Tourism Assurance Plan (TAP)

This week I sat down with Lisa McDonald of the Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism Board to discuss the upcoming launch of their Tourism Assurance Program (TAP). Never heard of it? Well listen up. It could have important implications on the way you operate and market your facility. 

The Board describes TAP as “a series of minimum standards designed to assure visitors of the quality of tourism attractions and services being promoted in the province”. In practice, TAP is less about ensuring quality (something that can really only be assessed first hand and on-the-ground) and more about managing and meeting visitor expectations. 

Program Mechanics

Here’s how it works. TAP currently consists of five minimum standards:

  • The ability to communicate and receive messages from customers by telephone, email and an online presence; and at a minimum, accept credit and/or debit card payment and respond to inquiries on a daily, year-round basis. 
  • Possess and maintain valid licenses, permits and all other regulatory requirements to operate.
  • Maintain current and sufficient levels of liability insurance. Proof of insurance to be provided upon request.
  • Must deliver actual experiences or services being promoted and/or offered to the consumer.  
  • Must be in good standing with Tourism Assurance Plan’s complaints procedure.

Beginning in 2014, businesses and organizations seeking to participate in marketing and development initiatives offered by the Province and/or a regional Destination Management Board (DMO) must demonstrate achievement of all five standards. Simply put, if you want to list your site in the provincial Visitor’s Guide, on the Tourism NL website, or on the province’s tourism app, participate in a provincially organized FAM tour, or be considered for marketing and development initiatives undertaken by your regional DMO, you’ll have to have the TAP stamp of approval. 

Universal Approach ... Sort Of

The same standards will be applied to all tourism services and attractions - from accommodations to archaeological digs, hiking trails to historic sites. As a result, they focus less on the actual visitor experience and more on basic business practices - things like clear communication, health and safety, and legal compliance. However, while all services and attractions will be required to meet the same standards, they will not necessarily be required to fulfill them in exactly the same way. And that’s good news for heritage organizations. 

Take the requirement for an “online presence”. That could mean a standard website. However, for those of us with limited resources, it could also mean a Facebook business page ... as long as that page includes the information visitors require to successfully plan and execute a visit to your site. This would include your site’s  name and address, traveling directions, hours of operation, admission fees, contact information, a description of what visitors can expect to see and do at your site, and current photos. 

The same flexibility applies to telephone communication. While ideally, all sites should have a dedicated business phone line that’s staffed year round, the Board recognizes that this is impractical for most seasonal operations. As a result, they will accept a dedicated and regularly checked answering service with a message that clearly establishes visitor expectations. Something like:

Hello. You’ve reached the Outport Interpretation Centre. We’re currently closed for the season and will re-open on May 24, 2013. For site details including our location, programming and hours of operation please check out our website at www.outportinterpretation.ca . If you have questions, please leave a message or drop us an email at info@outportinterpretation.ca  . We will do our best to respond within 24 hours. 

After meeting with Lisa, I’m confident that the Board is doing their best to ensure that ultimately, the implementation of TAP helps rather than hinders small, community-based organizations. Still not convinced? Consider the following:

  • Sites that do not pre-book visits and/or programs and which have either a nominal admission fee or admission by donation will not be required to accept debit and/or credit card payment.
  • It’s ok to use a free email provider (e.g. gmail, yahoo or hotmail) for your organization’s email account as long as your email address is appropriate. In case you’re wondering, outportinterpretation@gmail.com is appropriate. janeybaby@hotmail.com is not. 

Implementation

Every year, the Department of Tourism, Culture and Recreation sends a Tourism Operator Profile form (TOP) to every tourism service and attraction in its database. If your site is currently listed in the provincial tourism guide, chances are, you’ve filled out a TOP. This form will become the primary means of implementing and monitoring the TAP program. The TOP will be revised to reflect the new TAP standards. The new TOP form will be used for the upcoming Travel Guide deadline of May 31, 2013. But don’t stress. You still have until May 31, 2014 to achieve all five TAP standards. 

Questions & Concerns

Still have questions? There are several ways you can learn more about TAP:

  • Contact Lisa McDonald, Manager, Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism Board, LMcDonald@hnl.ca or 722-2000 (Ext.227)
  • If you’re attending the upcoming Hospitality Newfoundland and Labrador annual conference, be sure to attend Lisa’s presentation on TAP. It’s scheduled for Friday, February 22 at 2:30 pm
  • Participate in a free webinar. Lisa has kindly offered to conduct a TAP webinar specifically for heritage organizations. If you’d like to participate, please contact me at AHI (contact info is listed below). We can then work together to determine a date and time that works for the majority of us. 

Who is the NL Tourism Board? 

The Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism Board is a partnership between the provincial government and the private sector. Its mandate is to advise on the implementation of

Uncommon Potential: A Vision for Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism.

It consists of representatives from the Provincial departments of Tourism, Culture and Recreation (TCR) and Innovation, Business and Rural Development (IBRD), the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA), Hospitality Newfoundland and Labrador (HNL), and the province’s five destination management organizations. There is currently no representation from either the heritage or cultural sectors. Hmmm.... we’ll have to see what we can do about that.