“A prudent man sees danger and takes refuge, but the simple keep going and suffer for it” – Proverbs 22:3

I was invited by the Division of Tourism & Transportation in Tobago to be the guest speaker, last Thursday, at their Tourism Week Awards Ceremony at the Tobago Hilton. Many categories of service provider were recognised for their contributions to the local tourism industry.

The theme for Tourism Week was “Experience an Adventure in Paradise”. This theme promotes Tobago as a Paradise and recognizes that tourism is an industry encompassing three elements – recreation, accommodation and cuisine – which collectively constitute an adventure for the tourist. If the tourists are happy with their experiences, they will visit Tobago again and what’s more they will tell their friends and colleagues all about their adventure in Paradise. This is the most effective form of marketing, since it increases the number of repeat visitors and referrals with little call on the marketing budget.

If, on the other hand, the tourists are unhappy with an experience(s) this is a peril which spells danger. They may not be inclined to visit Tobago again and they will also tell their friends and colleagues of their negative experiences. In this case, where the tourist is unhappy, the destination will have to work harder and must spend more marketing dollars to repair the damage done and to attract increased numbers to spend more money in Tobago. We must therefore design a strategy which has a high probability of ensuring that all tourists leave the island with holistically happy experiences. The topic of my short address was therefore – Protecting against the Peril of the Unhappy Tourist.

The theme of the awards ceremony was – Honouring Excellence in the Tourism Industry. This conveyed to me that it is recognized in Tobago that a focus on service excellence at the level of the individual or the team is of utmost importance. If all individuals or teams perform their respective tasks at a level of excellence, then their collective efforts would redound to the benefit of the industry. This is indeed the protection that you need to mitigate the incidence of damage which might result from an unhappy tourist. Every individual or team must perform at a level of excellence which relates to the international benchmark for the industry. Anything less will challenge the competitiveness of the local industry.

It is generally agreed globally that sustained increases in economic growth cannot be achieved without high levels of quality, service excellence, productivity, competitiveness and enterprise development. This is also true in the Caribbean and, in particular, for the tourism industry in Tobago.

In Japan there is a culture of excellence which has made that country very competitive in the world today. I was in Japan recently and it was clear to me that each individual exudes an expression of excellence. The collective impact of these individual expressions of excellence has resulted in a country of excellence. The same can be true for Tobago.

Excellence in relation to service providers’ goals and customers’ needs relates to top performance, distinction, superiority or the best in the world. In this way there is some guarantee that the service providers’ assessment of excellence matches the customers’ assessment of excellence.

An unhappy tourist is a peril that can be very destructive to the industry. What is the magnitude of the cost to protect against the peril of the unhappy tourist? I postulated that this may be expressed as the collective cost of designing and implementing a strategy to address the following five actions: (1) List the distinctive characteristics that differentiate the Paradise that it is Tobago from other global destinations and preserve these characteristics. If we do this we shall be continually differentiating our product thus making Tobago more appealing as a destination for a specific market segment(s). (2) Establish international benchmarks for each tourism or tourism linkage service in Tobago and each customer segment of the industry. If we do this then we are not shooting in the dark but we do so with a full understanding of what we are up against internationally and can continually raise the bar.

(3) Train staff so that they have a clear understanding of the international benchmarks. If we do this we would have built in a mechanism for continuous improvement which will ultimately lead to a culture of excellence.

(4) Monitor staff performance continually against the international benchmarks and take corrective action where necessary. If you do this then the higher level objectives of sustaining the contribution of the tourism growth rate to enhanced socio-well being for Tobago will be guaranteed.

(5) To honour excellence in the tourism industry. If we do this then we gradually move the individual up the hierarchy of needs towards self-actualisation which is the highest a human being can achieve.

I concluded that there are a number of other regional initiatives which are “on the boil” which could enhance the marketing strategy in Tobago. These include the Caribbean Media Exchange on Sustainable Tourism, Community Tourism à la Countrystyle Community Tourism Network in Jamaica, Tourism Linkage Programmes, the Empowerment Centre Concept and Tourism Entrepreneurial Development. More anon!