Rocío Haro of Alandis Travel On How To Create A Travel Experience That Keeps People Coming Back For More
An Interview With Savio P. Clemente
An experience needs to be personalized, creating a product/service based on what the customer wants and expects to get. Examples of this customization is when they ask for a walking tour city but they want it focused on an architectural or photographic perspective. In this case we have to customize the tour based on this requirement.
As part of my series about “How To Create A Travel Experience That Keeps People Coming Back For More”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Rocío Haro.
Rocío is coordinator of tourism programs in Spain, Cuba and Puerto Rico for a Spanish Tour Operator, Alandis Travel. After a long career as an event planner in Madrid (Spain) in 2017 she settled in Cuba from where she works on a regular basis designing and organizing tourism and educational programs for clients from USA and Canada.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Thank you for choosing my anecdotes in your article.
It all started when I decided to study audiovisual media and started working by chance in the events industry. However, I soon realized that what I really liked was to coordinate the teams and organize the work rather than to be between devices. I continued my training in this field and gained experience in the organization of large events. I was able to learn to work in a sector where many qualities are needed, such as being decisive, knowing how to work under pressure and above all, knowing how to work with a lot of people.
After more than 10 years working in the city of Madrid (Spain), I decided to change direction and applied for a job offer from a company in Seville (my hometown) to coordinate academic trips in Cuba. So I continued this profession, which became a little more complicated when you move to a country like Cuba, where anything can happen.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
I have had several experiences as an event and travel coordinator, from funny anecdotes about cultural misunderstandings, to solving bureaucratic or customs problems and of course rewarding ones like witnessing two family members getting to know each other after years of separation due to US-Cuba political relations.
I remember an amusing anecdote: We were doing a multi-day itinerary around the island of Cuba for a group of U.S. professors.
Most groups are housed in private homes in Cuba (Cuban Airbnb) thus achieving a better cultural immersion.
Of course, all these lodging houses pass quality criteria and have been suppliers of Alandis Travel for a long time. Among the requirements of these houses, are that their rooms have split air conditioning, as we all know that the Caribbean heat can be hard. The first night, one of the teachers told me that his room had no air conditioning. When we called the host house to ask, the owner told us that of course it had air conditioning and that she would show the client where it was. Two days later, continuing with the trip, we stayed in another city on the island. The same client made the same comment, which we solved in the same way, showing him where and how the air conditioning worked. Finally, in the third city where we stayed, the gentleman again made the complaint: his room had no air conditioning, something we solved in the same way, showing him where and how the air conditioner worked.
When the tour was over and the guests returned home, discussing this anecdote with the staff, we realized that the gentleman was from North Dakota and had probably never seen an air conditioner before. We had a good laugh.
The gentleman, in spite of everything, was very kind to his hosts and in each of the houses where he stayed, he entertained his hostesses with very useful things and gifts on the island.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Well, many times the rush and the accelerated life leads us to not pay attention to very small details and this led me to confuse two words in English.
Once a group that was going to spend two weeks in Cuba, asked us to do a couple of hiking excursions in different natural parks during their stay. In the request, they talked about “hiking”, and the first time I read it, I interpreted the activity as “cycling”, as I am more used to use the word “trekking” for hiking. At all times in my mind was the activity as a bicycle route.
That’s how I transmitted it to my team and everyone was aware that the activity was a bike route. We hired the guide, rented the bikes, studied the itinerary… everything that was needed to carry out a bike tour.
Once the group arrived, with everything prearranged, the first day of arrival, we reviewed the itinerary with the leader of the group, he was surprised when I told him about bicycles, the client told me “bicycles”? At that exact moment, I had an awakening and realized that what I had been told from the beginning was hiking and that I had been confused the whole time.
Of course, I disguised the mistake as best I could and said: “Oh yes, hiking!
As soon as this meeting was over, I had to reorganize the activity, cancel the bikes and hire another guide and a different itinerary.
What did I learn? To not be in such a hurry, to pay more attention and to share much more with the rest of the staff, because my mistake was transmitted to the whole team by the stupidity of having a quick reading.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Of course, I owe everything I am to the people who have crossed my path, from the person who made things difficult for me and the one who supported me at all times. Undoubtedly, to my parents, because they never stopped me, they have always supported me in my decisions, even if some of them are to put an ocean in between.
And above all to my company Alandis Travel, who trusted me to carry out the task of coordinating the trips in Cuba, because it required great responsibility and methodology.
Thank you for that. Let’s jump to the core of our discussion. Can you share with our readers about the innovations that you are bringing to the travel and hospitality industries?
The tourism industry is a tool with great potential to generate wealth. For years, tourism has been seen as a generator of quantitative benefits and for the last few years the sector has been aware of the need to generate quality tourism.
How can we generate these tourism benefits? Always from the perspective of sustainability. First of all by generating local wealth, employing the local population, teaching the culture and heritage of the destination.
The client must be informed of what he can find on his trip and how to live experiences that really bring wealth in both senses.
Undoubtedly, I could say that as an innovation we offer experiences of great cultural immersion, through participatory activities in the destination: collaborating with a social project in Cuba, reforestation of trees in Puerto Rico or painting Sevillian tiles and take it as a souvenir of your experience. The client lives and the destination is enriched.
