Anyone who has ever attended the delivery of a new corporate jet or been part of the wining and dining rampant at the major tradeshows knows that business aviation understands and values the importance of relationships. But I must say that my recent two weeks in Sicily on a Rick Steves tour made me see customer delight in a new way. To my husband’s and my great surprise, Rick Steves himself went on the tour with us. That’s when my schooling began.

Stay Curious and Let Your Enthusiasm Show

Steves has been doing tours since his college days. He wrote his first how-to-travel-Europe guidebook back in 1979. Yet he exhibited an infectious childlike excitement about everything we saw and did. His constant notetaking and questioning inspired me, a person also known to take a few notes and speak up a bit. Steves practiced what he preaches about being intensely aware of your surroundings and choosing the low-to-the-ground, culturally rich places over the cookie-cutter, five-star resorts. He encourages travelers to become temporary locals. Whenever we had the choice between glitz or charm, we veered toward the latter.

You Can Always Sharpen Your Game

Watching our tour guide, restaurant staff and others react to Steves and perform their jobs in front of him made me empathetic. His stature and celebrity added considerable pressure. I believe they would have done a good job whether or not Steves was there, but with him, they were hyperaware and on their A- games. Steves never lorded over anyone or created unnecessary demands. Just the opposite. I saw him as a servant leader. If he felt someone needed an extra hand – like passing out bottled water to the group – he jumped in and provided it. He set an example that encouraged his staff to do everything within their power to provide us with an exceptional experience. They succeeded.

Notice Details and Be Considerate

My husband and I mentioned our 32nd anniversary to several of our travel companions, but it was Steves who raised a glass on our final night to toast our special occasion. He even remembered the year. Did we expect that? No. Were we moved by his thoughtfulness? Yes. He even sat down at the winery’s grand piano and played a song for us.

Smile Even When You’d Prefer Some Space

I tried to respect Steves’ privacy by not shoving my camera constantly into his face or otherwise fawning over his fame. But I saw it happen. All. The. Time. He would just graciously smile, putting others’ wants before his own. After all, Steves wasn’t simply traveling with us. He was collecting material for his voluminous output: blog, public TV and radio shows, and travel guides. The man was working, shooting video, taking photos, jotting everything down. Yet he projected nothing but joyful discovery.

Bring Your Customers into Your Efforts

While I made every attempt not be intrusive in my photo-taking, I did make a point to include Steves in many of my shots. I (correctly) figured that he’d appreciate having photographs of himself exploring and interacting with fellow travelers and the locals. We were on the bus near the end of our vacation, when I offered to share my shots with him using AirDrop. He loved the idea. With just a few taps, it was done. And now I have the pleasure of seeing a number of my photos crop up in his travel column. He says he plans to continue “The iPhone AirDrop Party!” tour bus tradition for group photo-sharing.

When I think of Steves, a popular customer service saying comes to mind. It personifies Steves’ attitude toward us in Sicily. “A customer is the most important visitor on our premises, he is not dependent on us. We are dependent on him. He is not an interruption in our work. He is the purpose of it. He is not an outsider in our business. He is part of it. We are not doing him a favor by serving him. He is doing us a favor by giving us an opportunity to do so.”

Since getting back to the States, I’m reliving my Sicily experience again through Steves’ blog. Perhaps it might inspire you, too. Getting close to your customers and finding ways to serve them. What a gift.

Cooking classes such as this afforded another way to learn about the culture. Delicious.


Rick Steves taught piano early in his career and on the final night of our tour, he serenaded our group at a winery on top of Mount Etna. (By the way, this active volcano minded its manners while we were there. It’s had an active spring.)


Sicily used to be known for its sweet Muscats, then fortified Marsala. Now its dry table wines attract considerable attention. Especially ours.


Nothing like some impromptu yoga poses to work out those too-much-sitting kinks. I started a Reverse Warrior (Viparita Virabhadrasana) and Rick Steves jumped right in with Warrior II.

This column ran in the May 20th issue of BlueSky Business Aviation News.