Buyer beware! The top 10 tricks used to fool tourists

Disclaimer! Feel free to use the tricks below for your business at the expense of your brand’s long-term value and the respect of your customers. You may also not be able to sleep at night :-)

It's vacation season! Tourists are a natural “target.” They are usually in a good mood, have money to spend, don't necessarily appreciate the value of the local money, and if the currency is cheaper than back home, it will stimulate more purchasing for deal seekers. 

As a tourist in Thailand and China for the last ten days, I intently studied how people market their wares, what closes the deal, and what doesn’t. These tricks work? Your bet! 

But this article is not about short-term trickery. Let’s look through a lens of how you can market and sell more with relationship focused strategies that respect your potential and convert them to repeat customers and brand advocates. 

Without further adieu, here are the tricks.

  1. Up-sell - You buy a day trip that includes two snorkeling destinations. The snorkel apparatus comes with the tour, but not the fins, which you can buy for a small additional fee.
  2. Fear-Based - You don't need the fins unless you step on a sea urchin. The tour guide says, “last week, a man didn’t rent the fins, and the guy cried, he was in so much pain, so I would advise you to rent the fins.” 
  3. Trust me - "You know me, you trust me, so let me show you the best people to work with for excursions and tours (so I can get a commission)." One taxi driver told a friend of mine about the best tailor in Bangkok. It wasn't until after he visited the the tailor that he learned the taxi driver received a tank of gas for every customer he brought in.
  4. Sympathy play - The elephant tour guide escorts you for an hour-long ride. In the end, he gets off the elephant and takes a fantastic photo where he stands on a tree to get the best vantage point. He then says “I take care of you, you take care of me!” A few minutes later, at the end of the tour as the elephants eat and drink, he takes out some handmade jewelry and asks me to buy one to help him take care of the elephants.
  5. Fake sweepstakes - You arrive at a store filled with cheap merchandise and buy a souvenir. At the cashier, you get three scratch-offs. Two are not winners. One it worth 1,000 Chinese Yuan (about $145). The lady acts like this never happens and tells me I can pick from two jewelry cases. All items are 1,300 Chinese Yuan or over. Even with the discount, it is not worth the price, nor is it something I wanted or needed when I came in the store.
  6. Artificial excitement - Create a feeling of energy and enthusiasm outside the store. Clap. Or use a megaphone to interrupt and get someone's attention and get them to browse. There is nothing like a good looking person holding a sign and moving it to make you take a step inside. 
  7. Repetition - Muay Thai. Tonight. Tonight. Tonight -- The fight of the year! The truck drives around the center of town all day with guys kicking and punching and showing how strong they are. Boxers walk the street handing out flyers. It doesn't matter that it isn't the fight of the year since the people who are targeting going will not be coming back. Once they attend the fight, they will realize that there are other places to see real Muay Thai fights other than in the middle of the tourist area. 
  8. Negotiation - Negotiation is commonplace in Asia. The first move it to start about triple the price and the merchant is lucky; the customer will go for it. But most of the items are low cost, and the value is only sentimental. It is essential for the merchant to strike a delicate balance of reading their audience and connecting to close the sale without being perceived as greedy. A smart way to negotiate is to inflate your price, make a sign with the inflated price, and then say, “for you, I will discount.”
  9. The VIP Experience - Charge more for a perceived better experience. Make the person feel like they are getting a better experience. For example, I paid extra for ringside seats at Muay Thai Boxing, which was cool, but this was not a fight in Vegas, the arena was small, and all vantage points were good. Being VIP didn’t include any food or drinks, just access. 
  10. Location -When I came across the fish spa ( a place where you dip your feet into a fish tank for a fish pedicure), it was the first time I had seen something like this ever! I went for it immediately. Not a significant investment or risk but after I saw it 20 more times as I walked down the street, it was much less novel, and the cost was a lot lower. You can charge more if you are on the edges of town and are in a place where people see your similar product for the first time. 

There are more examples I can cite here but you get the idea. Feel free to comment below if you have a good one to share. 

Let's think bigger

The question is, how can we think more significant than fooling an unsuspecting tourist. What chances can a business use to surprise and delight, how do they make the person feel special, not just for a quick moment but on an ongoing basis?

In a sea of the same, how can you create something different? 

Change your offering - Could the boat tour create an all-inclusive trip and market it as costing more but more intimate, better food, and include all excursions and no need to pay for anything else the whole day?

Start the relationship before the trip - It is straightforward these days to see who is traveling where and when based on social media. How can you take a long view to use community management and genuine interest in the customer to build trust before the trip?

Engage after the purchase - I bought suits -- It was a great deal. The tailor said he keeps my measurements for five years and gave me a few cards and told me we can What’s app whenever I need a suit or send measurements and he will make for friends. He hit the jackpot from me because I am mentioning it here and will send anyone who compliments my suit or shirts his way. Now that’s a warm lead. 

Find ways to add value; don't charge just because you can - On the trip, the cost for souvenir photos was negligible, and I bought them. It’s a lot different to pay $3 for a framed custom photo Vs. Selling the souvenir photo for $25 in the USA. Free water and fresh fruit in the hotel room. Doesn’t cost much but will go a long way. 

Differentiate- There are a lot of people selling the same thing for the same price. Find something that people are not selling and create a unique experience that is difficult to replicate. For example a custom art gallery in a sea of cheap souvenirs. 

Play with your pricing strategy - Charge less or charge more. A massage cost about 300 Thai Bhat, the equivalent of $9. You can likely do more volume if you charge less or you can make your message more upscale by charging more and paying more attention to the experience and other details. 

WOW your customers - At the hotel, the hostess remembered my name and room number the second time she saw me for breakfast. Don't be such a stickler for the rules! Empower your staff to wow the customer, with things they will remember. What can you do that will make people take out their camera and share on social media -- for me the juggling bartender did the trick! 

Observe, Anticipate and do things “the right way”- If you are responsible for staffing info desk at an international airport, make sure your staff can converse in multiple languages. I was amazed that each time I asked the flight attendants on China Southern airways for a pen to fill out the border card, they had to find one to give to me and asked me to return it. It was also amazing that the airplane didn't have necessary things like aspirin on board. Finally, the beer was lukewarm every time. One time a flight attendant offered me ice. No thanks - but what if they found a way to ensure the beer they served was cold? If you are operating a cruise and supply, a free handout of Dramamine, it will go a long way. 

Make bold statements and commitments and keep them - The Outrigger hotel made a big play around banning plastics as a way to maintain the ocean’s health and well-being. It was cool to order a smoothie and have a metal straw. However, if you are going to do something like this, you need to go all the way! When I saw little plastic shampoo bottles in the room, it took away from their "no plastic" commitment. Easy solution, install a soap and shampoo dispenser in the shower - lots of hotels are doing it.

Focus on relationships and adding value

It all comes down to creativity and asking yourself - Am I providing a good experience for my customers?

In summary, we are talking about the four Ps here. Product, Price, Place, and Promotion. We are also talking about using curiosity to create a customer experience that will exceed expectations every time, If you use the marketing mix and focus on the relationship first, you will always win and the customer will too. You don’t need to use cheap tricks! Creativity, attention to detail, and making the customer will win in the long term because people pay more for quality, your customer to evangelize and you will be able to sleep better knowing that you have done the best job you could. 

Jay Mandel is The founder of The Collective NYC, a marketing consultancy. You can engage with The Collective NYC on Instagram. This post expresses my personal views and my personal views are directly connected with my employer because it is me :-) I have no personal investment or connection with the brands mentioned in this article.