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Exporting excellence, or ‘Aquilafying’ the world

PHOTO: Anne Kalosh Beth Kelly Hatt
'I’m loving this. I was meant to be a mentor, teacher and coach,' said Beth Kelly Hatt, pictured at the recent FCCA Conference & Trade Show in Puerto Rico

Beth Kelly Hatt and the Aquila Center for Cruise Excellence team are in perpetual motion, and their tour guide, tour operator and frontline customer service training are making a difference in the Caribbean and beyond, cruise lines say.

Tahiti to JAXPORT

Kelly Hatt has just arrived in Tahiti for tour guide and frontline training with the Comite du tourisme CCISM and Tahiti Cruise Club, while colleagues Melanie Colpitts and Danielle Timmons are in Gulfport, Mississippi, this week. In recent days Kelly Hatt carried out Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association-facilitated Customer Service and Frontline Training with Florida’s Jacksonville Port Authority and Colpitts and Claudine Pohl led Tour Guide Excellence and FCCA Customer Service and Frontline Training in Belize.

All the Aquila trainers are seasoned guides, so they understand firsthand the importance of a guide as the ambassador of a destination, along with the challenges and rewards of this demanding work.

Caribbean guides have ‘stepped up 100%’

In the Caribbean, thanks to Aquila, ‘The guides have stepped up 100%. We have seen a big difference,’ Christine Manjencic, VP destination services operations, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, said to applause during a workshop at the recent FCCA Conference & Trade Show in Puerto Rico.

‘We’ve done a lot in the Caribbean, in all the major areas. It’s exciting,’ Kelly Hatt said. ‘It’s good to see that finally we’re concentrating on the people side of things as well as the infrastructure.’

Exclusive FCCA training partner

Aquila has been the FCCA’s exclusive training partner since 2010.

FCCA Customer Service and Frontline Training has been delivered to more than 35 destinations this year alone. More than a thousand guides have achieved Tour Guide Excellence certification. For example, in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic, 178 guides were trained in person, and 100 in Colombia. Guadeloupe, St. Maarten, St. Lucia, the US Virgin Islands and Cayman Islands are some of the other places training was facilitated.

Aquila is investing heavily in its online programs, a must for scaling, however Kelly Hatt said Caribbean destinations particularly like in-person training.

Another offering, the ACE Tour Operator Designation, is conducted via Skype to enable one-to-one coaching and mentoring. ‘It has really grown,’ Kelly Hatt said. ‘Cruise lines are seeing it make a difference.’ The management teams of 35 tour operators have achieved ACE designation.

New model for sourcing multilingual guides

Sourcing multilingual guides is a current focus. In Aquila Tours’ hometown of Saint John, New Brunswick, for example, there were no German-, Portuguese- or Italian-speaking guides. Now, as a result of concerted efforts, Aquila has recruited 14 German-speaking guides for TUI Cruises and AIDA Cruises and one or two guides who speak Japanese, Portuguese, Italian and Spanish, as well as English- and French-speakers. For MSC Cruises, all seven languages are covered.

The initiative entailed outreach to a German restaurant, consulates, multicultural organizations and social media. As a result, Aquila has written a process for sourcing foreign-language guides and created a model it can sell. A pilot program was carried out in Southampton and replicated in Scotland.

Apart from its increasingly vast training efforts, Aquila continues as one of Canada/New England’s top shore excursion providers. This month Aquila Tours was recognized by Carnival Cruise Line as its Leading Tour Operator for Canada & New England 2018 – 2019.

‘We admire your commitment to excellent business practices, your company’s position as a leading provider of shore excursions and your reputation for first-class service,’ Erika Tache, senior director, product development, marketing and operations, Carnival Adventures, wrote in Aquila’s commendation.

‘Good To Great’

Founded in 1982, Aquila Tours had been thriving for decades before Kelly Hatt got fired up by the business book ‘Good To Great.’

‘I stayed up all night reading it. I bought eight copies for the team and said: “We’re doing this. We’re going to concentrate on cruise.”’ Aquila formed the Center for Excellence, initially focused on guide training and certification. Carnival executive Mico Cascais opened the door for training in Mexico, and Aquila quickly recognized that an online course would be vital to sustaining the program.

‘Our goal at the time was to Aquilafy the world,’ Kelly Hatt said. ‘I was gong to retire,’ she added. ‘I’m loving this. I was meant to be a mentor, teacher and coach.’

And now she’s writing her own book.