Željka Paleka, Bluesun: The excursion program will be focused on smaller groups, value for money and a personalized approach

The sun plus the sea has long outdated the concept of tourism, we have been repeating this for years, but despite the positive examples and growth, in our tourist offer in destinations, unfortunately still, according to some ...

The sun plus the sea has long outdated the concept of tourism, we have been repeating this for years, but despite the positive examples and growth, in our tourist offer in destinations, unfortunately still, by some inertia, is chronically lacking quality content i activity offer.

Of course, the sun and the sea will always be a strong motive for coming (in the summer season), but that is not enough to make a step forward in tourism. 

This is supported by data from a recently published survey on the attitudes and consumption of tourists, Tomas Hrvatska 2019, where the beauty of nature and landscape, beauty of places, personal safety, atmosphere and atmosphere and hospitality of the local population are the best rated elements of Croatia's offer. On the other hand, guests are the least satisfied with the traffic in the place and the entertainment offer. 

Also, another key piece of information unfortunately confirms this fact. And that is the average daily consumption of tourists in the destination. 

Although consumption since the last survey is better than a few years ago, and now is 98 euros per person and night, even 54% of expenditures relate to accommodation services, 17% on food and beverage service outside the accommodation facility, and 29% on all other services.

Croatia has a lot to offer, in fact, but we have a problem with a quality and diverse offer, communication, promotion and ultimately - a complete tourist product. This must be an imperative for us, both to raise tourist spending and to meet the expectations and satisfaction of guests with our destination.

This time, the topic will not be the travel agencies themselves, but alson-house (own or outsourcing) hotel agencies. 

The point is, of course, as I pointed out above, to provide quality content to guests, because the sun and the sea are no longer enough and thus directly affect the satisfaction of the guest throughout the destination. Of course, this raises tourist spending, as well as our earnings. Although this is much more important in the long run and ultimately more cost effective. 

Most larger hotels have their own travel agencies.

Although, of course, I do not have the same financial indicators, based on many trips and conversations, I personally have a feeling that they have not fulfilled their function on a larger scale. 

There is a shop window where someone is sitting, there are no direct sales, there are brochures that rarely anyone notices, and also rarely anyone uses the email database of guests at the time they are in the destination. 

But on the other hand in Bluesun hotels guests immediately at the start, at check-in, receive a small brochure, the so-called "hotel passport“With certain experiences, offers with discounts, which includes, among other things, the schedule of breakfast and dinner, as well as the space where the room key is located. Although all hotels have small "cards" in which there is a card from the room, the way Bluesun does it, I have not seen so I bring the details of the story as a positive example of how Bluesun approaches the sale of additional content in the destination in its facilities.  

This is exactly the topic I talked to Željko Palek, head of the travel agency within Bluesun Hotels & Resorts, which is in charge of selling additional activities and facilities to guests staying in their hotels.

Željka Paleka, Bluesun: We take great care of guest satisfaction and our partners, because guest satisfaction is imperative

Željka Paleka, head of the Sunce Global doo agency within Bluesun Hotels & Resorts

The story of travel agencies within Bluesun began eight years ago, and the motivation to enter that segment, even though it is not their core business, was to raise satisfaction with the destination.

Not a priori for profit. Why? Because in Bluesun they are very aware of the fact that the motive for coming is not accommodation, but the destination (when I say destination I mean in a much broader sense than the invisible border of a municipality or city) and how they care about guest satisfaction. 

"In the beginning, we at Bluesun thought that guests should be offered a range of different experiences, activities in the destination, considering that just spending the night, swimming, bed and sun were not enough. About ten years ago, it used to happen that guests would book a trip to a destination on the beach, it used to be canceled and the next day the guest could not find bookers or get a refund if the new date of the trip no longer suits him.

Guests often complained to us, both about the lack of content, as well as poor service and negative experiences. This was our first guiding thought: We will allow our guests that in case of a complaint or any change, the guest can come to our hotel, and can cancel, change or anything. We wanted the hotel house to stand behind it.

