For this Spotlight edition, we're focusing on Aqua Mania Adventures, the largest tour and activity company in St Maarten and one of the top operators in the Caribbean. The company provides all sorts of experiences to travellers: from hiking to diving to cruising around St Maarten in a catamaran, customers are spoilt with choices.
I was lucky enough to interview Debby Lind-Steyn who currently works as a manager at the company. Having 25 years of experience under her belt, I'm excited to share some of her pearls of wisdom with all of you.
1. Can you introduce yourself and what you do for the company? What is your experience the tour and activity industry?
My name is Debby Lind-Steyn and I arrived 25 years ago from South Africa. I started working for Aqua Mania Adventures, then known as Pelican Watersports, at the original Pelican Resort and Marina in Simpson Bay. I started out at the front desk in ticket sales and customer service, and then moved on to marketing, HR, and eventually (became a) manager at the company.
2. Who started Aqua Mania and how old is the company? How big is your team at the moment?
Two entrepreneurial partners started Aqua Mania Adventures - at the time (30 years ago) it was just a watersports company. Waterskiing and parasailing were hot and happening, but soon it started to expand and more activities and boats were added.
Over the years, the company has grown to be the largest watersports and boat trip company on St Maarten. Aqua Mania Adventures has a fleet of 10 boats and over 50 staff members, making it a highly recommended and popular tour operator, which sees many return guests, some who have witnessed the company grow, know the owners personally and have seen the same staff members for over 20 years.
3. How did Aqua Mania first begin? What challenges did you face when first starting the company?
The company started with the two partners and just 3 jet skis at a picnic table on the edge of the Simpson Lagoon. They were waterskiers who came to St Maarten in the winter to teach waterskiing and saw an opportunity in the market to start a watersports company. They lived on French baguette and cans of tuna, until things took off and they were able to secure a contract at the Pelican Resort.
Timeshare was a booming industry at the time and since there were few operators around, they found their niche. Very few local people could swim or operate boats and so the work was done personally by the owners and a handful of expatriates and locals (who were) eager to learn. There were few rules and regulations, and the owners soon pioneered many of the procedures in place today in the Marine Industry on the island.
4. Where are your guides from? How do you train them to ensure that your tours are of the same high quality?
Our staff come from all around the Caribbean islands, with many living on St Maarten for most of their lives. Others come from a bit further away, like South Africa and Europe. Our captains and crew all have the proper certification and training to work on our boats, in addition to that customer service has been a part of their initial training.
The company’s policy is to treat all guests how you would like to be treated, give them unforgettable adventures and always let them leave with a smile on their face.
Workshops are organized on a bimonthly basis to maintain our customer service at the highest level, and to further develop our skills and knowledge by touching upon the latest trends regarding our industry and location. We run the workshops for our staff based on guidelines from an online course that most of them are following now. We also follow webinars and share that information with our staff.
To me, customer service skills and time management are the two most important skills my staff can learn. But they require daily motivation, reminders and constant training and focus. I help them out by sharing interesting articles that are relevant to the skills I want the to develop.
5. Where are most of your customers from and how do they first hear about your company and your tours?
Most of our customers come from the United Sates and Canada, but during the summer months, we also see a healthy influx from the Caribbean and Europe. Since we are based in a large resort, guests staying there will find out about us prior to their arrival and upon their arrival. Local activity desks at other resorts and hotels actively promote and book our activities as well.
We have found that word of mouth is still one of the strongest means for people to find out about us and nowadays, TripAdvisor adds to that significantly.
Having an online booking system makes us stand out in comparison with similar local businesses, the convenience of booking in advance is a very attractive feature.
Furthermore, our online marketing presence, through social media, SEO and other campaigns boost our visibility and interaction with our customers, makes it easier to book trips prior to arrival.
6. How did you hear about TrekkSoft? What made you decide to use our software?
It was time to upgrade our website and an online booking system was the way to go. Although there are many different companies that offer this, our company needed almost a customized booking system as we offer such a large variety of trips, each with their own add-ons, etc. We found TrekkSoft on the internet by searching, and then started to see the Google ads popping up as well as a big ad presence on Facebook.
Our main reason for utilizing TrekkSoft was for people to book our trips directly online, accept payments, and have them organized before they even arrive in St Maarten. These options increased our bookings and makes online marketing a lot easier for us.
7. Where do you see Aqua Mania Adventures in the next 10 years?
For us, we need to move away from paper and pen systems and get totally automated so we can cut down on laborious procedure and tasks. It is my hope that we spend more time and effort focusing on pre-bookings before guests reach the island, so that they can fully enjoy their vacation in St Maarten.
Finally, I would like to see Aqua Mania Adventures raising the bar when it comes to delivering excellent tours and activities on the island. I would like to be able to take the focus off quantities of trips and channel that energy into raising the quality of our trips.
What did you think of this article? Let us know in the comments below!
Interested in learning more about how TrekkSoft's features can help you manage your tours and activities better?
Written by Nicole Kow
Having graduated from the UK, Nicole travelled around Europe before joining TrekkSoft's marketing team. She is now based in KL and regularly blogs about her travels at Next Train Out.