Keynote Address: Glenda Medford, Tourism HR Conference, Antigua & Barbuda

Tourism HR Conference

Making excellence a habit: Service, Loyalty and Profitability in the Caribbean

Mr. Hugh Riley, Secretary General and Chief Executive Officer of the Caribbean Tourism Organization, Caribbean tourism practitioners and leaders, visiting presenters, thank you for inviting me to share a few thoughts on ‘excellence’ – how to make excellence a habit.

As you just heard, I have had an interesting journey in my professional life – one which has given me the opportunity to see first hand and experience the good, the bad and the down right ugly. I have seen  persons you might least expect, deliver outstanding work, driven by an internal hunger, passion and drive to succeed against all odds.

I have seen others who flattered to deceive – in my opinion –falling short of an ideal I had envisaged, considering their profile and experience. I also discovered that what is ‘excellence’ in many ways depends on who is doing the measurement and the circumstances. The achievement in putting a man on the moon is not the same as smashing every record in winning a marathon– but there is no doubt that they are both excellent.

‘Excellence’ is defined as…” the quality of being outstanding or extremely good.”  
‘To excel’ means “to surpass others or to be superior in some respect or area; to do extremely well”.

Excellence is however not perfection, but as Vince Lombardi remarked elegantly: “Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence”.

In the words of one of my university lecturers Professor P.K Menon: “If you reach for the stars you might reach the tallest tree.’

Excellence is about setting a high standard for yourself and focusing on being as EXCELLENT as YOU can possibly be. It is ultimately inward focused. It is your current ability vs. YOUR maximum potential.

However, some people settle for mediocrity in many aspects of their lives on a daily basis. They may accept shoddy work from an employee, continue to engage and socialize with ‘friends’ that constantly let them down, and continue using a service provider whose service is totally unacceptable. Instead of demanding better, they may shrug their shoulders and accept the MEDIOCRITY being dished out to them.  They tolerate it, they become numb, and very soon their own image of excellence is altered and replaced with a lesser standard – an inferior view.

In the words of President Barack Obama: ‘Not many folks spend a lot of time trying to be excellent.’

In this region there is already some evidence of chronic MEDIOCRITY at all levels and silent acceptance by the public, the people being served. The sad reality is that with every passing day, the less than excellent behaviour becomes the norm, the accepted behaviour, I shudder to say – the new EXCELLENCE’.

The Caribbean is not the world, and we are exposed daily, by higher standards of behaviour demanded by the global players to achieve ‘excellence’.

At the end of this session you can decide if you want to be on the road to excellence or the road to indifference.

As John Wooden said,  “If you do not have time to do it right when will you have time to do it over.”

The industry

Ladies and gentlemen, let me put this conversation within a context.

You are leaders in one of the most important and fastest growing sectors in the world. The Travel and Tourism World Economic Impact  Report for 2015 reveals that Travel & Tourism generated US$7.6 trillion (10% of global GDP) and 277 million jobs for the global economy in 2014.  (Preface page v)

In addition, international tourist arrivals reached a record 1.14 billion in 2014, (51 million more than in 2013), with forecasts suggesting that in 2030, tourism international arrivals are likely to reach 1.8 billion. [United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). (chapter 1.1 page 3)]

There is no doubt that Tourism is a vital sector for the Caribbean region and is a major player in our socio-‎economic development. The Caribbean Tourism Organisation reported that 2015 was the second year in a row that the region performed better than the rest of the world, and the sixth consecutive year of growth.

At its core, Tourism is about people and places creating memorable experiences for our visitors. If your visitors are satisfied or even overjoyed by their experiences, they can become loyal repeat visitors who become live ‘walking and talking billboards’ for our Caribbean destinations – brand ambassadors.

One of your goals should therefore be to create a customer who creates customers, to have customer service that is not just the best, but legendary.

Therefore, the combination of the destination physical and human assets with the emotional experiences of visitors are looking for, should produce customer satisfaction AND, a loyal customer, that is, a customer who would come back again and again, make business referrals, and directly or even indirectly provide strong word-of-mouth references and publicity. [John T. Bowen & Stowe Shoemaker, (1998)]

In a nutshell, customers who are loyal cannot be easily influenced or swayed by enticement from competitors.  [Baldinger & Rubinson (1996)] Loyalty results from customer satisfaction which is largely influenced by the value the customers places on the services received and their experiences.

So how can we embed excellence at every level of the ecosystem of our industry? How can this region ensure that it is the destination of choice for the millions of persons who travel worldwide annually? How do we increase our global market share?


Let us have a closer look at whether  ‘excellence’ can be used by this region, as the solution, the silver bullet for keeping ahead of the competition, retaining current visitors, acquiring new ones, growing market share, and ultimately increasing the tourism dollars.

Striving for excellence is not new for the Caribbean in fact our history has shown the determination, strength of will and character of our people to overcome adversity and to achieve excellence.

Within our small Caribbean Community, many have achieved excellence in different spheres of activity measured by local and international standards.

We can point to the success of Sir William Arthur Lewis who won the Nobel Memorial prize in Economics in 1979 and Derek Walcott who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1992; Bob Marley who lives on through his music which is known and loved in every corner of the globe – today marks the 35 anniversary of his death; and Usain Bolt – to name a few.