For this reason, an agency was established, which started 8 years ago and it went step by step, so that today we come to the situation that we ended last season with about 7 million kuna turnover, which is not small in the excursion program. 

We started the agency by opening a sales point at all hotel receptions and we are the only hotelier in Croatia who does it this way. At each destination we offer over 26 different excursions, most of which are organized by our partners, and some are in our own organization. " He points out in the introduction to Palek's conversation and adds that they also offer guests transfer and rent a car services, but also a completely different transport of passengers than others do. 

The focus is on a personalized approach where guest satisfaction comes first and only. 

"Our drivers greet guests at the airport, follow the flight, wait for the plane to land, greet the guest and take them to the van. What we do differently is certainly that we don’t leave the guest alone, we don’t charge for waiting like others do, and we take care of the whole experience since he set foot in the airport.

Some guests want to rest a bit first or make a purchase, after landing, and we do not rush them or charge them an extra wait. The driver drives the guest to the hotel, comes to the reception, informs the reception that the guest has come and only when colleagues at the reception receive him, then the driver leaves. We took it all to a higher level, so that the guest would feel important from the very beginning, be appreciated and see that he was welcome. Guests have recognized this, they are very happy to use all the additional services, especially when we talk about some experiences and excursions, etc.… they have security and confirmation of quality because behind it is a hotel house.

The guest knows that in any case, whatever problem he has - he will be solved. Personalized approach and added value is our advantage and the value we deliver. So the agency certainly has a perspective and an important role. ” says Palek. 

Guests do not care who is the organizer of a trip, whether it is their own organization or an external partner, the most important thing for him is the experience, and of course safety and quality delivery. But what is specific is working with quality partners, who are tested and reputable and meet the standards of Bluesun. The partners behind which the hotel chain can stand deliver what they have promised in the hotel to the guests. Which is extremely important, in fact, crucial for the whole story to be sustainable.

Whether the tour was done properly and as agreed, whether it is carried out according to the agreed quality standards, whether the guest is satisfied - these are the questions that are actively addressed in Bluesun after each tour. "We take great care of guest satisfaction and our partners, because guest satisfaction is imperative," emphasizes Palek and adds that they have a special standard that every partner they work with must meet. 

Sure, it takes both time and money, but it’s the best way for the whole story to be efficient, long-term and sustainable. When the base and the whole process are arranged, then we have a product that we can 100% stand behind, just as Bluesun stands behind each of its trips. This is the only and best way to organize the agency part of the business within a hotel company. 

I don't know that anyone has so far paid as much attention to the quality and level of service as they do at Bluesun. This is best illustrated by the fact that Željko Paleka and her small, dynamic team, absolutely all the tours they offer to their guests and themselves personally passed and experienced on their own skin. Both for the confirmation of quality and for the sale, because that's how they know what they are selling and promise to their guests. More than impressive. 

Out of 100 inquiry groups, we sell all 100 excursions

Željko Palek

This statement sounds incredible, but when you go a little deeper into the story with Palek, honestly, it doesn’t surprise me. So let’s see what the magic formula for success is. 

"We have been working with some partners from the very beginning, since 2008, and of course the list of partners has been profiled for three years, with some we have stopped working because they did not respect some of our standards and instructions, and with others we are constantly working together to raise quality. The most important thing for us is to deliver the quality we promised. I have personally gone through absolutely all the tours we offer to guests, as well as my team, even the reception staff. So we have all the information, and our staff knows exactly how to describe each trip in detail - because they went through it themselves. ”

I must emphasize in particular the statement of Paleka - all the tours we offer to our guests, even the staff at the reception, who sells the same, passed. Wow which commitment!!!

"It is very difficult to sell someone, for example, a walking tour on Paklenica. Hiking is ok, but it is questionable how to present it. And when our employee went through the tour himself, when he says that he was on that tour himself, when he gives a mountain of additional information, which the guest may not have known he would get and how he experienced it - then it is easier for the guest to assess. Then the guest trusts you even more. Because it’s hardest when someone sells a product they haven’t seen, tried and experienced. This is a completely different story. For example, out of 100 group inquiries, we have 100 trips sold for some trips. We don't have a person who gave up, the price was not questionable, the only thing that matters is what you offer him for that money and how you presented it to him " says Palek. It also gives an excellent, picturesque example of how to sell excursions on the example of rafting on the Cetina, but also a review of new trends in agency business. 

