Few experiences unite mankind like food, travel and the underrated joy of a clean, reliable and functioning toilet. Forget advertising, the humble toilet will ensure travellers stop to 'stimulate the local visitor economy', says Bronwyn White, co-founder of MyTravelResearch.com.
HERE at MyTravelResearch.com we often see a disconnect between what travellers want and what the travel industry delivers. Destinations obsess about their product or service in a way that customers don't. They lose sight of the basics and what is important to customers.
Perhaps the ultimate basic experience that unites all tourist experiences is the loo. Yes, toilets, bathrooms, lavatories, restrooms, bogs, dunnies and loos are a constant source of traveller apprehension.
Clean, reliable, functioning toilets are still hard to find. Forget advertising and big bucks, the humble toilet is often the main reason why a traveller stops to 'stimulate the local visitor economy'.
In just about every focus group, especially those with seniors and families, toilets come up as a reason for travellers' stop at a destination. They don't just visit the toilet, they have lunch, fill up on petrol, buy supplies and may even spend a night or two in the place. Call it the trickle-down effect.
Some destinations 'get it'. To raise standards there are tourism toilet campaigns underway in Thailand, India, Indonesia and China.
If you are a destination, attraction, hotel, café or restaurant, and want to be flush with success, target the upgrade of your visitor toilets.
Good social media reviews for your destination may follow, as in New Zealand and the "loo with a view" in Mooloolaba, Queensland. Your toilet may go viral.
At the novelty, luxury end, this Shell public toilet in Bohol in the Philippines has attracted over 165,000 views on YouTube.
The provision of clean toilets is closely related with health issues, especially in emerging economies in the tropics. It is also linked to safety, especially that of women. The UN held World Toilet Day on November 19, 2014 with the theme, Equality, Dignity and the Link Between Gender-Based Violence and Sanitation.
The UN noted: "2.5 billion people do not have access to proper sanitation, including toilets or latrines, with dramatic consequences on human health, dignity and security, the environment, and social and economic development."
Restrooms that blend in at Petra heritage site, Jordan
It added: "World Toilet Day seeks to put a spotlight on the threat of sexual violence that women and girls face due to the loss of privacy as well as the inequalities that are present in usability."
Good toilet provision is also an issue of access for people with disabilities. Tourists in wheelchairs prefer to know in advance if there are facilities for them.
Award-winning toilets can be a tourism sell point. Belfast City Council in the UK gives the same online exposure to its public toilets as its zoo, castle and waterfront. The council's public toilet page shows opening times and which bathrooms have facilities for the disabled and baby changing surfaces. As the website proudly shows, Belfast City Council recently wiped the floor at the Loo of the Year Awards, which are run annually by the British Toilet Association.
Some tourists need to go to the loo often. In Australia tourists can have peace of mind by using the National Public Toilet Map, a project of the National Continence Program. With it, you can find a toilet, plan a trip and personalise your toilet map. The map provides information on over 16,000 publicly available toilets across Australia, including accessibility, opening hours, facilities such as showers, baby change and access. The map can be downloaded as an iPhone app from the iTunes app store.
So, at MyTravelResearch.com, our advice to tourism destination marketers is, don't lose sight of basic provisions. Turn an unlikely, but essential resource, into a positive.
Start talking toilets and bring a breath of fresh air to your next tourism marketing meeting.
*What were your best and worst toilet experiences from your trips?
Bronwyn White (@BronwynWhite) has 22 years experience in the travel and tourism industry in the areas of market research, sales and marketing. In addition to market research and marketing services, White currently focuses on helping the tourism and small business sectors make the most of the online and digital resources. She also runs a well respected seniors travel blog, www.newyoungtravel.com.au.