Sometimes I have really good ideas. I would say that deciding to enter the SA tourism awards, was perhaps not one of them. 

I guess the key thing that I realise now, is that really there isn’t a category suitable for a business as small as ours. Our category was ‘tour and transport operator- under 15 employees’. Just picturing the size of a business with 15 employees, indicates they are going to have many more resources to put into it than we did!

Anyway, the process is long and drawn out. Nominating in February, with submissions due in August. The criteria change each year, last year the final submission was 8000 words, and 25 supporting images. I’m not usually one to be stuck for words, but I honestly found it a challenge to find enough waffle to fill the requirements. 

The assessment is broken down into a few questions- each with a suggested number of words, an online review of your web presence, socials, reviews etc, and a site visit. Each section has a different due date, when things need to happen by. 

With aspirations of winning an award, and the always optimistic approach of misjudging time management, I eagerly signed up and began thinking about content.

Early on and then right through the process, things to me just seemed a bit strange. Not one to back down from a challenge I pressed on. Members from the local council were most excited to have representatives, so offered assistance with the process, and right through Alexandrina council were fantastic in providing assistance and mentoring when required. 

Reviews are not all they cracked up to be!

In a training session early on, reviews were discussed. We needed to have 25 reviews on either Trip Advisor or Google. While I feel we offer a great service, we don’t tend to get a lot of reviews. I’m not too concerned by this, but we needed a certain number, so I asked the question- how do I get the reviews. I was most surprised by the response, ‘just ask your friends and family for good reviews, it doesn’t matter if they aren’t real, you just need to have enough’… oooook then… note to self, don’t take a lot of notice of online reviews.

Working out where to start was possibly the hardest part. Lots of dot points, notes and pondering. A lot of the material I used, I actually pulled from previous blogs that I have written, but there was a lot of reorganising, repositioning and bouncing ideas of anyone who would listen.

The first deadline approached, which was an opportunity to lodge a draft submission. Although a fair way off of the word count, I uploaded my work into the portal and awaited my feedback. 

Let me tell you a bit about the portal. It is online (obviously) but a small box is where you have to copy and paste your work into. It is advised to write it in a different program, as sometimes the portal looses your work. Then you need to try and format it with appropriately located pictures and graphics. I found this quite hard to use. 

Reading through the feedback received, I was quite honestly ready to pull the pin. It was Ike the person giving feedback hadn’t actually read my work. When I mentioned this to my mentor she agreed, and spoke to the organisers, who then arranged for a different judge to give me feedback. To be honest, the second lot of feedback really wasn’t much better.

Site Visit

Another element of the process was the site visit. Back in July my site visit judge contacted me to arrange a time for her wine tour (which I view as my premium tourism product- so the one I was highlighting in my awards submission). I suggested that midweek would be best as weekends are my busiest days, and I would like it completed before the royal show (as Henry was entered). Was met with I can only do Sunday. I found an available Sunday, then the judge wanted to modify the time, passenger numbers and route. I know we advertise that we are flexible, but how does one get the experience we are offering if they want to change it without first understanding it. 

The day before the site visit, our judge again wanted to change the passenger numbers and the route. I had already booked in to our cellar doors by this stage. On the day the weather wasn’t awesome, but Henry and Angus were. The judge was half an hour late, with no word of apology. This meant we wouldn’t make our first cellar door booking, so we reshuffled the rest of the day. While the rest went without a hitch, we didn’t get the feeling of enjoyment the we usually get from our passengers. 

I had one more mentoring session, courtesy of the council, to get the submission a bit tidier, and this session really changed my view on what I had prepared. It helped put it in a logical order, made it read nicely and gave me a feeling that we might be in with a chance. 

I had some friends read through my work for me again and with the submission deadline approaching I uploaded my months of work into the portal, trying to arrange it in a ridiculously hard to use little box. The feeling of relief that I had after hitting the submit button was immense! Onto the waiting to find out if we were Finalists. I can’t remember how long the wait was, but it was a number of weeks.

For anyone thinking about entering the tourism awards, all I will say, is be prepared for lots of work. It is not hard work, but it is confusing, frustrating and in some places contradicting, but it certainly made me thing about things from other angles. For us there have been some really good things to come out of entering, but quite honestly, I don’t plan to enter again!

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