From The Mag

Killing The Competition, La Barrie Style

Jennie and Conrad La Barrie
Written by James La Barrie

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Originally printed abridged in issue #62 (February 2015) of Blue Skies Magazine.
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It’s important that we all realize that skydiving isn’t in the skydiving industry; it’s in the hospitality industry.

My parents are extraordinary people. Aside from being married for more than 38 years, they have also worked together in their professional lives since they returned to Antigua from London in 1977 with me, a baby of six weeks old. Since then, they have managed two hotels, helped create one of Antigua’s most successful tour companies, created a successful incentive travel company and are now in their 14th year of running an eco-kayaking operation, Antigua Paddles (check them out at

Jennie and Conrad La Barrie

Jennie and Conrad La Barrie

Any victory I’ve had in the skydiving industry has been the result of what I’ve learned from watching my parents run their business with meticulous detail. Every venture they have managed or owned has been remarkably successful because of their passion for excellence. When consulting with businesses, I look at them as my parents would. My parents’ recipe for success is applicable to any organization, including drop zones. Here are the five most important ingredients to building a successful business from a couple of entrepreneurs I’m not ashamed to trumpet … my parents.

Being Passionate.
My parents have never pursued anything they weren’t passionate about, and I believe this is the most important ingredient to their success. Being from the Caribbean, they have been rooted in hospitality and their joy comes from pleasing people. They are driven by the desire to deliver a great experience above being driven by the desire to make a dollar. They’ve realized that when the focus is placed on providing an excellent customer experience, the money will take care of itself.

Hard Working.
I’ve not met two more hard working people than my parents. My mother is 65 and is still up at 10 p.m. answering inquiries about their kayaking tour. I always hear her say, “Response, response, response.” She recognizes that part of delivering a great experience is providing a quick and detailed response. Not only does my mother write beautifully, she also makes an effort to personalize each email, providing extra information, photos and other details that make each guest feel well taken care of. Through her correspondence, she ensures that customers know that this little mom and pop business is different—that they are passionate about what they do. Above all else, my mother makes it clear that booking a tour with anyone else would be a mistake.

Diligent on Details.
Coordinating transportation to and from the cruise ship, boats and kayaks for hundreds of guests each day is the easiest part of their operation! The real challenge is in maintaining an unwavering attention to detail day in and day out, and this is what separates my family’s business from so many others. They are extremely organized, and treat each day as if it’s a Broadway show. The grounds are immaculately cleaned each morning. Garden beds are raked, shrubs are pruned and improvements are continuously being made. Maintenance is ongoing to ensure that every piece of equipment from their seven boats to their 140 life jackets is in tip-top condition all of the time. It is exhausting work!

PD New Beginning

The level of training my father provides to the guides who work for him is thorough. It is similar to what you might expect from guides at DisneyWorld; no detail is too small. The guides at Paddles have been trained to understand non-verbal communication is a language all its own; slouching, hands in pockets, hats turned backward are big ‘no-nos.’ Extending hands to ladies boarding boats is the norm, and ensuring guides know how to deliver the tour with “diction and clarity” is not overlooked. It’s a show and you’re only as good as your last performance is their mentality. If you visit TripAdvisor and read their reviews, you’ll see that people notice the attention to detail because it stands out from most other tours.

Many of my clients will tell you that I have fervor (an obsession maybe) for clean bathrooms; this comes from my parents. Their bathrooms have been heralded by many of their guests as the cleanest they’ve encountered in the Caribbean. It may seem insignificant, but clean bathrooms are actually a huge competitive advantage for my parents. Why? Because it’s a detail most businesses overlook, and one that most customers never forget, for better or for worse. As a business with more than 90 competitors all vying for the same tourists, my parents are exacting on the details because they have to be. It’s either sink or swim. They understand that if they can take each customer experience and make it memorable then they will continue to grow one guest at a time.

I’ve received praise over the years for the way I’ve managed a few businesses, but everything I know about running a successful operation, I learned from my parents. It’s important that we all realize that skydiving isn’t in the skydiving industry; it’s in the hospitality industry. We are putting on a show every day in which the actual “skydive” is just one component. The best operations today are the ones that are passionate about the details and work diligently to ensure that every customer receives a lifelong memory that begins long before they board the plane.

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