Beach panel, FIU work to polish hospitality services
By Claudio Mendonça
The Miami Beach Visitor and Convention Authority is setting high goals to elevate the quality of tourism services. By partnering with Florida International University, the tourism entity wants to erase Miami Beach's image of not being customer-friendly.
The authority is striving to enhance services by continuing The Customer and You, a free program funded by the City of Miami Beach that began in July to improve service levels. Sessions, held for four hours monthly, are open to all tourism-related professionals on the Beach.
"We will have a pep rally in June to kick off the summer season and Miami Spice Restaurant Month," said Stephen Haas, chairman of the authority.
Hotels show employees a 20-minute video, Mr. Haas said, with scenarios highlighting positive and negative aspects of tourist experiences - from taking an airport taxi to the hotel to dealing with front-desk employees.
Hospitality services seem to be a weakness in South Florida. Zagat's restaurant survey, which ranks restaurant quality in major US cities, said 83% of 5,000 customers surveyed disapproved of the quality of service in South Florida restaurants.
"I don't think service is terrible," said Customer and You instructor Sabina Tonarelli-Frey, an adjunct professor at Florida International University and a former human-resources director at Loews Miami Beach. "What we need to do is fine-tune with all areas of the industry."
Ms. Tonarelli-Frey speculated that the tourism industry here doesn't focus enough on serving travelers well.
The Visitor and Convention Authority is in talks with FIU to develop full-credit courses on services in the university's hospitality program.
A notorious problem in hospitality here, Ms. Tonarelli-Frey said, has been lack of consistency.
"What we notice is that one day, service is good, and the next day, it is bad," she said. "Customers are becoming savvier, and level of expectation is higher."
A high number of new five-star hotels and restaurants here, she said, has elevated customer expectations. But a large percentage of the hospitality workforce, she said, is young people who are not "accustomed to a high level of service."
But, Ms. Tonarelli-Frey said, she is impressed with how involved students are getting in trying to turn service deficits around.
And, said Customer and You program coordinator Claudia Castillo, "response from industry professionals has been phenomenal."
"We've been having hotel managers and team leaders recommending their assistants to attend seminars," said Ms. Castillo, assistant director of the institute of hospitality and tourism education at FIU. About 200 managers from all aspects of the industry attend the seminars. Ms. Castillo stressed that students enjoy the course because of the small number of participants.
Customer and You seminars are held throughout the year at the Miami Beach Hispanic Community Center, 1701 Normandy Dr. on South Beach, Ms. Castillo said. Open to professionals in all tourist-related business on the Beach, the course has a limit of 20 per class. The next session is scheduled to begin Jan. 24.
Registration information: (305) 867-0051.