9 Ways to Better Meet the Needs of Western Tourists

Five years ago was the first time I saw a grown man cry because of a TripAdvisor review. I was traveling in Vang Vieng, a small town in Laos, the landlocked country between Thailand and Myanmar. A tourist haven filled with locally owned accommodations frequented by Western tourists. Vang Vieng is surrounded by impressive limestone mountains and deep caves, which are best viewed on a leisurely float down the river through the town. 

I stayed in one of the simple, yet comfortable cabins owned and operated by a local family. One day, Nam, the owner, came out of his office in tears. Once he collected his thoughts, he explained that a couple from the U.K., who recently departed his hotel, left a poor review about their stay on TripAdvisor.

Nam was dumbfounded, frustrated and deflated, feeling as though his business would never recover after this review. He asked me what he was missing, what he may have done wrong, since I was another Western tourist who worked in many English-speaking countries. I happened to be helping him with his marketing at the time.  

Customer service is hard – it can be rewarding and excruciating at the same time.  It takes one conversation with anyone in tourism to agree to this statement without hesitation!

Managing the expectations and meeting the needs of guests can be one of the most difficult aspects of managing a tourism business, but it’s also a major key to a successful one. 

More frequently than not, I’m asked how to deal with various situations involving English-speaking western tourists, who make up a large and often vocal part of their guests. (since I spend so much time living and working in Central and South America) 

After much contemplation, I’ve come to realize that guests from the United States, Canada, Australia, UK, and New Zealand, and even some from Western Europe (like Germany and Netherlands) have a lot in common. Their similarities are not because of culture but because of lifestyle – they are accustomed to certain levels of customer service and approaches as a result of how they live.

 Of course, there are outliers and inconsistencies, but in general, there are typical lifestyle-related traits to learn from.

Here are some tips that have provided some resolution and help for tourism owners and operators. If you’re from one of these countries, you might even find this topic insightful and humorous, and if I’ve missed anything, I’d appreciate you hit reply!

Nine Lifestyle Behaviors to Better Understand the Western Tourist


To understand someone’s behavior, it’s important to understand where they are coming from. 

1. Western tourists are accustomed to a very high quality and level of customer service in their home country.  

This kind of service can be described as attentive, responsive, organized and clean.

As a result, some, if not most, expect this everywhere, even when priorities and standards in their home country and the other are different. So naturally, they make comparisons.

Actions to address this and meet guests’ needs better: 

  • Designate a staff member responsible for handling communications with guests. This way, guest communication becomes a priority rather than something that can be easily disregarded. Frequent and consistent communication is key which leads to higher satisfaction and better reviews.
  • Implement a 3-step customer service strategy: Acknowledge, Anticipate, Communicate. Guests want to be heard (when there’s a problem), expect you to be one step ahead of them, and want to be informed. 
  • Learn what your guests want the most when it comes to customer service. Developing a Guest Persona not only helps with communicating with your guests for marketing purposes but also helps you understand and serve them better.
  • Create a manual to address frequent guest communication scenarios. This way, your staff can learn how to handle them.


2. Be on Time – Always

These guests are often penalized and reprimanded for lateness in their home country from the time they were young. Being late is seen as unprofessional, rude and a sign that you don’t value or appreciate someone and their time. Many guests take this personally, which may be evident in their expectations from you. For instance, they can get very impatient and uncomfortable if their transport and tours are not on time. 

Punctuality will also impact the number of tips you receive. 

Actions to address this and meet guests’ needs better: 

  • Allow sufficient time for traffic.
  • Give a time range instead of specifics. It’s better to overestimate time than be late. For example, if you organized a tour for a group, you can say that pick-up time is between 8:00 to 8:45 AM
  • Respond to potential guests within an hour this is the expectation. When contacting someone on social media or email, guests expect an answer immediately. While it isn’t possible sometimes due to a difference in time zones, make sure to implement a time range with your staff as to when the guests will be contacted. If you receive a message from a potential guest, you’ll likely lose the sale if you do not contact them within a few hours.

