The Cayman Islands tourism industry has embarked on a programme that aims to consistently deliver superior standards of customer service.
This was the message delivered by Minister for Tourism Charles Clifford at a Ministry of Tourism luncheon Monday at the Wharf Restaurant to explain about the recently launched national service excellence standards initiative.
The Freeman Group, the US consultancy firm contracted to implement the programme, has 23 years experience in Caribbean hospitality training. The cost is approximately US$700,000 for the entire programme, over three years, for training up to 2,000 people in the Cayman Islands tourism industry.
Building and protecting the Cayman Islands’ tourism brand and increasing consumer confidence would be among the benefits.
‘In an effort to contribute to the continued and sustained growth of the Cayman Island economy, and in order for us to achieve and maintain a competitive edge in a liberalised tourism business environment, the quality of service delivery has to be elevated to a standard of excellence,’ said Mr. Clifford.
He said good service means a visitor might return, but excellent means that a visitor will, without reservation, return.
He outlined the Human Capital Development programmes already in process through the Department of Tourism in creating awareness about the tourism industry, offering apprenticeship training and building community awareness about tourism.
The final facet of the unit’s work seeks to address customer service training and establish international standards for service quality in tourism.
This is where the new service standards initiative comes into play.
‘It will incorporate the ideas of stakeholders, seek consensus from among stakeholders for the customer service standards to be set out, and lastly, ensure that our service delivery is constantly monitored and measured so that we, as an industry, sing with one voice the service excellence anthem and with unified effort, sanction and implement a national co-ordinated effort,’ he said.
The Department of Tourism will put in place a designated project team of three members to oversee the project.
The programme will establish and implement minimum standards of quality for customer service in Cayman’s tourism industry; help develop local customer service trainers and train tourism managers; and make customer service levels measurable and accountable through on-site inspections based on international standards.
Director of Tourism Pilar Bush outlined some of the objectives for tourism: for it to be sustainable – focused on marketing the affluent and discerning visitor; to have sustainable growth and provide high economic returns for the Cayman Islands, while protecting the environment and respecting local culture.
There is a need to enhance the visitors’ perceived value of the Cayman Islands’ vacation experience and encourage Caymanians to pursue jobs in the industry.
She emphasised the need to focus on carefully selected customers and aim at building lasting bonds of loyalty with them based on always meeting or exceeding their expectations and by provide them with perceived value for money.
She noted that some destinations are perceived as being extravagant, but worth it.
‘We need to be perceived (by tourists) as ‘we paid a little bit more but it was worth it’ and we’re not quite there yet,’ she said.
Consistency in service delivery would be ensured by national minimum standards of quality based on internationally recognised standards.
On previous visitor exit survey shows there was no consistency with good service in any of the nine sectors.
High cost and poor value were the reasons given most frequently in the surveys for visitors not returning.
‘People have to come here and say it was absolutely worth it. That’s the perception we’re trying to get consistently recorded by visitors all the time in the nine sectors,’ Ms Bush said.
Agencies and tourism sectors involved in this initiative will include: accommodations, transportation, attractions, restaurants, watersports, cruise related businesses, police, immigration, customs, Department of Tourism, Cayman Airways, airline personnel and airports.
The group will provide three main programmes: a Destination Advisory programme (a framework including branding and public relations); Promises customer service training (behavioural); and a Service Standards programme (operational).
COO of Freeman Group Patrick O’Brien said visitor’s impressions are formed by everyone they come into contact with during their visit.
Kedrick Malone, manager of the Destinations advisory programme and former Director of Tourism for BVI said the programme had a big impact when it was introduced to the BVI, and since then it has improved.
The programme is basically to enhance the visitor experience, he said. Those working in the tourism industry would serve as ambassadors for their country.
It would begin, he said with measuring the current visitors’ experience.
Quality inspections, using mystery shoppers, would be done initially.
Once quality inspections and exit surveys were done and the findings recorded and analysed a checklist of standards would be agreed by everyone in the tourism industry.
Standards of performance manuals would be licensed to the Cayman Islands, for which each standard would have a certain procedure.
In order to make these standards part of training on a daily basis, managers and supervisors would be trained on how to do this.
Frontline staff such as bartenders would be trained in the standards impacting their areas.
Other training professionals would be licensed to facilitate Freemangroup workshops in order to develop the training for the future in the Cayman Islands.
‘That’s part of the sustainability we feel it’s important to leave with the destination,’ said Mr. Malone.
Marketing would also tie in with the promises of new service experience for the customer.
Work has already begun with the initiative and volunteers from the tourism industry were called on at the lunch to provide input into the process.