Hugh Riley, secretary general of the Caribbean Tourism Organization, sounded a wake-up call regarding regional tourism during his recent address at the organization's Tourism Human Resources Conference at the Jolly Beach Resort in Antigua: “We must make excellence a habit."
And it is not only the front-line employees who are critical to the delivery of the tourism product who must absorb the message. It's important to the legions of people behind the scenes who create, sell, market, design, build, defend, test, research and communicate the vacation experience to visitors.
He added that the bottom-line for the tourism industry — excellence in customer service — could be translated to any industry.
“Over the years I've discovered that not everyone is comfortable with the fact that we are so tourism-dependent; to some it sounds like we are stuck, like we are saying that somehow we should not develop other areas of our economies, [that] we should not try to diversify,” Riley said. “Of course we should."
Because the Caribbean has historically been such a draw for tourism, “we naturally focus on visitors. But the basic formula for winning the satisfaction and approval of our customers works in any field of endeavor.
He urged his audience to focus on making every customer a repeat customer.
“We must make excellence a habit," he said. "No one should pay more attention to delivering a superb experience than we in the Caribbean."
Riley ticked off reasons for the Caribbean region's tourism dependence, including a mix of cultures, food, visual and performing arts, history, hospitality, weather, colonial architecture and the 25 Unesco World Heritage sites in 14 countries.
“But as important as it is to have all of that, the adhesive that must bind it all together is service excellence,” he said.
He pointed out that the Caribbean's global competitors can have deeper pockets and taller buildings, “but no one should have better people than the Caribbean. Nowhere in the world should there be a population more dedicated to acquiring the tools and resources to assess and improve our performance.
“As a region we must pay close attention to customer response, so we always know how our guests are defining excellence.”