Lower customer service levels in Cayman since Hurricane Ivan is a concern the newly appointed Director of Tourism Pilar Bush intends to address very seriously.
Speaking at Fidelity’s Cayman Business Outlook conference at the Westin Hotel last Wednesday, Ms. Bush pointed out that a compromised physical tourism product and lower service levels will have to be taken in hand.
‘We can’t get accustomed to these lower service levels,’ Ms. Bush asserted.
The Department of Tourism has been receiving complaints from customers about service in the industry, and DoT has experienced this lower level of service through its own interaction with industry members.
A major post-Ivan downfall for the tourism industry is the unattractive environment, such as landscaping problems, and this, coupled with lower service and increased pricing, is creating an overall worsening of the perceived price to value ratio for a Cayman Islands vacation, she explained.
DoT is receiving complaints on a daily basis about excuses customers have received for products and services not being up to standard. Ms Bush explained that most visitors to the Cayman Islands are smart, many with college educations, and they know when they are hearing excuses. Honesty is the best policy, she said.
DoT is not suggesting that prices go down, she said, but rather that improvement of service in the immediate future can bring back perceived value for money in the customer’s eyes.
With a small availability of hotel rooms currently on Grand Cayman (541 out of a pre-Ivan figure of 2,292 hotel rooms), Ms Bush said there is not much sense using a lot of DoT’s budget for the usual kind of marketing. Rather, she said, DoT wishes to propose that this money is re-directed into doing customer service assessments and needs assessments, not only in tourism but country-wide, to set standards of sustainable service at all tourist touch points.
It is hoped that customer service training for this could start as early as June.
Part of the goal for service improvement includes infusing Caymanian culture into customer service.
Caymanians are polite and reserved unless engaged, she said, and DoT would like to see this reflected in greetings and treatment of customers.
Other areas in which she would like to see a distinct Caymanian influence are in arts, entertainment and attractions.
Considering the lack of hotel room stock since Hurricane Ivan, Ms Bush is encouraging Caymanians to open Bed and Breakfasts and intimate 10-room inns. She would also love to see a culinary resort in Cayman, something that has put Anguilla on the tourism map.
One of the big advantages Cayman has is its number of restaurants: 120 pre-Ivan, of which 90 are now back open. The restaurant sector needs to be utilised to tourism’s advantage, she said.
Golf, fitness and spa resorts would also be attractive additions.
Ms Bush pointed out that virtually all properties are operational on the Sister Islands, dive operations are re-building docks there and summer promotions are in development.
Other important markets that Cayman needs to go after are that of weddings and conferences and to generate demand for the available rooms inventory.
Ms Bush said it was important to start laying the foundations now to catch some of these markets because of very tough competition in the Caribbean region.
Ms. Bush, in summarising her speech, said, ‘2005 is a year of phenomenal opportunities for the tourism industry. As a colleague of mine says, we can either choose the easy wrong or the hard right.’