Ron Kaufman on building distinctive service culture in Maldives’ saturated hospitality sector
Maldives hospitality industry is becoming more and more saturated, with at least a dozen new openings every year. But in terms of product offerings, there is so much hoteliers can do. Every resort in the Maldives is blessed with powder soft white sand beaches, palm trees, and turquoise waters that hide gardens of corals and a rich marine life.
So what can hoteliers do to stand out? The answer lies perhaps in service excellence.
With that in mind, the newly formed Maldives Association of Human Resource Professionals (MAHRP) has announced plans to bring world’s leading customer experience consultant Ron Kaufman to the Maldives.
The event, titled Secrets of Achieving Superior Service Excellence, will be held on August 4 at the main auditorium of the Maldives National University. During this one-day event, Ron will share powerful insights on achieving a sustainable competitive advantage through uplifting service, which has delivered substantial business results in many major companies around the world. His vast experience and scope with customer service experience across a range of businesses, from government agencies to world-class multinational companies including Singapore Airlines, Changi International Airport, Xerox, Marina Bay Sands, Wipro, Singtel, American Express, HP and Nokia will also be shared as a part of this learning experience.
As MAHRP gears up for its first major event, Maldives Insider speaks to Ron about his personal visits to the Maldives, his take on the country’s hospitality industry, and his partnership with the first professional association in the Maldives dedicated to human resources development.
Maldives Insider: When did you first visit the Maldives? What were your first impressions?
Ron Kaufman: I’ve always been a scuba diver. I moved to Singapore from the US in 1990, and within the first 18 months, I visited the Maldives. I was impressed by the physical beauty of the destination. It’s warm and wonderful. It’s an economy designed for tourism. The local people fit the physical environment. And I was happy here.
MI: What motivated you to keep on returning to the Maldives?
RK: I found it as a place to scuba dive, read, and enjoy with my wife. When our daughter was growing up, we brought her here and she got to enjoy the joy of the Maldives. So, we just kept coming back.
It’s a five-hour flight from Singapore, so it’s conveniently located. I actually prefer Maldives because it’s pure Maldivian. If you go to Phuket, it’s Thai and a mix of many other influences. If you go to Bali, it’s Indonesian and a mix of many other influences. But if you come to the Maldives, you’re in the Maldives and it’s pure!
MI: What have you noticed from the service culture of Maldivian resorts? How would you compare it to other similar destinations?
RK: Maldivian hospitality has a unique dynamic, which is a result of the percentage of Maldivians working in the industry. There’s a national culture that exists, and it’s part of the hospitality culture of any resort here.
The management of every resort tends to involve a certain number of non-Maldivians, and they bring with them the ethos, style and expertise. They’re trying to create certain standards for guests who’re also not Maldivians. So, there’s a very unique dynamic. For example, if you go to Phuket, you’ll find Thai guests as well as Thai workers, and it’s a more fluidly cosmopolitan environment. Here, it’s a more national environment in which there are expatriate managers and a global guest population.
MI: With the rapid changes taking place in the Maldivian hospitality sphere, what’re the challenges in terms of human resources?
RK: Every resort is competing with each other. But as an industry, the Maldivian hospitality sector should be competing with Mauritius, Seychelles, Phuket, the Bahamas, Bali, Australia and every other place that has nice beaches.
Global tourism and the airline industry are also growing. People now have more choice. Maldives is not too close to a number of regions. It’s convenient to come to the Maldives from the Middle East and parts of Asia, but there are a lot of competing destinations that are also conveniently located. So why should they choose to come here?
The challenge at the national level is, how do we make the Maldivian hospitality experience so distinguishable and unique there’s a reputation for it globally.
MI: What has to be done to overcome those challenges?
RK: If you don’t have a good framework for understanding how to build a culture — how to create it, how to make it stronger, how to sustain it and how to differentiate it — you’re just grasping at straws, and you end up with all sorts of ingredients chopped and thrown in a bowl. It’s not the same as chopping certain types of things and making a perfect curry, a stew or a salad. In all of those situations, the ingredients are the same, but the end product is distinctive.
You can’t have a distinctive and sustainable culture unless you’ve a framework for thinking about it. What’re the components that lead the culture and how do you make it stronger? Most people in HR don’t have that mindset. They understand training, performance management, compensation and benefits. But the culture issue is not just related to HR. You need the leadership team and every member of the whole team to recognise it. That requires a framework that everybody can look at and understand.
MI: How important is it to develop local talent?
RK: There’s a gentleness to Maldivian hospitality. There’s a timidity when it comes to creativity. The willingness of Maldivians to say, I can be responsible for making something different, stronger, better, proactive and more responsive.