"The rafting trip on the Cetina, which is organized by our long-term partner, is more expensive than other similar, ie similar excursions, but our excursion system is not the same as with others. The classic approach is: Pick up a guest, drive them to the location, leave them, wait and bring them back. More military with a strict schedule. And we work differently. It is quite a personalized approach, there are smaller and smaller groups and we, like our long-term partner, adapt to the needs and wishes of our guests.

So even if the trip lasts an hour or two longer, it’s because the guest wanted it that way. We are more flexible here and we can afford it because they are smaller groups. But it is our conscious choice and direction, which ultimately proved to be a complete hit. Especially in the context of new trends in the travel business - a focus on smaller groups and a personalized approach. ” adds Paleka. 

Price is the least important, it matters value for money - is the main message that Pavleka emphasizes several times in our conversation. And that this is the right approach, say the reactions of their guests. As he points out, the guests tell them how definite they are exceeded their expectations and that the excursions they booked were worth more something they paid for it. "It simply came to our notice then. That the guest really feels great, that it was beautiful on the trip, that he will take phenomenal memories from our hotel, and more importantly from the whole destination. Because people are in the hotel the least. The guest sleeps, has breakfast, lunch and dinner, but these are things that will raise the quality of his stay at the destination. "

Illustration: HrTurizam.hr

 And it's in tourism and service - Grail. Do not meet the expectations of guests, but even exceed them. The best marketing has always been and always will be - word of mouth. That it takes time to complete the circle - but that should be an imperative in tourism. It is tourism, and the conversation with Željko was like a balm to my ears because she explained to me the very definition and meaning of tourism in practice. Yes, people make a difference, and not only that. It is people who are the key to success.

Bluesun is looking for new partners and ideas

When asked if Bluesun is open for cooperation with new partners and some new ideas, Paleka points out that they are absolutely always open for all new collaborations with new partners. Especially with young entrepreneurs starting a business, offering something new and different, following new trends and market demands. 

"If anyone has a program that is designed, to be high quality and to have a good idea - we are always willing to support them. We have up to 30 excursions in our destinations and they are always the same from year to year. No one is offering anything new. If anyone has a new idea, we are absolutely willing to support and offer it to guests. Of course, what I emphasized, every partner must be aware and serious and adhere to our standards. In the number of guests we have every year, be sure that there is something for everyone and that everyone will choose a trip.

I invite all those who have ideas and ready-made programs to contact us. We are absolutely willing to cooperate, because to go back to the beginning again, it is important that the satisfaction of the guests and that we offer our guests something new. Also, we have old guests who have been returning to our facilities for 8 years and they have already gone through almost all the tours and that is why we constantly have to offer something new and interesting. Again, it is not the price that matters, but the value for the money and the experience. ” Paleka pointed out. 

Part of additional activities for guests within Brela

Željka Paleka: Trends in tourism will change. I doubt that we will have three more buses of the same company on Plitvice on the trip. People today want something different.

This year was of course specific and any statistics will not be relevant or relevant. But one thing is for sure, tourism like everything else will be measured before and after the coronavirus. And change is the word most used in today’s business and tourism context. What all the changes will be, no one can say for sure yet, but we know how it has only accelerated the current trends and that I already have certain outlines in which direction tourism will develop.

The last part of the conversation with Željko Palek, the head of Bluesun's travel agency, is dedicated to new trends in agency business, where, in Paleka's opinion, significant changes will take place. 

"We prepared for the crown crisis by, for example, driving small groups of families on trips to Dubrovnik and Krk, without large classic buses from 15 to 40 seats. This means that we also drive three people to Dubrovnik, and the guest does not pay any higher price than the regular one. We consciously went for earnings to be minimal or non-existent. Why? It is important for the guest to visit Dubrovnik, to see and experience as much as possible and to feel that he is in a safe destination. And we know how satisfied the guest is, our best advertisement and promotion that he will return it ", says Paleka, and adds that this is exactly the direction in which trends in tourism will change. 

