I drabble.
What’s interesting about the way we measure tourism is — are you familiar with the Outdoor Industry Association?
The OAI is amazing at creating studies that really digs deep into the value of the outdoors and tourism in general and the numbers are staggering. I mean, I don’t want to speak out of term, but the most recent numbers that just came out show that the tourism industry and the outdoor nature industry are together the third largest industry in the United States. They’re bigger than Big Oil and that’s just crazy and nobody realizes that and then really thinks through that impact of how all those dollars kind of could just go down to the bottom or reinvest it and then come back up through the number of jobs, the taxes that are paid, the restaurants, just holistically across the board. So it’s really neat and I look forward to seeing all of their studies and getting those published.
Yeah, absolutely. I think that’s really exciting and actually I just really quickly want to mention podcast of ours that just published this week with Rick Antonson, but we were talking about cathedral thinking. Have you heard of cathedral thinking? I first learned about it at a Destinations International Conference over the summer and Rick was introducing someone and he used the term cathedral thinking and I went back and Googled it to learn more and found out that it’s this premise of basically building something today that you might not see its actual impact today in your lifetime, but your grandchildren might see the impact.
It’s this idea of keeping the current generation kind of tethered to the future generation in the work that we do today. The metaphor goes back to in the 1600s and 1400s when they were building these cathedrals and it would take hundreds of years and so the bricklayers who started the foundation aren’t there to see the cathedral completed, but they know they’re building it for future generations. I think a lot of what we just talked about ties really, really well into that and thinking more long-term and beyond just what are the immediate impacts that are happening.
I think that’s amazing and so on point.
Yeah, that’s why I love it. It’s just a great way to wrap up. I really appreciate you taking your time and having this conversation with me.
Of course. Thank you.
Can you tell our listeners how they can find you?
That’s awesome. I know a lot of our listeners travel to Florida because New York State is a sweet spot for visitors into the Florida state. Hopefully, they will look you up and they’ll have that experience.
Come on down.
That’s right, and we will make sure all those links are in the show notes as well. Thanks again for being with me.
I really appreciate it. Thank you so much Nicole.