Companies catering to tourists are in a unique situation; they're competing in a one-off game with tens or hundreds of other firms, where the consumer has limited information about the quality of the firm. What signals are likely to be credible in this situation? I think that these places can do some work to set themselves apart and attract business. From worst to best:
Superlatives/claims: You would have to be a gullible tourist indeed to believe a place is "the best restaurant in Nainital," or a "fair price shop." Anything a tourist company says is not really credible, especially when it's not (and really can't be) backed up by a guarantee or refund.
Weak affiliations: By this I mean places that call themselves Tourist Hotel, India Hotel, Hotel of Nainital" etc. This is just above meaningless, because the signal's so cheap.
Logos/External Appearance: This seems like it would be relatively cheap to paint your walls, afford a decent looking logo, a consistent color scheme and an inviting lobby/waiting area. I'm compiling a photo series to show off later, but the hand-painted signs and logos in India are beautiful and the printed signs look like stuff I used to make on PageMaker 5 when I was in 4th grade. Investing in your external appearance signals to tourists that your hotel or restaurant is trustworthy.
Location: This is the main money-maker today; placement along the main tourist drag signals trustworthiness. Tourists are also lazy, or have large bags and can't be bothered to walk all over town searching for the best value for their money. However the returns relative to the rents you have to pay to locate along the main drag might not make it the most profitable.
Making your prices public: Let's face it, some people are willing to pay a slight premium in exchange for the knowledge they're not getting completely ripped off. As a white person, I'm an obvious target for extortion; but if a firm publicly lists their prices then I know that they're the same for everyone. Establishments would lose out on the knowledgeable tourists but they would probably get more than enough traffic from the people who don't know anything about local prices. Restaurants do this, but some have a tourist (or English) menu and a local menu, too.
Advertising: The necessity of advertising, especially for firms with a poor location, is obvious.
Recommendation from a guidebook: The guidebook probably picks tourist establishments at a rate of one out of every twenty hotels and restaurants and two of every three attractions (boat rides, museums, etc). Just getting mentioned in a guidebook gives you a headstart over every other establishment. Maybe places court guidebooks like Lonely Planet (those that get in sure do advertise it, and, I'm guessing, get a bump in traffic); if they don't, they sure should.
Strong affiliation: I'm talking about consumer brands, like McDonalds, Marriott, Super 8 or similar. Especially when there are no other brands to compete with, this should give an establishment a HUGE advantage. Furthermore what's stopping an establishment from establishing a brand? Let's say I own a hotel in Udaipur. Two of the likely next stops are in Jodhpur and Jaisalmer; why don't I call up hotels in those towns, agree to cooperate and then change our names so something distinct? Then the (word for cactus) Hotels have created a brand, without anything more than a sign change. Assuming you have a positive experience, which can be easily reinforced by unannounced hotel inspections, someone who stays at one is more likely to stay at the same place in a different city, and your profits increase.
Tourists are desperate to find anything they can trust, and firms selling to tourists should do more experimentation with the signals they display. I think most of them could draw more traffic with some simple changes.
Liked what you read? I am available for hire.