Tourism accreditation to build trust, stand out and grow your business
In episode 80 we are chatting with Sheridan Ferrier, NSW Program Manager for ATAP which is the Australian Tourism Accreditation Program about how through tourism accreditation, tourism businesses can build trust, stand out and grow bookings to their business.
HollyG: Welcome to Tourism Upgrade, the podcast unpacketing marketing trends from travel, tourism, and marketing leaders. I’m your host, HollyG, and I have with me marketing and PR consultant Sherridan Ferrier, who among other things is the New South Wales programme manager for ATAP, which is the Australian Tourism Accreditation Programme. Welcome to the podcast, Sheridan.
Sheridan Ferrier: Thank you, Holly. Glad to be here.
HollyG: Nice to have you on. Now, before we get into talking about tourism accreditation and accreditation programmes, I thought it might be good just to I guess introduce listeners to a little bit about yourself, because you’ve been in the tourism industry since about, it must be coming close to 20 years now.
Sheridan Ferrier: Yes. I think it’s about 18 fabulous years, and I’ve worked with everything from Sydney icons to the best wine region in Australia. I’ve been here, there, and everywhere across destination marketing PR and events.
HollyG: And what are you spending most of your time on now?
Sheridan Ferrier: Most of the time I spend on the ATAP programme, and look after all of the properties in New South Wales, and building that programme for New South Wales. There’s about 4000 operators across Australia, but within New South Wales, we have under 100. That’s about to change, and that’s what I’m focused on at the moment.
HollyG: Okay, cool. If we’re talking about accreditation programmes, I just want to take a step back and just look at really how and consumers now booking travel, and how are they getting their information. How does that fit into what you’re doing with ATAP?
Sheridan Ferrier: Yeah, well, look, more and more consumers are booking online, and if you look at Google’s travel trends from last year, it’s mobile devices that they’re using. They’re researching on their mobile, but then they’re going and booking on their desktop. It’s about 90% that use their desktop to book, but mobile and mobile apps are really, really important. And I guess that also moves across to social media. Word of mouth as well. And information that sort of comes left, right, and centre across the digital medium. If you’re not on line, you’re really going to miss out a lot of consumers heading towards your product.
HollyG: When consumers are online, I guess, how are businesses able to differentiate themselves? Because we know that there’s so much information out there. How are consumer’s brains thinking, and what are they looking for?
Sheridan Ferrier: I guess they’re really looking for that peace of mind that when they go to book online, that they’re going to be choosing a quality tourism operator that has all their ducks in a row, and they’re doing everything they possibly can to make them the best tourism business. And those that do perform really well are the ones that do have accreditation, they’ve won tourism awards, and they’re continually upgrading their business every year, bringing on new products, or doing things new ways, or bringing in new technology.
HollyG: Cool. Back in the day we always had the Star Rating system, so maybe … Well, especially with, I guess, accommodation, which is a lot of the experience that I’ve had. Your three-star or four-star or five-star accommodation or something like that. Now, there’s been a whole lot of stuff happening with the Star Rating system here in Australia. Can you just give us a bit of an overview on, I guess, even starting back when they were looking to change the programme, and then where is it now?
Sheridan Ferrier: I guess the Star Ratings, they made an announcement at the beginning of May that it will be taken over by the Australian Tourism Industry Council. And the Tourism Industry Council is set up in each state across Australia, and they run the ATAP programme. It’s licenced to each industry council, and within New South Wales, it’s licenced to the New South Wales business chamber. One of the roles of the chamber is looking at the accreditation, and also assisting the tourism industry to provide quality operators, looking at what’s best practise out there.
When Star Ratings announced in February that they would be closing, the Tourism Industry Councils all got together to have a look at it, because it is really important for consumers to know what they’re booking, and the type of products that they’re getting. It aligns really well with the ATAP programme. We have a lot of attraction operators that have the ATAP accreditation, whereas the star ratings is going to complement that. We’ll be looking after both programmes to ensure that customers have somewhere to go. If something goes and they need some feedback, we can help to improve those industry standards. But also when they’re booking, it gives them that peace of mind that they’re booking the right product that’s going to suit their needs.
HollyG: Was the … I guess the announcement, well, today, is that the star rating system isn’t disappearing, isn’t going away.
Sheridan Ferrier: No, definitely not. It will be managed by each tourism industry council across the state, so New South Wales Business Chamber will take over the 1500 operators or accommodation providers in New South Wales, and then each state will manage the accreditation for those operators that are signed up to the star rating programme. No, it’s not going anywhere. It’s something that consumers need, and it is recognised as a standard of excellence right across Australia.
