The Definitive Site Inspection Checklist
You’ve seen the photos on travel agents' social media account; Sandals kicked off, legs stretched out in the sand, an open book propped on a lap, ocean waves lapping at their toes. But I’m going to tell you one of the worst-kept secrets in the travel industry: If a site inspection feels like a vacation, you’re (probably) doing it wrong.
Here's the reality. Behind each camera is an exhausted travel agent who woke up hours before any tourists hit the beach. By the time tourists did straggle onto those pristine beaches and empty cabanas, the agent is sweat-soaked with sore feet from the miles they’ve logged after days of site inspections.
Site inspections are a travel agent staple, a tool to establish authority and expertly qualify clients. It's definitely no stroll on the beach. But here’s the good news: HAR will help you strike a balance between the appearances of relaxing bliss and the sheer toil of site inspections.
Our site inspection checklist will help you clip along efficiently. Heck, maybe you'll even find a moment to breathe the salty ocean air, or dip your toes in the water.
A 10-Step List For Site Inspections
Here’s the crib notes. HAR's 10-Step Site Inspection list to whet your pallet:
- Decide What Site(s) to Visit: Be intentional about which sites you visit, focusing on developing expertise on suppliers that interest you and your clients. We'll give tips on how to narrow down your choices.
- Think Like Your Client: Have a few clients in mind when you visit a site and see the site through their eyes. Don’t let your own ideas and preferences interfere with a thorough and objective site inspection.
- Go With a Plan: Download HAR’s site inspection checklist and use HAR’s “RADAR” (Room categories, Atmosphere, Dining, Amenities, Recreation) checklist to ensure that you've reviewed every nook and cranny of the resort.
- Room Categories: Visit each room category. What is the price difference between the different categories, and how does each room category measure up to its value?
- Atmosphere: Take note of the property’s exterior and your initial impressions upon entering. How is the check in process? What’s the overall demographic and demeanor of the clientele? What is the theme of the resort?
- Dining: What are the different dining options? What cuisines and dining styles do they provide? Is there variety? Which restaurants require reservations and how far in advance do you need to make them?
- Amenities: Is there a resort fee? If so, which amenities are included in the fee? What is the cost (and value) of amenities not provided.
- Recreation: How accessible are recreational activities? Is there variety? Are they available seasonally or year-round? What age groups and interests do they cater to?
- Ask Questions: Don't be shy. Ask questions during your site inspection. (A good start is to anticipate questions your clients have about different properties.) Don't forget to get business cards from the BDM and site manager.
- Document Your Site Inspection: You put in a ton of (literal) legwork to complete thorough site inspections! Make sure you share your insights on social media, your website, and among your travel agent cohort!
Why are Site Inspections So Dang Important?
If a site inspection is well done, it will boost your travel agent know-how, help you demonstrate your value as an advisor, and position yourself as an expert.
A thorough site inspection will help you:
- Position you as “an authority” of a property, supplier or destination
- Keep up with supplier/property updates
- Qualify sites for clients
- Build relationships with suppliers
- Generate appealing images and content for your social media, blog, and/or website
- Network with other agents and suppliers
- In some situations, product knowledge may help you earn points or rewards from a supplier
How do I schedule or get invited to a site inspection?
As you become more embedded in the industry, you’ll likely find ample opportunities to go on site inspections. Many site inspections will be a product of opportunity. Some of these opportunities include: an invitation from a supplier, part of a FAM trip, or a component to a travel conference. That is easy enough!
But if you’re finding these opportunities are few and far between, you can also set up site inspections independently. How?
Add a day or two onto a personal vacation or travel conference. If a site inspection isn’t a part of a FAM or conference, you can tack on a few days to ensure that you see the properties that you want (or if the properties you want to see aren’t a part of your pre-scheduled visit).
According to Amy Burbank, Travel Agent and Owner of Purple Palms Vacations, “What I usually do is I tack on an extra day. We were in Costa Rica and I knew we’d only be seeing RIU resorts and tacked on an extra day to do my own. . . Usually I know which ones I want to see to get the catered tour.”
