Taxi drivers Doreen Callwood and James Penn, true St. John ambassadors were recently honored for their dedication to the island and the local tourism industry.
Callwood and Penn, dressed to the nines, traveled to the Wyndham Sugar Bay on Saturday, October 13, to be recognized at the U.S. Virgin Islands Taxi Industry Organization’s Annual Ambassadors Appreciation Ball.
Callwood, who had never received an award during her 24 years as a taxi driver, said she was surprised to find out she was chosen as a Taxi Industry Organization honoree.
“I told the lady, ‘why did they choose me?’” said the modest Caneel Bay Taxi Association vice president. “She said, ‘everyone at Caneel says you’re the best, and you try to arrange the men with what they’re supposed to do.’”
“I feel good about it, because I like my job and I like to deal with people,” Callwood said.
Penn, however, said he was not surprised to be honored, because he puts service above everything else — and his house is “full of plaques.”
Connecting on Personal Level
“I don’t worry about things like that, because I’m there to serve all the time,” said Penn, who has been in the taxi industry for more than 20 years. “It just makes my standard a little bigger and better. I don’t let it get to my head, because my job is to give service with a smile.”
“I’m there to provide a service, and everything else will come afterwards,” Penn continued. “The most important things are giving service and meeting people.”
Both Callwood and Penn were recognized for their effort to reach out and connect with customers on a personal level. Callwood has even created home-cooked meals for customers in the past.
“One time, these tourists said to me, ‘Doreen, we went downtown but most of the restaurants are closed and we can’t find any West Indian food,’” said Callwood. “They asked what kind of food we eat, and I told them all about fried fish, peas and rice, fried plantain and mac and cheese.”
“So I went home and cooked for them and brought it back and the lady thanked me so much; she was so enthused,” she added. “I like to make people feel happy, and when I go away I like to be treated nice, too.”
Lending Helping Hand
Penn’s efforts to reach out to his customers earned him praise in a letter to the editor written by Kathy Keough of Quincy, Massachusetts, which appeared in an April 2007 issue of St. John Tradewinds.
In her letter, Keough praised Penn for his willingness to lend her money when she realized her parents hadn’t brought enough cash for their day trip to St. John. Penn gave Keough a $100 bill with the understanding that she would send back the money once she returned to the states.
“I wasn’t worried about the money,” said Penn. “I was just trying to help somebody in need. The good thing about it is she wrote a letter which wasn’t only about me, it was about St. John and how good the people are.”
Penn, who owns James Penn Enterprises and provides taxi service to the Westin Resort and Villas, has worked out a deal at the Westin for Keough next time she returns to St. John, he added.
“We’re doing that for her, so she can really see St. John,” said Penn.
Treating customers well is important to Callwood, she explained.
“You should really treat them nice, thank them for coming, and welcome them,” said Callwood. “I like my job and dealing with people, and I try to do the best I can with them when they come here because I love St. John. It’s small and unique, and we should be very thankful people choose to come here.”
Forming Lasting Bonds
Callwood acknowledged that relationships between her and her customers go both ways, and she enjoys the friendships she develops with tourists.
“I enjoy the tourists and the things you learn from them,” said Callwood. “They learn things from you too. It’s a mixture.”
Penn also enjoys forming relationships with his customers, and has even traveled the world to visit them — including an upcoming December trip to Africa.
“I travel all over the world,” said Penn. “I’ve been to England with some friends who vacationed down here, and I went to a friend’s wedding in India. Because I take care of the guests, they invite me all over the world for being friendly.”
Both Penn and Callwood are grateful for the recognition, they explained. The two will likely continue to impact the lives of tourists on St. John for many years to come.
“I don’t know how long I’ll keep doing it, but I’ll try my best until I get tired,” said Callwood.
“Tourism is our industry in the Virgin Islands, and without tourism we don’t have anything,” added Penn. “So, we must treat the guests the best from start to finish.”