Which “pain point” are you trying to address by introducing this innovation and how do you envision that this might disrupt the status quo?
I think that as travel agents and as a tourism professional, we have a duty to put these sustainable practices into action.
Many times we fall into the error that sustainable tourism is expensive for the company and it is not profitable because there is not a traveler even aware and he is only looking for economic offers.
This concept is changing and we are seeing the results in the long term. Tourists are now much more aware of their impact on the trip, choosing suppliers that are more conscious of the environment and that also provide a more real, close and participatory experience.
Undoubtedly, these are times of great changes and I believe that we are going slowly but surely on the right way.
As you know, COVID19 changed the world as we know it. Can you share a few examples of how travel and hospitality companies will be adjusting over the next five years to the new ways that consumers will prefer to travel?
Flexibility and security. It’s the trend. Companies must be more flexible in the face of changes, giving the traveler the option to adapt his reservation to last minute changes.
The traveler needs to acquire confidence in his purchase and for this it would be necessary a better coordination between countries and companies, a unification of the requirements to be able to travel and protocols to follow in case of health emergency.
Safe destinations are sought, whose local protocols guarantee safety with vaccinated population and outdoor and nature activities.
You are a “travel insider”. How would you describe your “perfect vacation experience”?
A combination of cultural activities, active tourism, real contact with the local culture, gastronomy and also relaxation, a bit of everything.
Personally I am a very restless person and I like to take advantage of the trips, so I want to do the maximum of activities that a destination can offer me, but on the other hand, I am aware that “I’m on vacation” and I can relax, so I do not stress if an organized day, does not go as planned, because I also like to enjoy the moments.
In any case that is your motivation for the trip, something in common is to be able to forget about any unforeseen event: booking confirmation, flight cancellations, last minute information etc … it is always much more relaxing to have a travel agent or supplier to keep you informed and resolve any unforeseen event.
Travel is not always about escaping, but about connecting. Have you made efforts to cultivate a more wellness driven experience? We’d love to hear about it.
Learning, always. Observing, listening and always sharing with the locals. For me that’s the most rewarding part of traveling, to have a new vision of the world and try to understand other perspectives.
To do this you have to try to get out of the touristy scenario, more local restaurants, take public transport to move to some place, talk to the locals, stroll through the market, buy local crafts, ask for their gastronomic products etc. ..
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a travel experience that keeps bringing people back for more? Please share a story or an example for each.
Experience has taught us what are the requirements for a customer to be really satisfied.
First of all, an experience needs to be personalized, creating a product/service based on what the customer wants and expects to get. Examples of this customization is when they ask for a walking tour city but they want it focused on an architectural or photographic perspective. In this case we have to customize the tour based on this requirement.
Secondly, professionalism. When the client feels that he/she is with a group of experts, he/she feels protected and knows that his money is being well invested. It is the quality of the service that is valued.
As an example: A client of Cuban origin but with American and Mexican nationality (by marriage) decided to travel to Cuba from the USA to meet her relatives (a very common story). She contracted the tourist services through our agency, a 15-day tour of the island of Cuba, arriving in the city of Havana and leaving through the city of Santiago de Cuba (in the east of the island).
What she did not expect was that upon her arrival at the Havana airport, the Cuban immigration authorities detected that she was a person born in Cuba and therefore would need a Cuban passport to leave the island.
Our client, frightened and not knowing why the authorities were demanding this documentation, asked us for help in desperation.
We were able to find out that she was born in Cuba and her mother obtained a minor’s card (information she did not remember) with which she left the country for the USA, where she obtained her citizenship as a child. Since she was born on the island of Cuba, the protocols require her to enter and leave the country with a Cuban passport.
We took care of this problem, while she was able to continue her tourist itinerary. We looked for her birth certificate and managed her passport thanks to the contacts we have with the immigration department. We solved the problem while she was enjoying her trip and at the same airport in Santiago de Cuba, we delivered her passport to her. We also provided her with a Cuban telephone to maintain communications.
3 years later, the same client contacted us for a new travel request to the island, which we were happy to design and manage.
Continuing with efficiency, the customer wants a quick and effective response. You must ensure that the customer is satisfied.
This leads us to excellent communication, a direct and fluid communication. It happened to us with this client of Cuban nationality, because we maintained at all times a fluid communication for her peace of mind.
Finally, health & safety, times have changed the needs of the traveler, and safety is an important requirement. When a traveler contracts a service, he will want to feel confident and safe.
Can you share with our readers how you have used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I always try to transmit that our first world is not normal and that respect for other cultures, even if we do not agree, is essential for understanding. You have to get rid of prejudices and that can only be achieved by traveling.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I would feel satisfied if we start traveling with a more sustainable consciousness. Thinking that it’s not always a good idea to take a plane or if we do we try to start making our own footprint. Perhaps falling less into the tourist clichés, doing activities more typical of cultural immersion, learning the local language, buying local products and ultimately try to understand the destination with an outlook without prejudices.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Linkedin: Rocio Haro
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!