Value for money, smaller groups, additional content and individual approach will be in focus, emphasizes Paleka, and adds that I doubt that we will have three more buses of the same company on Plitvice Lakes on the trip.. “Except maybe guests from the eastern market. People want something different. People no longer want to be on a bus with 50 people and have a guide who has their own pace. They prefer that it is affordable, but that they have some freedom of their own. And in this way, this year we have adapted, promoted and communicated all our trips. "

Also, Paleka believes that there will definitely be a lot of smaller groups, and that the excursion program will be focused on smaller groups and a personalized approach. “A couple of years ago, and especially this year, it turned out that guests would rather go on a speedboat trip with ten people than on a boat that accommodates 250 people. Those generations have passed, big bus crowds, big trips and groups, and in the near future they may even become extinct. Because, we all start from ourselves and from the young generations today who look at the whole story differently. Smaller groups are needed, not mass. If there was no Covid crisis this year, we would certainly have the best result so far in the agency, precisely for that reason because we can accept and do work groups of 5 to 10 people and we are not dependent on having to fill some quota of people to take a trip and realizes. Also, we do trips by van, we don’t mix people, but it’s all family and friends or acquaintances. Let's say we organize a zipline organized by our long-term partner for two or three of them, and we don't wait for the group to fill up to 15 of them and only then do a trip. I think that is exactly the future of the trip. Such large numbers as they have been so far will no longer be in demand in our country. This shows us the experience and behavior so far, ie the requirements of young and modern travelers ", said Paleka. 

Photo: Bluesun

The travel segment for Bluesun is not the core business, but the hotel and accommodation sector, and this is not exclusively about earnings. Precisely because there is no pressure and the Management has given them complete freedom in policy making, they are much more creative and can dedicate themselves more to the guest, and ultimately, after seven or more days, the most important thing is that he is satisfied with the destination. Then he becomes our ambassador and the goal is, of course, to return. And they will return to your accommodation again. And so the story is sustainable in the long run.

It is the decision and the focus on the long run that has been coming back to Bluesun for years now. And be sure, how exactly such companies will get out of the crisis the fastest and recover. Why? This is the power of a brand that has been built over the years with the aforementioned dedication and focus on all the details, and that is why they have the trust of their customers, ie guests. 

“We have a lot to show guests. They are no longer a bed, a room and the sea, that is long gone. Guests want to see, explore and experience because in the end when they return to their homeland they carry with them memories and feelings. If you asked him what the bathroom was like, I'm sure he wouldn't know what the tiles were like, but if you asked him what the food was like, I'm pretty sure he'll be able to say exactly. We must strive for quality, not quantity, ” says Palek. 

When the whole story is put together then things go much easier, but as in everything everyone sees only the tip of the iceberg, and no one the effort, process, time, energy it takes to put all the dice together and get to that level. But that is the difference between successful and less successful.  

Yes, what is the magic formula for success? Dedication, all have gone through tours that are also offered to guests - personal experience, guest satisfaction as an imperative, quality and select partners and value for money with the goal of how to exceed guest expectations. 

"Our goal is for the guest to be satisfied and to raise the quality of service in the hotel and destination. A guest can’t come to a hotel and say I have nothing to do in that destination and I was bored. That is impossible and the worst advertisement ", concludes Paleka.  

As well as another proof that the motive for coming is not accommodation, but destination. And that’s why no one can do it alone, no individual makes a destination. We are all a destination, and without such an important strategic development of the destination and the synergy of all stakeholders, we will never make that step away from the sun and the sea. 

This is the tourism we should strive for - quality, not quantity. Well done to Bluesun, who has once again shown that his focus is on tourism and people, not the real estate business. Because there is no quick profit in tourism, it is a marathon. And for the marathon you need an image, a stable and clear complex image and story, and quality people, who have repeatedly told me one sentence that I remember: Once Bluesun, always Bluesun. 

Although it sounds like a cliché, but yes, people are the greatest value in tourism and those who make a difference

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