HollyG: In the day and age that we’re in now, with TripAdvisor and other review sites, is star rating and accreditation programmes still valid?
Sheridan Ferrier: Most definitely. It’s all about the quality of the product that’s there. With the star ratings, you know that you might be looking at a deal that’s out there, and go, “Oh, I’m getting a really good deal for this property, but it also aligns to the star rating that they have. You know if you’re booking a four star, you know the type of experience that you’re expected to have. That aligns with that accreditation. It tells the consumer what to expect from that property. And same as with the tourism accreditation, the ATAP programme, an operator actually has to meet a set of industry standards in order to gain that accreditation.
HollyG: Okay, that’s a good sort of segue into talking specifically about the Australian Tourism Accreditation Program, and I guess how it works, and really understanding why operators should get involved.
Sheridan Ferrier: Sure. Well, ATAP’s Australia-wide. We’ve got 4000 operators that have the accreditation. In some states it’s actually compulsory to have your accreditation to be listed with the state tourism body, and on their website. It’s not compulsory in New South Wales at the moment, but we’re certainly working towards that way, because it really, the programme is about quality tourism businesses. It’s a programme that’s done all completely online, and it looks at the practises an procedures in a business, and across all of your systems from having a business plan to your customer service policy. It looks at your risk management plan, how you manage your staff, and your operating systems including financials. It was set up by the tourism industry, and it’s managed by the tourism industry.
Sheridan Ferrier: If you meet all of the criteria and you can provide documentation for your business that meets all of that, then you can use the tick, and use that to market your business. And that gives you a point of difference and a competitive advantage.
HollyG: And I guess when we are … Going back to the fact that we know consumers are booking travel online and they’re researching online, I guess, as you say, it’s a way that you can stand out. But also we know that consumers are looking at up to, around 13 different touch points before they make a decision, and with all those touch points, what they really want is to go, “Do I trust this business? Does their Facebook page say the same thing as their website? Does what it says on trip advisor support all the other things that I’m seeing about this business.” I guess this is another piece of that trust, yeah, to get that trust in the business.
Sheridan Ferrier: Yeah, it sure is. It gives you credibility. And when you’ve got people searching online, it’s things like having the tick with your business that helps to increase your search engine optimisation and to bring your listing up, because you are showing that you’re a credible business. The tick certainly helps with that accreditation, but it just gives consumers peace of mind that they know that they’re going to get a good product that they’re booking, and what their advertising says is what they’re going to see when they arrive.
HollyG: Do we have some examples of businesses who are ATAP accredited, or any case studies or anything like that?
Sheridan Ferrier: Yes, well, I guess the National Tourism Awards are a really good example of those with accreditation. And last year there was more than 60% of winners that held ATAP accreditation. That’s partly due to some of the states having compulsory accreditation, but the New South Wales operators that stood out at the awards also held accreditation. To give you one example, you’ve got Margan Wines. They have taken out a number of Australian tourism awards over the few years across wine and food tourism as well. They’re consistently looking at their business and what they can do, and they’re innovative, and they’re bringing on new systems.
When they undertook their accreditation, it was actually really easy for them to get it done really quickly, because they ticked all of the boxes straight away. And if you have a look at their website, margan.com.au, you’ll see on their very homepage that they’ve got all the accreditations and the tourism awards that they’ve won. That helps them to stand out against other businesses.
To give you another example, there’s Balloon Safaris who have been in business for over 35 years, and they say that to stay on top of the industry is that they continue evolve their product and service offering. They’ve held their accreditation since 2007, and they say that is an important point of difference between themselves and their competitors, especially when they’re dealing with the international market, because it provides a benchmark for them.
HollyG: And I think, look, I know you’re a big advocate for entering awards, and whether it’s sort of on a local level or on a national level, as well, in terms of further setting yourself apart from your competitors.
Sheridan Ferrier: Oh, look, most definitely. And if you look at what you can do for your business to make it stand out, I guess the first place to start is looking at your marketing strategy. If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten. That strategy’s gonna set you in the right direction and help you to achieve your goals.
And this is one of the modules that we do do within the accreditation. We look at the internal and external business, and then once you know who your competitors are, who your target markets are, then you can go about setting your marketing objectives. And within those, you may have entering the Tourism Awards as one of the key goals that you’ll have for the next twelve months, because when you enter the Tourism Awards you’re actually reviewing your business and your achievements in the last 12 months, and you’re setting your goals for the future. If you’re entering every year, your business is constantly turning over new ideas, and it’s also really motivating for staff as well to see what they’ve achieved.