You can contact the BDM (business development manager) of the tour operator that carries the property or the resort/hotel chain’s BDM to see what their protocol or schedule is. Reach out to a country’s tourism board or the city’s convention and visitor’s bureau to see if they can assist you in setting up site inspections.
If you don’t have a BDM contact, reach out to your host agency or consortium.
Your Site Inspection Checklist
Site inspections are dizzying. As you do a site inspection, you may think, "of course I'll remember this amazing beachside bar service!" But trust me. After a few full days of site inspections, visions of pools, swim-up bars, squash courts, and room categories will begin to float around in your brain in one big jumble.
Multiple consecutive site inspections, plus alcohol consumed during networking events, plus jet lag, multiplied by the days passed until you consider the site, equals brain explosion. (MCSI + AC + JL) · DP = 🤯 is the formal algebraic equation. But we've got you covered with our definitive site inspection checklist:
This checklist has tips on photos to take, reminders on materials to gather (like contact info), and room for your notes. It sets you up for success, so when you consider the site days/weeks/months down the road, you'll feel like you were just there.
10 Steps to Optimize Your Site Inspection
These 10 steps are designed to highlight your expertise as a travel agent, looking beyond what you or your client can easily find out about a site in the Googleverse.
Step 1. Decide what site(s) to visit
It might be tempting to cram in as many site inspections into one trip as possible. But if you try to visit every resort in Negril in four days (not possible), trust me, they will blur together.
“I have found it’s really nice to focus on certain resort chains . . . If you like it and your clients like it, it’s a good fit."
Amy Burbank strikes a balance between what resorts she’s drawn to, and what resorts her clients have recommended. According to Amy, “I have found it’s really nice to focus on certain resort chains. Early on I started doing FAM trips and I just really gravitated toward certain resorts like AM, Iberostar, and RIU. That was based on my experience and feedback from clients. I personally really liked that my clients came back really happy. If you like it and your clients like it, it’s a good fit.”
Travel agent Dixie Cote, Travel Agent/Owner of Millspring Travel, prizes quality over quantity when it comes to site inspections. She chatted about the experience of touring 6 or 7 sites daily for multiple days; “To be honest, it was too much. Ideally it’d be nice to see 2 or 3 in a day. [When] I did several site inspections in O’ahu, we saw 3 or 4 [sites]. We toured them, we saw all the rooms, we ate lunch there. I remember those properties, and I was more impressed.”
A smaller tour group will also lead to a more memorable site inspection. Dixie also recommended you, “Go in a small group. Make sure you have time to ask questions and take lots of photos. Size of the group is important. When there’s too many people you don’t get as good a feel for it.”
When you're narrowing down your options, ask yourself these questions:
- Do my site inspections hit different price points and top destinations for my clients?
- Do these hotels/resorts align with my niche or cater to my clients’ needs?
- Have I received positive feedback from a client about this brand?
- When is the last time I inspected this hotel/resort? Has there been any updates since?
- How large will the group be?
- How many sites will I visit per day?
Step 2. Think Like Your Client
You're planning a vacation for your client, not for yourself. So during site inspections, look at the property with fresh eyes even if you’ve been there before or if you already have your own opinions about it.
“Being an expert in the industry, we know what clients want so we [advisors] can look at it from that lens as well.”
Amy Burbank sums it up, “I always go in trying to look in through unbiased eyes as to what my clients would think about this resort. Being an expert in the industry, we know what clients want so [advisors] can look at it from that lens as well.”
Think of a few specific clients before you inspect a site. Adopt their frame of mind(s). Prioritize what they prioritize. For example, if a resort teeming with energetic kiddos stresses you out, remember that it might be fine for some of your clients.
Report on the facts. Instead of saying, “the vibe is hectic and stressful,” you might say, “This resort has a lot of families, even though they’re not branded that way. They offer a range of activities for kids ages 4-12 and provide childcare options so adults can go have their fun too. It’s not great for a romantic getaway, but nice for a family or multi-generational group that wants a lot of variety in activities provided.”
Step 3. Go With a Plan (We’ve got you covered!)
