What will it take for yachting to see that interior training is commercially viable? If the reaction from the first PYA GUEST Awareness Workshop held earlier this week is anything to go by, the industry is slowly but surely waking up to the fact that everyone benefits from a professionally trained interior crew.
Around 50 agents and brokers from Camper & Nicholsons, Edmiston, Hill Robinson, Crew Unlimited, Burgess and Northrop & Johnson attended the day-long MYBA-sponsored event at the Royal Hotel in Antibes along with Bluewater’s Training Director John Wyborn and Chief Operations Officer Sarah Corn to see what the owners and captains they represent are missing.
John summed up the ethos of the day stating: ‘All the training providers here today are in competition with each other but the secret to success is to work together. We must support them and make this an industry standard.’
MYBA president Fiona Maureso revealed that the idea for the workshop came during last year’s Monaco Yacht Show, when a charter broker was asked to judge a table setting competition. ‘She came away feeling she knew nothing about the service side of the industry,’ said Fiona. ‘Training gives a sense of self-worth, value and expertise.’
Terry Gilmore of Abacus & March and Peter Vogel, Maarten Bogaerts and Ton de Wit of Interior Yacht Services provided a snapshot of everything required from interior crew, from succeeding at interview stage, laying a table correctly and performing silver service through to packing a suitcase (tissue paper and ziplock bags were the secret ingredients!)
Former chief stewardess Lynne Edwards, now with The Crew Academy, explained: ‘Whatever the raw material, we can work on that. You only have one chance to make a first impression. Personal presentation doesn’t happen in half an hour. You need high levels of stamina to do this job so we encourage people to eat properly, take care of themselves, have good personal hygiene and take exercise. It’s a very image conscious industry and a lot of the stress can be taken away by interior training.’
As the morning seminars unfolded, there was an honest exchange of views between training providers and company representatives. One yacht manager confessed that he had several owners who were becoming increasingly frustrated at the number of interior crew being sent to him with no formal training. ‘There are a lot of annoyed owners out there who want better,’ he added. As one former charter broker put it: ‘People remember the experience on board, not the fixtures and fittings. If you know several yachts and one has exemplary, well trained staff, which one will you recommend?’
Another asked whether seasonal crew, who may be looking for work purely to fund their degree, would benefit from a training course. The resounding answer from the PYA, A&M and IYS was that yes, even a three day introductory course would lead to better prepared new interior crew and might encourage students with long holidays to return to yachting every summer. ‘Why is our industry employing crew who have never worked in service before or who have no qualifications?’ asked Joey Meen, Director of Training and Certification at the PYA. ‘With 48,000 staff in the sector, a staff shortage of 30,000 is anticipated over the next five years. We need to set a new industry standard. ’
Part of the value in the GUEST course is to redress the imbalance - and respect - between crew. Deck crew, chefs and engineers need a slew of qualifications whereas currently, interior crew do not. ‘It gives you confidence to be able to walk onto a boat and know what you are doing,’ added Terry, who has more than four decades of yachting experience and also runs Abacus & March. ‘Every owner and every boat is individual but we can teach the elementaries.’
Peter Vogel, who spent eight years working for Microsoft owner Paul Allen on M/Y Octopus, helped to create a human resource programme on board with his owner that resulted in Octopus’s 85% crew turnover dwindling dramatically as more and more crew chose to stay for longer. ‘It’s important to identify the spirit of service,’ he added. ‘You need physical energy to be healthy, thought energy, whereby you are not reactive but proactive, and spiritual energy to focus on being in the here and now.’
As guests enjoyed a cream tea and a glass of prosecco, Joey Meen congratulated the speakers and training providers for hosting the first of what she hopes will be a regular fixture on the yachting conference calendar. ‘The feedback today has been amazing, it has been a fun, positive environment and it’s exciting to see so many people here who are keen to learn more,’ she said.
‘It is fundamental that the outer circle of the industry, the representatives of owners and guests, understand fully the importance of training. I don’t believe many people realise quite how much information interior crew have to know. As a department, the interior has been left behind with regards to training, respect on board and investment with training budgets. The mental attitude has always been you can get a job as a stewardess if you’ve worked in a restaurant before.
‘As one owner said to me, we sell our industry with the highest quality in terms of products, furnishings and design but what is the point if we don’t invest anything in the front line of the industry? If the interior crew are not performing and giving a seven star service, none of it matters.
‘The GUEST programme is very current. We do research and keep up with the trends, continuously updating our course lessons with new products and services, even down to wines that are becoming more popular.
‘GUEST is yacht specific but can be transferred into other areas for life after yachting, like hotel and house management. It is multi-faceted and gives the crew confidence with charter brokers and agents. We have to unite to make this work and give it some power. It has to be industry led and built and that is what a workshop like this is doing. The industry and the people here today could demand the course as a minimum standard for their interior crew and it could become a mandatory requirement. That is our hope.
‘We would love to expand and do a workshop in Fort Lauderdale, one in Palma and one in Antibes every year. And we will also think about organising an awareness day like this for captains, too.’
Fiona Maureso added: ‘It has been a big eye opener as everyone starts to understand the amount of work that goes on behind the scenes. We would love to do this again. Spread the word!’