And what we’re doing at the moment, because there’s such a really good alignment with the Tourism Awards and accreditation, is we’re offering a fast track service for tourism operators that have entered the awards before and that have a submission. Because we can align half of the modules with your ATAP programme with the Tourism Awards, and then there’s only a few more documents that they have to provide, an they can fast track their accreditation, and especially in line for entering this year’s Tourism Awards. That will give them a step up when the judges are looking at their submissions and saying, “Okay, yes, well they have the tick as well, so therefore we can see that they’re really dedicated to improving the quality of their business.”
HollyG: Yeah, great. And I like that idea of when you’re entering Tourism Awards and also looking at this accreditation programme. It’s taking that time to stop working in your business, and then taking a step back to look at it from a strategic point of view. And I’m sure if you do that every year then, as you say, you’re going to be implementing new things, going to be more innovative, going to be staying ahead of your competitor.
Sheridan Ferrier: Yeah, that’s true. With the ATAP programme, we get people to complete their full submission every three years. By that stage, their marketing plan would have changed, because the way that digital technology is working, there could be a new app that they could implement to use their mobile phone to unlock their guest-room. Every three years you need to be looking at what you’re doing and changing that plan. Of course, doing it every year is much better, but with the ATAP programme, our standard is to review procedures and processes every three years.
HollyG: Yeah. And how long has ATAP been around for, and what sort of, I guess, encouraged it to come on, to be created?
Sheridan Ferrier: ATAP has been around for, I guess, many many years, but in different forms. You may remember back to when the federal government had put together the T-QUAL programme. That was so many years ago. Well, the T-QUAL programme started looking at the industry standards and what we could do, and then it got to the stage where it was up and running, and then Tourism Alliance took it over, and then it moved forward into the Tourism Industry Councils, and then off to each state to manage. It’s been around for quite some time, just in different formats. And within New South Wales, we’ve been looking after the programme since 2015, which is when the New South Wales Business Chamber took on the licence for the state.
HollyG: Okay. The whole aim of the game, really, is about making … like the overarching theme is basically ensuring that Australia is delivering great quality tourism, so it continues to be important for our economy. Is that sort of the overarching theme of this?
Sheridan Ferrier: Oh, look, most definitely. It’s certainly about quality assurance principles, and I guess setting some standards for the tourism industry. An that’s why the industry had put this programme together for all tourism sectors. Even if you’re a small operator that runs a B&B, or you’re you’re BridgeClimb that has a lot of staff, the programme works for you either way, because you’re meeting the standards according to the size of your business. If you’re a B&B operator, then you’re not gonna have a HR manual, but if you’re BridgeClimb, then you will need a HR manual for all of the staff. It’s meeting those standards for a small or large business, and the programme is flexible in that way.
But yeah, it certainly makes sure that a business that has their accreditation, you can be assured that they’ve got a risk management plan, that they have their insurance and public liability, that if anything should happen, that they know what to do in those instances, because they’re prepared. They’re prepared to deal with any situation. They have customer service policies. They have booking procedures. We make sure that they’re available on the website for everybody to see before they book. I guess the program also tries to minimise any risk for a consumer as well.
HollyG: And is there a cost for businesses to apply for the ATAP?
Sheridan Ferrier: Yeah. The programme varies, and it is, again, based on the size of the business. For up to three people in your business, the cost is $289 per year. We do an annual renewal just to make sure insurances and everything are up to date, and then the costs go up from there.
HollyG: Yep, cool. Now, do you have any other sort of final comments you wanted to make, or where’s the best place where people can get further info?
HollyG: Cool, and we can put those links in the show notes as well, to make it easy for people to click through.
Sheridan Ferrier: Okay, great. Thank you.
HollyG: Cool. Well, thanks for your time. It is a good reminder, really. I think sometimes we think as a business, “Oh, I might enter those awards, or I might go for that accreditation,” but we sort of seem to put it off. I think this is a good reminder to sort of just get it done, especially the accreditation. You put in the effort and it lasts for three years, so I think, yeah, it’s a good reminder for people.
Sheridan Ferrier: Yeah, it sure is, and it’s also a god way to help you with your Tourism Award submission as well. It sort of goes hand-in-hand with the two.
For the show notes for this episode, head to HollyG.com.au. You can subscribe to this podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, or your preferred podcast service.