(Originally published on Marketplace Excellence – Caribbean Report Newsletter, edited)

Cruise tourism has been a major contributor to national economies around the world for decades, creating jobs and bringing visitors who spend money locally. More recent trends include a focus on promoting health and safety, concerted efforts to enhance environmental sustainability and achieve carbon neutrality, and a commitment to destination stewardship and responsible tourism.

Over the recent few weeks, we have been sharing strategies for delivering excellent service to cruise tourists (as well as stayover visitors). Beth Hatt, the author, is the founder of Aquila Center for Cruise Excellence, the leading destination training provider for the global cruise industry, for providing an “insider’s” perspective. For more than 15 years, Aquila has been elevating the visitor experience through service excellence.

4. Managing difficult situations and resolving conflict

After gaining an understanding of the value of shore excursion programs to cruise lines, how to deliver excellent service to guests, the need for communication and collaboration, and appreciating cultural differences, the final installment in our series takes a look at an often-overlooked piece of the puzzle – handling difficult situations.

Let’s face it … conflict is inevitable. Without a doubt, front-line personnel are going to come face-to-face with a potentially unpleasant situation at some point during their service.

While these occasions can be uncomfortable, the good news is that by following a few basic guidelines, service providers can minimize conflict and restore a positive, peaceful atmosphere for all parties.

For example, if a guest is not complying with clearly stated rules or is disregarding helpful advice that has been offered, it is incumbent upon the tour guide or other responsible representative to take steps to maintain decency and order. Here are some tips:

  • Take the guest aside – privately, if possible – and be discreet so as to not draw attention to him or her in a public setting.
  • Identify the non-compliance or undesirable behavior (i.e., what it is that the guest is – or isn’t – doing). State the policy and indicate how the behavior needs to change. It’s important to talk about the behavior, not the person. Making statements about the guest’s character is likely to put him or her on the defensive.
  • If the guest still chooses not to comply, it may be necessary to engage the assistance of a supervisor or manager to determine next steps. Most of the time, guests respect and follow the rules, especially after a friendly, but firm, reminder.

One of the most effective ways to handle difficult situations and resolve conflicts is to Listen, Acknowledge, Solve, and Thank (LAST). Applying these principles in a respectful, thoughtful manner can result in satisfied guests who are more likely to leave with positive impressions and memories of their experiences.

Listen. There’s a reason listening is first on the list. It sends a message to the unsatisfied party that his or her concerns are important. It’s essential to listen actively and carefully without interrupting or becoming defensive. 

Acknowledge. After the guest has expressed his or her concerns, acknowledge and restate what was conveyed. Unhappy guests want to feel understood and know that their complaints have been heard, so asking clarifying questions is entirely appropriate, as needed. Assuring guests that their satisfaction is the ultimate goal can also go a long way towards reducing tension.

Solve. To the extent that it is practical, front-line staff should be empowered to take steps towards addressing and solving problems guests may encounter. Simple solutions are always preferred, but there may be times when it is necessary to involve a manager or supervisor. In either case, the guest should be advised of the steps that are being taken to resolve the conflict.

Thank. Last, but by no means least, after the difficult situation has been managed, the guest should be thanked for sharing his or her concerns and giving the vendor, tour operator or other provider an opportunity to resolve the conflict. Often, these situations are learning experiences for service providers, allowing them to improve their product and offer more excellent experiences for future guests.