Joy! It’s time to introduce HAR's newly-minted RADAR process. What is RADAR? It's a handy acronym to help remember everything you want to review during your inspection: Room categories, Atmosphere, Dining, Amenities, and Recreation.
Why RADAR? Because your job is to detect the quality of a site. Here's an overview of the RADAR process:
Room categories: How are the room categories different? How does it align with their value? Which rooms have the best views?
Atmosphere: What is the overall atmosphere of the resort? Is it relaxed and casual? Is it more formal? Romantic? Family-oriented? Are the staff pleasant? Are the guests happy?
Dining: What different dining options are available? How many restaurants are there? What are their price points? What’s their vibe (formal? casual?) Are they family friendly? Do they need reservations in advance? If so, how much time in advance? Indoor or outdoor (if outdoor, is it sheltered?) Are they better for different times of days? How easy are they to get to?
Amenities: What amenities does the resort have and what is covered by the resort fee (if there is one)? Is there onsite parking or valet? Is there Wifi throughout the hotel? Cabana or chair rental on the beach? Towel service? Top shelf liquors?
Recreation: What recreational activities are there? What ages/interests do they cater too? How easy is it to get there? Do they have activities weeklong, or just on weekends? Only during holidays? Is it good for singles on the dating scene? Family oriented? Are there tours nearby? What activities are included with a stay? What is the price range?
Don’t be overwhelmed by all the questions! Our checklist (that you already have handy) will ensure that you track all the details you need to wow your clients! Didn't download it yet? You can do it now!
Now let's dig deeper into the RADAR steps.
Step 4. Room Categories
Hopefully your tour will involve a sneak peek of every different room category. (If they don’t, ask if you can see all the different room categories).
Don’t forget to take pictures and/or video as you go. Here's a pic tip: Take a picture of the room number. On our downloadable checklist there's an area to write down the room number in each category. That way, you can remember which photos belong to which room categories.
Here’s a few questions you can ask about rooms (or should be able to answer):
- Which rooms face beach/scenic view?
- How do the rooms utilize their space?
- What is the cost and value difference between different room classes?
- Which rooms are closest to the beach?
- Are any rooms located in a noisier or quieter areas (e.g. there’s a tiki bar outside their window?)
- How many steps is it to the beach?
- Which direction does the room face? Will clients be able to see a sunrise or sunset from their balcony?
- Is there any renovation happening? Which room are closest to the renovations? Or which rooms have been recently renovated?
Step 5. Atmosphere
Getting a pulse on the atmosphere may be the most important step in a site inspection. Why? Because it’s something that can’t be quantified merely by looking at a resort’s website.
There's so much to consider, that assessing atmosphere is broken down into three subcategories:
Subcategory 1: Location
As you make your way from the airport to the resort, consider the site’s location. Notice your drive from the airport to the resort and take note of what you notice around you. Here’s details you can note on location:
- Is the location remote? Or is it in the middle of a bustling city? On a goat farm? 🐐
- When is the busy season? The shoulder season? The slow season?
- Are transfers to/from the hotel/resort included? Are they shared transfers? If so, how long does it typically take to get to the hotel/resort?
- What activities or points of interest are close to the hotel/resort?
- Is there public transportation if guests want to get off site? Does the site offer shuttle services into town?
- Are there other restaurants/theater/activities close by?
- Are there any local festivals that you or your client may need/want to know about?
Subcategory 2: Building Exterior & Check-in
The inspection begins even before you begin your tour. When you arrive, take note of the exterior. When is the last time it’s been updated? Is the entry accessible? Is it a smooth process to get into the hotel/resort and check in?
Don’t forget to make a note of your experience too. When you first arrived, what was your gut reaction? Take note of your observations. Were you wowed by how they integrated the greenery of the outside into their lobby? Are staff greeting tired travelers or remembering names of long-term guests?
Communicating these experiences will help you a long way in selling the property to your client (or steering them away from it).
Here’s a few questions you should be able to answer after you visit:
- Is the check in process smooth? (Are waiting clients offered refreshments or assistance?)
- How does the staff handle a crowd at check in time? Is the lobby comfortable or congested?
- Are there refreshments?
- Are elevators easy to locate? Are there enough of them?