Unfortunately we can also point to too many examples where service delivered was less than excellent service.

Excellence is a place where people who refuse to settle for mediocrity live; it is a place where one reaps all the hard work sown. It is a journey of continuous progression toward the goals in your life.

Excellence, the highest human achievement is NOT beyond anyone’s capacity.  It is not a fixed goal – it is an ever-changing dynamic; a moving target. The quality of your craft and abilities today should not be the same as last year. Excellence is an every moving target.

 ‘Excellence is not a destination; it’s a journey that never ends.’

In 1982, Tom Peters and Robert Waterman published the management book, “In Search of Excellence” where they identified eight characteristics of excellent companies:

  1. A bias for action –( getting things done)
  2. Stay close to the customer
  3. Autonomy and entrepreneurship- (are flexible and supportive of the creative process)
  4. Productivity through people – (employee engagement and treating employees with dignity and respect)
  5. Clear and compelling organizational values  – (the right values will define the company)
  6. Focusing on what you do best
  7. Operating with a lean staff – flatter organisation
  8. Finding a balance between having enough structure without getting stuck in it – (co-existence of a firm’s direction and an individual’s autonomy)

In reflecting on these principles articulated 34 years ago, Holly Green wrote in Forbes magazine, “Redefining Excellence for Today’s World”:

“These principles remain good guides to this day. However, the business world has changed almost beyond recognition over the last 30 years, and the time has come to redefine what excellence means. In today’s world, excellence is more than a set of principles. It’s a set of beliefs, ways of thinking, a matter of discipline, and ways of focusing.

Excellence starts with getting very clear on the end state you wish to achieve (winning) and relentlessly driving towards it every day. Excellence requires knowing when to push on (even when you don’t have all the information or the perfect solution), but doing it well and constantly refining as you forge ahead. Excellence means accepting only the best, and understanding that when it is not given that you, as the leader, are at least partly responsible.”

Transformation – change management

Working to achieve excellence requires leaders to really look at their business model and processes, the recruitment process, people development approaches, your systems, product development and marketing – and making changes designed to help you to function in an every changing environment and to satisfy and exceed your customers’ expectations and demands. In order to improve an organization you have to be prepared to change how the work is done.

In the words attributed to Mark Twain: If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.’

I can tell you first hand that managing change is difficult but the aim is to find a way to be always relevant and to remain a big player in the game.

 “If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less.”

Making Excellence a Habit

So how can we make excellence a habit?

As Aristotle said: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.”

I am going to share a few tools you can use towards achieving personal or business excellence.

  1. Make a list of priorities every day. Practice small. Practice daily

Developing a habit requires daily personal commitment and repetition. Be disciplined. You must commit to make those baby steps every day.

  1. Be consistent

Striving for excellence involves discipline and tenacity of purpose.

  1. You need to be hungry for success – have a deep and burning desire to excel

If you have the will to win, you will develop the will to prepare and persevere.

  1. Understand your customers

A clearer understanding of your customers, and their expectations as it relates to a service, will contribute to a more effective positioning, promotion and communication strategies.

For example, Millennials, also known as ‘Gen Y’ are driving change in the travel industry. They are a young, yet influential demographic group of travellers born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s, who according to Millenniel Traveller report, represent ‘20% of international travellers and by 2020, 320 million international trips are expected to be made by them each year, a staggering 47% increase from 217 million in 2013.’ [Millenial Traveller report]

Millenniels are:

  • Tech savy
  • Like  authenticity [and prefer hands on experiences, walking in the footsteps of locals and exploring heritage and hike trails]
  • Spontaneous
  • Rely on word of mouth

Millenniels are a digital generation who are changing the rules of the game.

  1. Be a yardstick of quality.

Implement a business plan with clear objectives and goals, responsibilities, accountabilities and standards of performance with measurements; engage the team and ensure everyone understands their role and deliverables; leaders – walk the talk; engage your team with performance assessment and staff engagement tools, and share the information/feedback. Engage the customer – their feedback is vital; have customer surveys and share the feedback with your team. Create a service culture with staff embracing the brand values as well as having the knowledge, communication skills and are empowered to deal with interactions and situations.

  1. Exercise Emotional Intelligence 

Leaders should exercise Emotional intelligence – E.I. – if they are to achieve extraordinary results. The act of knowing, understanding, and responding to emotions, overcoming stress in the moment, and being aware of how your words and actions affect others.

  1. Put God first –thank him every day for grace, mercy, humility, talents, understanding, prosperity  and wisdom – in advance
  2. Push yourself –human spirit can win again great odds

Challenge yourself. Be relentless.

If you do not set high standards for yourself, who will?  There is no escalator to excellence, but rather a stairway which needs to be climbed step by step. Excellent people do not settle for the status quo – they want to experience the best and be the best. That means giving their best each time; every day. They go the extra mile so that in everything they do, in everything they say and think, they are striving for excellence. They make excellence a habit.

Every job is a self portrait of the person who does it. Autograph your work with excellence.

These are but a few suggestions to get going onto the road to excellence. If we get the people fired up the rest will fall in place.

“The will to win, the desire to succeed, the urge to reach your full potential  these are the keys that will unlock the door to personal excellence” Eddie Robinson

Do not be afraid. You can do it.

The sky is the limit.