     

3. Remember: Time is Money

Western countries typically have orderly systems and processes focused on delivering with efficiency and speed. As a result, stress levels often hit a high, and relaxing and taking a break isn’t easy for these guests. It often results in frustration and annoyances because systems and processes do not work the same way in their home countries. 

Actions to address this and meet guests’ needs better: 

  • Manage guest expectations by communicating with them frequently and informing them of the possibility of delays.
  • Explore ways to keep your guests attended to, entertained, and relaxed in case of delays. This can include activities, music, and snacks and refreshments.

Sharing our experience:

A client in Sri Lanka would make it a point to communicate with his guests about how service in a restaurant works in his country. When guests arrive, he suggests they order their food in advance and let them know that meals for a large table would rarely arrive at the same time for everyone. This client always brings snacks to the guests at the hotel restaurant once they arrive. This approach helped this tour company deal with guest expectations and has increased their tips.

4. Feed the Desire for Constant Information

People, in general, want to be comfortable and prepared for what’s coming. And often, this desire doubles for Western guests. They want lots of information and want to understand ‘what is next’ most of the time. They may fear getting sick or even looking silly or bad in front of others, that’s why they regard information and preparation as vital. 

 Actions to address this and meet guests’ needs better: 

  • Pre-trip lists are essential. Regardless of your tourism business (hotel, tour, or event), make sure to address the common questions in advance so guests can feel prepared. This is why tour company websites have specific description sections and why packing lists on travel blogs are so popular.
  • Consistent feedback is the key! Hire staff to communicate frequently to guests before, during and after their stay or the tour or event. They may get the same questions which can help them plan tools to ensure guests have the information they need.
  • Develop a manual for consistent communication. Make this document visible and  available to guests before and during their visit.

Sharing our experience:

An adventure travel company I work with in Colombia developed a customer service manual (even though they are also western country foreigners) to ensure there was consistent communication with all their guests and in every step of the guest journey. They mentioned to me that their reviews dramatically improved since using the manual, and the results are much more consistent from a staff member to another. 

P.S. Have you noticed that Good and Frequent Communication is a theme here?

5. Read between the lines – They are Worried or Scared

You’ll find that many people from Western countries will ask a lot of questions that go beyond just being prepared. Most of the time, it’s because they’re worried – for the unknown, for their safety, and for the possibility of illness. 

Many of these concerns are reinforced by negative news media in their home countries. They hear stories of accidents  and illness during vacations.  

They want to be reassured of their safety and again, they want to be prepared.

This is your opportunity to put their minds at ease, and it could even cost you the sale when they’re inquiring BEFORE they book. 

Actions to address this and meet guests’ needs: 

  • Inform your guest about your policies, e.g. insurance.
  • Reassure them that your business values their personal safety and of their belongings.
  • Include safety information on your website and marketing materials. This may include a safe place to lock their bags, addressing any concerns about illness, bringing mosquito repellants, hat, etc.

Sharing our experience:

A tour company I work with runs multi-day tours. They decided to enforce a communication procedure with their tour guides: their guides meet the guests before the departure, communicate what will happen on the agenda the next day, explain what extra precautions to take,  and what is necessary to bring. Since enforcing this procedure, they’ve seen an improvement in the reviews and satisfaction levels of travelers. Tour guides direct the tour better and everyone experiences a smooth-sailing tour!

6. Some guests don’t say how they feel about something they didn’t like, even asked. 

Some people expect you to be a mind-reader, that you should alleviate their problems without them asking. Some guests aren’t  comfortable sharing negative feedback or their discomfort for something. Instead, they do it passively and this can come out in your reviews. It's unfortunate that some guests exercise this passive-aggressive kind of behavior and don’t address their concerns directly and before your review. 