- What was your first impression upon entering?
- When was it built?
- When was it last renovated
- What activities/ sites are nearby? (How easy is it to get to them?)
- How many rooms does the property have?
Lastly, here’s an expert tip from Dixie, take a snapshot of entry of the resort, with the name of it in the frame. Why? According to her, “[Site Inspections] all run together after awhile . . . Every time, I take a picture of sign as soon I enter so I know every picture after that is from that resort.
Subcategory 3: Clientele's Demographic and Demeanor
One of the primary functions of site inspections is to act as the match-maker for clients and properties. Getting a pulse on guests' demographic and demeanor will go a long way in helping you determine if it’s a good fit for your client.
In terms of demographic, what kind of guests/groups does the hotel/resort seem to attract? In terms of demeanor, do they look like they’re relaxing, or is it a more active environment? Are guests drunk by 11am? (Or still drunk at 7am?) 🤭Are guests stressed out waiting to put their name on a long waiting list for a restaurant because there’s not enough dining options . . . or because they didn’t have a travel advisor who knew to advise them to make a reservation early? Just sayin!
Here’s a few questions you can ask yourself to help assess the overall temperament of the guests:
- What is the general demographic of the groups/ guests at the property? Couples? Families? Conference attendees? LGBTQ? Mixed-generation groups? Does it align with how the property is branded?
- Which of your clients can you envision at this hotel/resort? Why?
- Does the property (or parts of the property) have any dress code? What’s the general style among guests? Flip flops and swimsuits? Formal wear?
- What’s the energy level of guests? Is it relaxed? Is it more high-energy? Mixed?
- Do the guests appear to be having a good time? How are they being treated by staff?
- Do guests need to wear wristbands?
Step 6. Dining
Here’s a riddle: Your grandma who subsists on turkey sandwiches and clam chowder, your nephew who eats only buttered noodles, your sister who is five-star foodie, and your vegan cousin walk into a bar (err, or a resort!). Who walks out happy?If the answer is “everyone,” then the hotel/resort is probably doing something right.
Here’s a few questions to keep in mind when it comes to dining options:
- How many restaurant options are there? If there’s only a few options, do these restaurants have a lot of variety or are there great restaurants close by?
- Which restaurants need a reservation (and how far in advance?)
- What are the price points of the different restaurants? Does the value reflect the cost?
- Do they offer options and accommodations for people with food sensitivities, preferences, and/or restrictions?
- Do they focus on local cuisine?
- How is the level of dining service?
- Are there grab and go options? Buffet? Sit down?
If possible, you also want to experience the dining for yourself. Hopefully this would be included in your tour, if not you might consider dropping a few bucks and dining the resort (tax write-off, anyone?!).
Step 7. Amenities
Our downloadable site inspection sheet will include a list of amenities you can check off. But you can focus on the amenities you find particularly impressive. Think beyond info you can easily access online and focus on the details and quality of amenities.
Just about every hotel and resort will have a gym or business center. But are they exceptional or special in any way that could be great for your clients? Or is there nothing that sets it apart?
Here’s a few questions you can ask yourself about amenities:
- Does this site have resort fees? If so, what amenities are included?
- For amenities that aren’t included, how much do they cost? Are there discounts for extended use?
- Are there any nice touches that left an impact on you? Maybe a play area in or near the lobby to keep tykes busy while you check in? Ample towel service at the pools? Refreshments in the lobby while you wait?
- What are their most exceptional amenities?
Step 8. Recreation:
This is the last step in the RADAR process: noting what recreational activities the resort has available. Here's comes my broken record moment: focus on recreational activities that are unique to the site. Does the site have squash? Friday night tag football beach competitions (I don't think this is a thing)? Drag shows? What recreational activities is the resort known for?
Does the beach have paddleboard rentals? Does the hotel have a teenage video game power hour? Is there a toddler storytime (bonus points it it coincides with happy hour so caretakers can sneak away)? Is there a full-service spa? Kite surfing lessons?
