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Essential Cross-Cultural Skills for the Dorset Tourism Industry

Dorset Coastline

Dorset is beautiful – in fact, it is so beautiful that the tourism industry attracts almost half a million foreign tourists a year and contributes just under £230 million a year to the Dorset economy.

The growing attraction of Dorset as a holiday destination is clearly evident in the increasing numbers of cruise ships docking at Portland Port, with Dorset-bound tourists doubling from 30,000 to 60,000 from the previous year.

With 80% of cruise ships’ passengers choosing to stay in Dorset (and hence contribute to the economy), the Dorset tourist industry has every reason to be excited. To capitalise upon the opportunities the tourism industry presents, it's essential that Dorset businesses are mindful of the need to deliver a positive customer experience to their international customer base. With platforms such as Trip Advisor playing a key role in customer choice, accommodating the needs of foreign customers pays long-term dividends.

With diverse expectations, delivering a ‘one-stop shop’ approach to all customers, regardless of their cultural background, will not necessarily result in a positive outcome. From front-line customer service in Dorset’s hotels, restaurants, shops and amusements, to marketing development, cultural awareness is at the heart of businesses that understand the driving force of culture in tourism.

It’s not necessary to learn all the rules of every culture to be effective when dealing with international customers, but understanding that cultural differences exist and being aware that customers might have slightly different needs will go a long way.

We’ve captured some basic key tips that are essential for staff in the Dorset tourist industry to be aware of:

• If you work in a B&B or a hotel, then learn to pronounce the name of your guests before they arrive. Being able to say someone’s name accurately will make them feel valued and demonstrate your willingness to accommodate them.

• Adapt your language – not by shouting slowly at them, but by articulating your words clearly, avoiding slang, and checking for understanding if their English isn’t great.

• If you are hosting foreign tourists in your hotel or B&B, then doing a little research before your guests arrive would gain you great brownie points! If you know where they are from then use the culture profiles readily available on the Commisceo Global site. These guides provide essential information in respect to key areas such as addressing people, personal space, etiquette, and taboos.

• Be aware that in some cultures, people don’t say what they mean. This is particularly the case in Asian and Middle Eastern cultures where individuals make every effort to protect harmony and avoid potential upset. You may (for example) ask someone if they are happy with the service or the food you are serving and they may well smile and say they are very happy. However, this may not always be the case. Look out, therefore, for body language or, for what is not said as these cues may well indicate disappointment, frustration, or upset. If you think this may be the case, then consider asking your question in a different way. 

• Leading on from the point above, if you work in the hospitality industry, be aware that some cultures initially decline anything offered to them once or twice out of politeness. As such, if you offer something complementary to your customer, or, if you offer to do something for them and they decline, then consider asking a couple more times before you accept their answer. Failing to do so may well result in them feeling offended that you only asked once!

• Be aware of proxemics and distance. If your customer closes the physical distance with you, then avoid stepping back (unless it’s clearly inappropriate or uncomfortable) as some cultures are very comfortable with a lack of physical space, and stepping back may be perceived as you trying to distance yourself from them. Alternatively, if you extend your hand to someone of the opposite gender and they refuse it, then be aware that this may be for religious reasons. Don’t take offence. Instead, nod your head and smile. If your customer is from the Middle East, then consider placing your right hand briefly over your heart and nodding your head while smiling.

Although these points will go a long way in helping you to create a great impression with your foreign guests, there’s a wealth of cultural direction out there to help you further develop your cultural understanding. Cultural awareness training is now core training practice in most large international companies who recognise that harnessing cultural differences is critical to business success.

Training South West offers cultural awareness training across Dorset, Devon, Somerset, Cornwall, and Wiltshire. If you would like one of our professional, experienced cross-cultural trainers with a specialist understanding of the tourism industry to deliver training to your staff then contact us.

Photo by B. Fewings

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