In general, people just wait for instructions. That’s what needs to change. From an HR development perspective, we want people who’re thinking ahead, looking at the big picture, anticipating what could be possible, and then constituting themselves as someone committed to make that happen, not waiting for that to happen. My job, as an expatriate, is not to tell you what to do, but to help you get what you need to achieve it; let’s say budget and technical support. I might have an opinion on what you can do, but you’ve to come up with what to do, how to do it and how to make it happen.
Everything is possible. That phrase immediately opens up opportunities; anything is possible, what are we going to do? Let’s do this and that. I don’t see that from most of the Maldivians. They’re just waiting for instructions. That needs to change.
MI: What more can be done to develop local talent?
RK: Take the lead. If you’re waiting to be given the chance to lead, you’ll be waiting a long time.
I was recently at my daughter’s graduation in the US, and one of the speakers advised the students: take charge and don’t wait to be given responsibility. Of course she was talking to a bunch of people graduating from university, and such advice was expected there. Here, you have local people who want to have a job, and be assessed well and be given a raise. Looking at what you can do for your boss is very different from looking at what you can do to make something happen in order to excite and delight your guests.
MI: What’s your message to locals wishing to join the industry?
RK: Develop your competence. Learn your skills. Learn your job. Develop sensibilities, so that in different situations you’ve good instincts as to what to do and what’s right. Develop your own creativity and your leadership ability to work with people and to make the future happen.
MI: Please comment on your partnership with MHARP. How do you think the organisation will help locals in the industry?
RK: I’m a friend, a fan, and in a way a family member. The birth of MAHRP is something I’m delighted about, and I’m lucky to be present during the pregnancy and for the birth of the organisation. Now we’ve a little baby. So, it’s a privilege to be able to contribute during the early stages of the association.
I think the future of the association should be incredibly strong for the nation. This country is so dependant on its human resources, for its commercial success and future. For young people who’re yet to begin their careers and for those who’re already working, they’d be able to grow their careers for the nation’s economy to be able to grow. I don’t think HR has been as much a world of concern as training, but it’s always been about getting a bunch of people for a job. But now everyone’s looking at it as more of a national database of humanity.
MI: What would your focus be at the upcoming event in the Maldives?
RK: It’ll be around building and sustaining a distinctive culture of excellence in service. It’s not just about how to give great service, but also about doing it in a culture that’s distinctive. There are 100 plus resorts in the Maldives and they all want to stand out from each other. How do you do that? You also have guests who come here with different expectations; some are here to play, some are here to relax, some are here to get healthy and heal, and some are here to get married. So, you want your team to be able to use its culture effectively, creatively and responsibly. But the culture itself needs to have some characteristic that stands out.
MI: What should attendees expect during the event?
RK: Enjoyment, entertainment, energy, education, and engagement with me as well as with everyone in the room. It’ll be a day well spent with somebody who loves the Maldives. They’ll find a teacher who’s a friend, a fan and a member of the family.
MI: How would the event help in developing the skills of seasoned and up-and-coming executives?
RK: For seasoned executives, the Uplifting Service architecture allows them to reflect on which areas they’re doing well and which areas they could do better. Sometimes the world of work is so full, you don’t see what’s going on and what’s ahead with the same kind of isolation. For example, if you’re working out on your body, you do a certain kind of exercise and your muscles feel that. But you don’t notice that until you did that particular kind of exercise. So, our overall framework would be helpful for seasoned executives.
For somebody who’s new to the industry, it’s more of seeing the big picture. You’ll be seeing not just how to be a good service provider, but also how to be a better service provider and how to think about the service culture of the entire organisation.
MI: What’s your message to potential participants, ahead of the event?
RK: Don’t miss this! There aren’t a lot of opportunities for a truly world-class, full day community event like this. You have the HR conference and the HR summit, and they’re all very good initiatives. I know in the future many more thought leaders will also come here. But in this particular case, you’ve a thought leader who adores the Maldives, and has been part of brands like One&Only and LUX*. I know what the competition is; the state of Four Seasons, Hilton and others.
So, don’t just come alone. Bring your team. Bring four to five people because the quality of conversation you’ll be having after this event will be very different from those you’ll be having if one person came along and later relayed the content to others in the team. You can’t influence someone’s biology the way you can influence by being in that room all day.
Interested in participating in a world-class customer service training seminar? You can register for the the Secrets of Achieving Superior Service Excellence with Ron Kaufman by contacting +960 7778035, via email to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com, or by filling this form.