What age groups/demographics do these activities cater to? If there’s not much in the way of recreation, is there anything close by for guests who are going stir crazy? How long could someone stay there before they become bored out of their skull? (You catch my drift. )
Step 9. Ask Questions
Don’t be afraid to ask your guide questions as you do your tour. Ask them what their favorite room is and why. If you have a specific client in mind, ask for a few selling points you can offer them. Ask them for an example of exceptional service or accommodations this hotel has done in the past.
It can be difficult to think of questions to ask on the fly (especially if you don’t have a particular group or client in mind). But if you qualify your clients and think through their point of view, you’ll be able to come up with better and more relevant questions.
Read up on your clients’ feedback from past trips to prepare questions that anticipate their needs. (Psst! This is a perfect activity for downtime in the airport.) Our download also includes great questions that will get you started on the right foot.
Did you forget to ask a burning question? No problem. Get the contact info of your tour guide so you can follow up! (Psst! We have a space on our checklist to write their contact info, just in case you misplace their business card)!
Step 10. Document Your Site Inspection!
When you go on your site inspection, you’ll want to take plenty of pictures and video footage. Not only will this help you keep track of different properties, but it will also give you some appealing eye-candy for your blog (if you have one) and social media.
One of the main advantages of smaller/more intimate tours is that you don’t have to jostle for space to get pictures of empty rooms.
“I keep upgrading [my iPhone] and their camera keeps getting better. I try to frame it nicely and keep people out of it and need to have good lighting . . . I don’t touch up my photos because I want them to be seen as it is.”
Here’s Amy’s tips for taking great pictures, “I keep upgrading [my iPhone] and their camera keeps getting better. I try to frame it nicely and keep people out of it and need to have good lighting. I don’t want to take pictures when it’s backlit. I don’t touch up my photos because I want them to be seen as it is.”
Dixie’s takes a slightly different approach to her snap shots, “I post lots of pictures . . . I filter my pictures and try to make them look real pretty. For each [post] I took 3-5 pictures so people can go back and look.” She also recommends photo-bombing your pics, “I think it’s good to have yourself in the pictures. It gives it a more personal touch.”
What do you do with the dozens of photos you take?
- Post them to your social accounts or blog (Amy Burbank has a portion of her site dedicated to all-inclusive recommendations that include her images and information about the site).
- File away your notes about the property so you have easy access right at your fingertips for clients.
- Spread the love. Be sure to share your findings with other agents at your agency.
It can be difficult to focus on getting great photos and taking thorough notes at the same time. Amy offered advice to agents who may struggle to take amazing photos and notes at the same time, “If you’re with someone, have one person take pictures and one person take notes and then share. Definitely use some sort of guide."
What to Do If You Can’t Go on a Site Inspection
It might not be possible to do a site inspection of every hotel/resort you have on your wishlist. But even if you’re a specialist with a certain brand, it’s good to get professional opinions about specific resorts if you can.
Here are steps Dixie takes when she can’t visit a site in person, “ I will go on our [host’s] FB page . . . if I say I have a client going to this resort, my first step is to get feedback from other agents . . . And if not I will reach out to suppliers that handle that property.”
These tips will help you develop expertise even if you can’t step foot in the resort lobby:
- Chat with your supplier BDM over email or at a travel conference.
- Join travel agent groups (on Facebook or online) and ask agent’s for their personal experience of sites you’re not able to visit.
- Become a specialist with a certain supplier or take a webinar to get as current info and images as possible.
That's a Wrap (and a Special Thanks)!
If you read all the way through to this point, you are abundantly prepared for your next site inspection! Heck, it might even help you use your time so wisely that you may have a moment to take a breather on the beach after all!
But this info that come from thin air! No way. There's two agents I’d like to thank! A huge thank you to Amy Burbank, expert travel agent and owner of Purple Palm Vacations. Here you can find her excellent blog where she posts her recommendations for all-inclusives.
Dixie Cote is another travel agent extraordinaire and owner of Mill Spring Travel. Her travel agency Instagram account makes me want to drop all my responsibilities and travel for the rest of my life.
A huge thanks for these two for sharing their expert tips on site inspections!
Do you have your own tips and tricks you’d like to share? Questions? Comments? Drop us a line in the comments! We want to hear from you.