By Max Clarke

People 1st — the sector skills council for the hospitality, leisure, tourism and travel (HLTT) industries — is urging British businesses to learn from its Canadian counterparts and invest in customer service training now to ensure they make the most of the estimated £2bn that could be generated from visitors to the Olympics in 2012.

Research by People 1st has shown that sixty-eight percent of businesses in the UK which implemented customer service training said generating repeat business was a key benefit while 18 percent said they saw increased sales.

The UK is ranked a disappointing 14th in the international customer service rankings and 13th for its perceived ‘Welcome’ by the annual Nation Brand Index Survey. People 1st’s State of the Nation 2010 research report highlighted that 65 percent of businesses reporting skills gaps stated staff lacked necessary customer service skills.

To tackle this, People 1st has launched a new campaign to train 200,000 hospitality and tourism staff ahead of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, and other world class events being hosted in the UK including the 2014 Ryder Cup and Commonwealth Games, and the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

Miles Templeman, director general of the Institute of Directors, comments: “The Olympics offer an outstanding opportunity for the UK. From an economic perspective, many businesses in the UK will profit and we want to make sure that SMEs get just as many opportunities to benefit as larger businesses. It also offers the UK the opportunity to advance its reputation and show the world what a great country we are. To make sure Britain is at its best, the standard of our customer service needs attention. It is imperative for businesses to invest in the people who will be on the front line, hosting our visitors and acting as ambassadors for the rest of the country.”

To train the target of 200,000 people, a programme which has already been used successfully at the Vancouver Winter Olympics, where it was used to train 39,000 volunteers and tourism staff earlier this year, has been developed for the UK by People 1st, with the support of VisitEngland.

The WorldHost training programme is set to raise the standard and delivery of customer service training in the UK and has the backing of the Institute of Directors and leading businesses including McDonald’s, who will be embedding the WorldHost customer service training in their employee development programme, and Flybe.

In addition, major venues and events including the London Eye, Warwick Castle, Twickenham Stadium, Epsom Downs Racecourse, Ricoh Arena, Royal Ascot and the British Open will all be using the WorldHost customer service training for their teams. People 1st has also agreed a partnership with four other sector skills councils, Skillsmart Retail (retail), Creative & Cultural Skills (craft, cultural heritage, design, literature, music, performing arts and visual arts), GoSkills (passenger transport) and SkillsActive (sports and fitness) to take the programme across their industries.

WorldHost customer service training includes additional learning modules on serving customers with disabilities, service across cultures and the ambassador workshop, particularly aimed at volunteers assisting visitors to our country.

Brian Wisdom, CEO of People 1st, comments: “There is a lot of focus on developing the infrastructure for the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games but not enough on ensuring we have the softer skills needed to welcome the world to Britain. It’s anticipated that up to half a million visitors will arrive for the Games and we need to ensure their experience of Britain is a very positive one.

“We plan to do something about what everyone recognises is a real need. The HLTT sector is one of the UK’s largest employers and the ‘visitor economy’ contributes over 8% of GDP. If we reach our target of 200,000 it will make a real difference to the experience people have as well as the revenue generated.”

The HLTT sector is one of the UK’s largest employers. It employs almost two million people. The campaign has set a target to train 10% (200,000) with the WorldHost programme before the London 2012 Olympics.