Over the last few weeks I have been focussing on the challenges and opportunities facing small businesses working in the tourism industry.

Tourism is an ideal industry for groups of friends or families or villages and communities to get into together. Many families, all over the Pacific, operate small scale accommodation or tours or special events.  There is nothing better than working alongside our friends and our sons and daughters, our uncles and aunts, our parents or distant relatives.  We can have fun together, we already know each other, we assume we are all on the same wave length.

However, there are many examples of businesses run by friends or family not working so what can go wrong?

Firstly, just because we know someone well or are related to them does not mean that we will be able to work together.  When recruiting strangers we understand the need to advertise and recruit properly and ask for references.  We often forget to do that or believe it is unnecessary when it comes to friends or family.  Because we know someone in one way we think they will automatically work out in the business.  Employing friends or family members should be no different to employing strangers – if necessary, get someone from outside the family to help and ask them to run an objective recruitment process.

Obligation is obviously a challenge throughout the Pacific and of course if we can offer good employment to people close to us then we would all want to do that.  But it has to be on merit – it has to be earned, especially in the eyes of other employees.

A small family run tourism business has huge advantage when it comes to providing a real family experience to customers. It is so much nicer than spending time in a larger organisation with people who are too busy to care.  Promote the fact that you are a family business on your website or Facebook but make sure that everyone is trained professionally and that they have the skills and attitudes required by anyone working in tourism.  At work they should be treated as a member of the work team along with all other team members – not given special attention because they happen to be a close relative or friend.

The challenge is to focus on the strengths of employing people you are close to while at the same time working hard to avoid the pitfalls that are well documented.  Make sure you use the best possible employment practices.  This will send a good message to the friend or family member that, if they get the job, they get it on merit not because of who they are, and it will send a good message to the rest of team.

Small businesses often are praised for their family values – being close-knit, supportive, friendly, helpful, caring. These values combined with productivity, profitability, professionalism, responsibility and teamwork are largely unbeatable and should be within the grasp of most tourism small businesses.

It is obviously challenging for the business owner or leader – they have to address issues that are likely to be uncomfortable.  Address them at the beginning of the employment relationship before final decisions are made.  Be clear about the way you want to run your business, have transparent and consistent systems and treat everyone fairly.  Make sure everyone is in the business because they have the right skills and attitudes and are able to contribute to business success – no business, especially SMEs, can afford passengers!

If you have any tourism issues you would like me to cover during this series, please contact me.

Coming next, the final article in this special series – tourism, our economic future.


Chris Elphick is Partner in Breadfruit Consulting, supporting the development of a range of businesses and organisations in Melanesia and other parts of the Pacific.  He is an experienced trainer, coach and business mentor and has years of experience of working with Small & Medium Enterprises.  He and his partner Hazel Kirkham live in Vanuatu. Breadfruit Consulting is also involved with developing mentoring services for new and young entrepreneurs.

Breadfruit Consulting is a registered business advice services provider with Business Link Pacific, a New Zealand funded programme that encourages SMEs to seek professional advice by offering up to 50% subsidy of the cost subject to conditions. We provide advice, coaching and training to businesses and public sector organisations.

If you have an issue or query related to this article, please contact Chris at chris@breadfruitconsulting.com or text to +6785500556. Go to www.breadfruitconsulting.com for more information and ideas.

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