In my ongoing attempts to monitor and grow guest satisfaction, I survey most of our guests near the end of their riding holiday. This is my most telling survey question:

“Is there any significant discrepancy between your pre-holiday expectations and the reality you have experienced during your stay with us?”

By far, the most common response is some version of this. “Yes, the reality of our ranch holiday has FAR exceeded our expectations in every way.” I also get comments that express surprise over one of our program features. Here are some examples:

“I did not realize that we were going to raft three times during our holiday. I thought we would have just one float trip.”

“I did not realize that the food was going to be so remarkably good and varied.”

“I did not know we were going to do arena events every day, I thought is was just a start-up orientation.”

guest ranch riding holidays

Riding Holiday at California’s guest Ranch

The larger question of ferreting out misunderstood points about our riding and ranching holiday is critical in preserving our guest satisfaction. The most likely way to generate unhappy and dissatisfied guests is to have them leave at the end of their riding holiday with an experience that is disappointing because it was vastly different from their expected experience. The ranch marketing has to be “spot-on accurate” in every way in disclosing the reality of all ranch holiday offerings. It also has to be effective in generating a correct understanding of the holiday programs.

Communication via the internet is the usual start to our sales presentations. However, the digital world is fraught with opportunities for communication failure. Take the term “all inclusive” for example. At most ranches “all inclusive” means that lodging, twice a day riding, and three meals are included in the fare, but not taxes, gratuities, fees, rafting, shooting, guided fishing, etc. By contrast, at Marble Mountain Ranch, “all inclusive” means that in addition to lodging, meals, and riding, you also get all taxes and fees, group arena lessons, rafting three times, shooting sports daily, fishing, archery, and an open beverage bar. This is a huge discrepancy in the meaning of the term, yet it is published as a comparative descriptor on nearly every ranch web page. How do you get past these kinds of discrepancies? For us, the answer lies in a secondary pre-booking direct dialogue over the phone.

Riding through scenic vistas at California's guest ranch

scenic vista on California’s Riding Holiday

Our “saddle and paddle” holiday is a very unique program offering in the ranching world. Because of the nature of our daily time constraints, and local geography, we are not the best ranch for persons whose primary holiday goal is to ride long hours in the saddle at faster gates. We limit our riding to shorter rides in the cooler morning hours, and then take the entire guest population out rafting, kayaking, and fishing (water sports) in the warmer afternoons.

A possible point of disappointment with us can lie in the potential for an aggressive rider who is expecting to ride long hours at the cutting edge of their skill sets, to find that we have less challenging riding than they were expecting. Sometimes the phone dialogue can identify this kind of mismatch and we simply must direct them to another ranch. More often, once the understanding of our mixed event program is reached, the booking party can see that we might have something for everyone in their mixed interest party. This might require some in the group to adjust their personal needs to accommodate the larger parties broader holiday needs.

There are hundreds of riding holidays and ranch holidays to choose from. From my perspective, the difficulty for both the traveler and the service provider is to push through the communication land mines, and find that matching holiday that will exceed expectations for the traveler. This, my friends, is where the ranching website directories can be helpful. Just like the dating web sites, you can go to www.duderanch.org and find the riding holiday that will match your personality and “complete you” – in equestrian terms! Meanwhile, I think we will replace all of the “all inclusive” text on our website with a new and more accurate “super-clusive” fee description as a start to better clarification of our pricing structure.

Doug