Actions to address this and meet guests’ needs better: 

  • Ask relevant questions to your guests. Your goal is to ensure they have a great visit, so encourage them to tell you about any concerns, issues, and problems several times. You can say it like this: “Is there anything you need to make your trip more comfortable?” “Are we meeting your expectations?”
  • Respond appropriately to reviews. When you’ve asked someone if they’re happy with the service,  and they say "yes" even when they weren’t, you have all the right to mention that in review responses.When a guest answers “fine” to your response, that’s a clue your service may not be living up to their expectations.
  • Be a problem solver. With high service expectations friendly and courteous is not enough. They want you to fix their problem – fast! Once you’re notified of it, inform them when it’ll be fixed.  

For examples of how to answer these kinds of problems, you can ​download our free mastering reviews ebook here.

Passive-aggressive clients will be your most challenging guests, and hopefully, these tips can help manage these situations more successfully. 

7. Pricing isn’t always the top reason for making a purchase. Guests will pay if they see and understand the value of your business.

Your guests are different from one another, and when it comes to the travel business, many of them are looking for more than just a low price.

Consumers will pay for something if you can convince them of its value, such as quality, safety, or your friendly, purpose-driven business and staff.

Actions to address these tourists needs and wants:  

  • Sell your services with value first those that meet the needs of the guests upfront. Write your profiles that address the needs of your guests, coupled with great photos. 
  • Don’t immediately resort to pricing your services low to drive sales. The price AND value are an equation of their own. If you can persuade potential clients of the ‘what, how and why’ of your business, they’ll eventually see value ahead of the price. 

PS: Stay tuned on our blog and marketing tips on how to manage pricing perceptions of your guests.

8. English Language Competency

Some people from  the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the U.K. enjoy the luxury of having an international language, and they may have different attitudes about making an effort to learn a new language. Of course learning a new language can be uncomfortable. 

As a result, these guests may be reluctant to contact your business, as they can’t communicate what they want in a their native language.

Travel businesses who have some English can go a long way; it puts potential and future guests at ease.

Actions to address this and meet guests’ needs better: 

  • Speaking on the phone in another language can be extremely difficult than speaking in person. Also, many people have limited knowledge of time zones and international dialing codes, so don’t be surprised that they don’t know how to call your business. Most likely, guests will resort to email or social media INSTEAD of calling. Be prepared to have staff answer social media queries or emails more often than calls, or else they will contact a company that appears to be more English friendly.
  • Of course, hiring English speaking staff especially for customer service purposes is a benefit.
  • Translate manuals for directions, information,and services in English. There are numerous options for part-time/freelance help to get your marketing materials, and website written or reviewed in English. 

Sharing our experience:

One of my clients in Colombia hired a freelancer to update their website and all their marketing materials including social media posts in English.  In the short term, they used Google Translate to answer emails. To better address this situation, they actively recruited English-speaking staff to deal with these guests directly. 

9. Although many guests are open to new experiences, some western-style standards will improve satisfaction.

You can drastically improve the standards of your service with some Western-style standards. Good standards for cleanliness are very important to alleviate illness concerns. Remember the point above about fear of illness? Standards for cleanliness are very different in various parts of the world, and little comforts of home can reduce their stress. 

Actions to address this and meet guests’ needs better: 

  • Practice good hygiene (frequent cleaning) in bathrooms, hotel rooms, tours, and activities.
  • Make soap and paper towels/hand dryers readily available, as well as opportunities to clean hands before and after tours and food service.
  • Provide potable drinking water and let guests know where and when they can get it.
  • Improve the comfort level by providing comfortable beds and bedding, pillows, chairs, etc.

Unfortunately,  the individual’s perception of whether or not something is clean – can really hurt a business and is a major rating factor on reviews.

Again customer service is hard, and the needs of tourists can be hard. Pleasing everyone is impossible. Understanding where someone is coming from, can be one small step towards meeting their needs -- which is everything in tourism.

Let us know, did we miss anything?  

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western tourists, this one creating a bad example of what not to do

About the Author Dorene Wharton

Dorene Wharton is a tourism strategist, marketer, coach and full-time traveler with a 25-year career working in all areas of marketing and sales. She left her corporate job with Fortune 500 hospitality brands to start Travel Life Media to help hotels, tour, attractions and event companies improve their marketing, live their brand with a purpose and make money.