FCCA Travel and Cruise Magazine – 3rd Quarter 2022

Keeping a team together during tough times 

These have been challenging times for anyone in the tourism and cruise industry and many of us had come out of 2019 strong and Aquila was no different. Some of us in the industry have fared better than others and some didn’t make it. Today I’d like to share how Aquila managed change through the pandemic, what we learned, and what we did to keep our team together.

One of the first and best decisions we made early in March 2020 was to invest in the team as we strongly believe that the team is our biggest asset and one we could not bounce back easily without. We had a bit of a war chest, money we had saved over the years, and instead of saying we would lose hundreds of thousands of dollars in 2020, we changed the narrative and decided together that we would invest those dollars in keeping the team together and the doors open – virtually! It would mean adaptability, flexibility and belief on the part of everyone on the team that we would be ok. But who knew? Who was prepared for a world pandemic?

Like many others in the industry, we adjusted, shifted, and altered our plans constantly. Aquila was affected in both our tour operations in Port Saint John with the ban on cruise in Canada and our on-site training with the travel restrictions. With the ban on cruises entering Canada and with international travel restrictions heightening, both Aquila’s tour operations in Port Saint John and Aquila’s on-site training in international destinations were impacted. Throughout these two years, we’ve continued to be blown away by the resilience of our team. I’ve asked myself this question many times over the past two years… ‘what continues to drive us and how will this pandemic change us?’

Zoom brainstorming became a daily exercise asking how we could bring training to those in need in an efficient and effective way virtually and online. Most of us in the team were used to being on the pier welcoming guests and managing dispatches – could they do a full 360 and start imagining where they could shine? Was it building PowerPoints, developing online programs, producing short videos, writing and editing… or delivering Zoom workshops? Our first virtual workshop was an FCCA Preparing Your Community series which we offered free of charge to cruise partner members, and then we spent two years developing and delivering virtual programs to over 12,000 participants.

Yet , the biggest challenge was managing change internally with the team. In a year where mental health was such a very real issue, we learned how important team support is in the health of the company. And how working from home can be a gift for some and a difficulty for others, some revelling in being able to work quietly and alone, while others were troubled about losing the connections and interactions they needed. I would be one of those who works best in the company of others and 2020 proved itself particularly challenging in that regard.

One question of major focus was how we could remain relevant to our clients in today’s situation, what did the tourism and cruise industry need and how could we fill that void quickly and in a virtual way?

Reflecting on how we kept everyone going while dealing with uncertainties, fears, and so much more, here are some of our learnings:

  1. Our first lesson was the importance if keeping the communication lines open and being brutally honest about our own fears as we could not predict the future and we all knew we were in unchartered territory. From March 2020 to today, we have kept regular 9am Zoom calls. Some of those 9am Zooms were made to simply check in with everyone, some to brainstorm new ideas, and others to do fun activities that kept the hype up and helped team motivation and engagement. Another successful virtual team bonding was our weekly Friday Cocktail Power Hour at the end of every week. Sometimes these were themed to add some fun, almost always with a beverage, sometimes snacks were delivered ahead to add an element of surprise. When you can’t see each other in person, this regular team togetherness became our lifeline.
    1. Another lesson learned was witnessing the resilience of the team and the strength of spirit and how all their energies were channelled towards survival of the company. We reformed what had been doom and gloom with new possibilities, opportunities, and different outcomes. Even more inspiring was the extreme support for each other. These two years made us closer as a team as we rallied to fight for a common goal of helping the company survive.
    1. Finally, 2020 was a lesson in reinvention. Reinventing ourselves, reimagining our training programs, adapting our social media and web presence to a new way of doing business. Yes, we are going through the biggest challenge of Aquila’s 40 years, but we came to it with a good runway, an Aquilamazing team and the knowledge and belief that we would make it. We asked our clients where they sae biggest needs, listened to webinars and talks from industry leaders, studied and researched what trends were emerging, and analyzed what problems needed solutions. Then, we hit the ground running to get those programs developed, increased our web presence, and figured out new ways of adapting.

When this pandemic started, we didn’t know it would be 30 months with no cruise and no travelling. In the end, despite falling short on our revenue goals, we compensated for it on so many other fronts that were important for Aquila’s long-term strategy and sustainability: the skill-building and lessons learned for our whole team, the strengthening and loyalty of our customer base, the expansion of our virtual training programs and the increasing course development, the new website in both English and Spanish with videos and tips for clients. In the end, all of these were remarkable investments in Aquila’s future, two years that could otherwise have been a total loss.

In closing, to all our partners and friends reading this, we say Thank You for your continued support. We look forward to years of continued growth and collaboration with all of you, and we look forward to celebrating Aquila’s 40th year with lots of community sharing and giving.

Beth Kelly Hatt is the President of Aquila’s Center for Cruise Excellence, the FCCA’s official training partner. Aquila’s approach to training is one of assessing the needs of a destination or operator and developing a strategic training plan that helps raise the level of excellence throughout the destination. Contact Beth for more information at Beth@CruiseExcellence.com

In 2022, Aquila is celebrating 40 Years as a tour operator in Port Saint John, Canada and 15 years as a trainer and coach for the cruise industry.