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New from Aquila: Service Excellence COVID Edition and how to be ready for cruising's resumption

Aquila frontline service training spanned 10 locations across six islands in the BVI. More than 2,500 people were trained over two weeks
Before the British Virgin Islands reopened to tourism Dec. 1, the government needed to ensure frontline workers were trained in new health protocols and ready to make visitors feel welcome despite masks and distancing.

'Hospitality still needs to reign supreme, even in this era,' as BVI Tourist Board Director Clive McCoy put it.

2,500 workers trained

McCoy selected the Aquila Center for Cruise Excellence, which delivered training over two weeks in November to more than 2,500 hospitality providers, including taxi drivers, tour guides, airport personnel, hotel and spa staff.

This spanned 10 locations across six islands, spread over 11 workshops. Attendees gathered at a range of venues that allowed for safe distancing. The trainers, who were remote, were projected on big screens.

'Service Excellence: COVID-19 Edition'

Aquila's 'Service Excellence: COVID-19 Edition' is focused on giving people the skills and confidence they need to deliver excellent service while following the necessary protocols and procedures implemented by destinations and cruise lines.

Topics Include communication while wearing masks, fostering connections while distancing, touchless engagement and interactivity, sanitization as great service, encouraging guest compliance and managing difficult situations.

McCoy called Aquila 'a great match. We needed to get something done. They had exactly what we were looking for. Their training was good. It spoke to how to deliver service in this COVID-19 era, which is very important.'

Don't forget to smize

One point that made a lasting impression, he said, was 'smizing.'

That means smiling with the eyes, a term coined by supermodel Tyra Banks in 2009. It has taken on new significance in this masked time.

'As Caribbean people, we love to touch, we love to hug,' McCoy said. While that's not possible now, workers learned other ways to convey friendliness and warmth.

For BVI businesses to reopen, everyone had to be trained. Completion of the workshop, followed by a government inspection of facilities, led to Gold Seal certification, which McCoy said 'All our major properties earned.'

This is Aquila's 10th year of providing service excellence training. True to the team's penchant for fun, they celebrated with a TikTok challenge. And, as a tour operator for more than 35 years, the Saint John, New Brunswick-based company has a 'living lab' of experiences to incorporate into courses.

In 2019, trainers traveled to more than 35 destinations to lead workshops, their busiest year. The pandemic changed everything. No travel for training since Progreso, Mexico, in early March. And, with cruise ships not sailing, Aquila had no shore excursion business this year.

However, Aquila Founder Beth Kelly Hatt said 2020 gave time to pivot and adapt much of the training into online and virtual formats for a much wider scope. Timely new courses were developed, and a new website details all the offerings. There's also a Spanish version of, and courses are available in Spanish, too.

How to be ready for cruising's resumption

Among the new programs, Aquila created 'How to be Ready for the Resumption of Cruise,' a series of five workshops targeted at destinations, ports and tour operators. Topics include how to prepare your community to welcome ships, how to build an operational plan that adapts with change, how to reimagine product development and guest experiences, how to create a culture of service in destinations and organizations and how to deliver 'wow' experiences for cruise lines and guests.

Everyone needs to be acting on these things, Hatt said.

Aquila itself is 'working on our own operational plans and protocols to be ready for a 2021 season, however that may look. We’ve partnered with operators in Europe to learn from their lessons as well as taken every chance to listen to expert panels on the subject.'

Back to training, in 2020 Aquila has delivered 63 workshops and programs online and virtually to 5,696 participants from 27 countries. Besides BVI, Guadeloupe, Grenada and the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association (for which Aquila is exclusive training partner) have been among those.

Hatt said the company is also talking about training with Cruise Lines International Association and with Seatrade in 2021.