Emotional intelligence in leadership, hopeful skills for the tourism industry

Updated: Feb 19, 2020

  We are all humans in a journey toward reaching the top level of the Maslow pyramid. Life is a channel of emotions and as human we often forget or even don’t really realise the influence we have on each other’s. Each interaction (such as our words, our attitudes, our gestures) spread instant waves reflecting the mindset or mood we are into and impact what surround us. Travelling and globalisation in general, amplifies the effects of those influences between humans and can generate cultural and environmental changes.  

We never know which lives we influence, or when, or why." Stephen King
I won’t stop travelling. So, how to reduce the impacts and travel for peace? The travel WEB : Wear my shoes. Eat my food. Breath my air.

  Human nature is naturally egocentric and curious in constant search for feeding our needs while processing a wide range of emotions. Some of us forget or don’t realise the influence we have on each other’s as much as on the environment. Our personality, our background, our emotional state, our assumptions, expectations, our behaviours, etc. generate behaviours spreading vibes moving as quickly as a wave from one human to another. (SCHEMA 1) Unfortunately my first realisation happened in the London Underground January 2017. In a fraction of second one sentence marked me "You could smile". A turning point engaging new approaches of human interactions in the ecosystem and the tourism industry.  

Using Emotional intelligence and leadership in the tourism industry could be the key toward a more responsible to travel as 70% of customer interactions are centred on emotion.

Emotional intelligence is a soft skill where we try to understand other’s emotions by first being self-aware and self-managed our own.

   Working for visitors centre (Banff Lake Louise Tourism and Picton I-Site) and retail stores (Mountain Design and Fjallraven) around the world using emotional intelligence in their management strategy, I could analyse the benefits and limits of this approach. Each manager tried his/her best to give the best environment for their employee, leading by example. How a leader deals with his/her own emotions is also a way to reduce the turn over, keep the staff, create sustainable relationships and trust in a team based on communication. Good leaders focus on what they can control and are brave  to be vulnerable ("Dare to Lead" by Brené BROWN), embracing their human side creating a relationship based on trust and authenticity. That way employees naturally give the best experience to the final customer. The strategy is human centred and its effects has been rewarding. The atmosphere was communication friendly, relaxed, genuine, fun, based on trust and collaboration and the customer could feel it in the final interaction with him. How de we know ? They came back to tell us, even became regular customers, sent friends to us or left reviews.

   This analyse inspired me to also experiment new approaches in that way.  I noticed that the initial mindset, believe system, the background and previous experiences will influence the whole visitor experience and will be the vector of impacts on the journey as much as in the destination itself. (SCHEMA 2) We cannot change anybody but we can influence each others being aware of that statement is a first step.

  As professionals of the tourism, focusing on the other person interest first, empathising using active listening, asking for clarifications without making assumptions and using compassion to try to understand others perspectives without judgements is revealing. Understanding the  intentions, the reason(s) behind the customer' desire to travel is important as it will influence his own behaviours and so on the experience he will get while travelling. The key is to find out the genuine motivations behind the journey. Even when you don’t speak the same language, body language is universal and end up being the best memories. (If you are interested scroll down this page read the case study I experiment via real life experiences) Understanding the story behind  an action, a situation helps to give the appropriate offer and influence other's behaviours.  

  If we experiment and adapt this approach to the different stages in the international human experience, stakeholders from any destination can bring energy into the process for changes. Leaders should become the role models, lead by example inspiring others.  

Schema 1 : Travelling is all about experiences, emotions and the level of emotional intelligence of  people you interact with on the way

Schema 2 : The visitor experience journey


  Summer 2018 while working at Lake Louise visitor centre in the Canadian Rockies, situations of crisis regularly occurred.

  Lake Louise and Moraine lake, being international icons, suffer from over tourism. The number of tourist excess the capacity of resilience of this natural area."In 2017-18, about 4.2 million people visited Banff, an increase of about 28 per cent from 3.3 million five years ago." (1) Those lakes being mainly accessible via a single road, that one was constantly shut down added to fires, bears attacks, littering, car accidents, etc. triggered difficult situations to manage. At this point in time, even if the local stakeholders (Banff lake Louise Tourism, Parks Canada and Town of Banff) collaborated and  developed land use planning transitional system including buses, "communications plan to influence visitor behaviour and maintain a positive experience"(2), and an ambassador program to involve the locals; it was not enough.

  As professionals of the tourism industry and visitor experience specialist alongside Parks Canada rangers, we had key roles. We greeted unhappy visitors trying to give them the best life experience. We had to be innovative finding ways to spread the flux of tourists in time and space, using empathy and compassion .

  Lake Louise being an expensive and once in a lifetime experience, visitors came from far away to realise their dream using sometimes their two weeks annual leave. It was an emotional challenge. I became annoyed of explaining the same things over and over again facing angry customers. So I had to adapt and my strategy became to use the situation as an experiment for research. The experiment was to take to practise my emotional intelligence knowledge to see its real power. The purpose was to turn people smile up and at least give them the best memory spending few minutes with us. Travelling is all about the journey and the people you meet on the way. So, at least I wanted them to remember their time in our company as good part of their experience. It did work most of the time. This process was facilitated by working with leaders (Jose Reineking) having the same values and approach making a real difference. We had costumers coming back to us with great feedbacks and even gifts. Witnessing their positive energy was the best reward. It is not easy however its value is powerful and rewarding to professional and personal levels.

  This is only one example of multiple experiments. If each individual, and leaders first, try this approach, I am convince it will change something. However the first challenge is to be brave enough to look into ourselves to be able to use emotional intelligence accordingly. Are you ready for changes ?

(1) source : Cathy Ellis article "Banff 'bursting at the seams' as tourism soars" 11/10/18

(2) source : Destination Think! article "Banff National Park communications plan shifts traveller behaviour amid record-smashing visitor numbers" 15/03/19

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