Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Putting all her passion in tourism

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Don’t ask chief executive officer of the Barbados Tourism Product Authority (BTPA), Dr Kerry Hall, about her job if you do not have lots of time to spare for the response.

Her words are infused with passion; her hands spring into motion in expressive gesticulation and her eyes light up when she launches into her expansive vision for the industry that is the backbone of Barbados’ economy.

Still busy settling into her Warrens, St Michael office, she has her fingers in so many pies as she strategises for the development  of the entity created as the sister agency to the Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc.

“Tourism is my passion,” she remarks about an industry she says “I almost did not get into.” 

In fact, she has her father, legendary West Indies fast bowler and a former Barbados Minister of Tourism Sir Wes Hall to thank for the choice she has made.

“I was not interested in tourism  at first. It had a lot to do with my dad being in tourism and because he was in tourism I was adamant  I would stay away from the industry. I thought I would chart  my own course.”

Destiny had other plans when Kerry was a young student on her way to study overseas accompanied by her father.

En route, her dad persuaded her to attend the opening ceremony of a tourism meeting and trade show on his schedule. The tourism bug  bit deep.

She was at once smitten by “the activity, the people,  the excitement, the energy of the industry” and at once made a switch in study plans and set her sights on  an industry she has grown to love with a passion.

“I see tourism as an industry that tears down walls and builds bridges. It is the salvation of Barbados  and our greatest hope for that economic recovery,”  Hall said.

Critical area

She acquired her first degree in management from the University of the West Indies and studied abroad for a master’s in hotel and food service and a PhD  in tourism.

“When I saw this job come up in the area of product development, I realised it was the critical area that would transform Barbados’ tourism industry and enhance its competitiveness. I also realised it would be the major area that would transform the Barbadian economy, so I knew I had to step up to the plate and pretty much get into the hot seat.”

She wet her feet in the industry with an early internship as a management trainee with the former  Almond Beach Village hotel and during a stint with  the former regional airline BWIA.

Jobs as chief tourism development officer; tourism consultant in the Barbados private sector trade team and tourism consultancies for hotels around the region afforded the kind of exposure that supports her observation: “For years we in Barbados focused on the marketing aspect and there is not that clear understanding of product development and what it really means.”

She speaks against a background of being author  of Government’s White Paper for Tourism Development, the precursor to Government’s Tourism Master Plan.

Hers is therefore an informed position when she makes the point: “If you look at the whole issue of product as opposed to marketing, a lot of forward-thinking destinations are beginning to focus on product because they realise with marketing there are so many resources out there: where you find the modern-day traveller believes those travel reviews of what their peers are saying more so than the supplier.”

In Barbados’ case, she points out: “The only thing we have control over is the quality of our product – ensuring that our people are friendly, well trained and give world-class service; that our country is clean, safe; that we have continuous improvement in terms of coming up with new and exciting attractions and amenities and things to do.

“Therefore we have to ensure that what we are telling people out there about Barbados is matched by quality assurance at home.”

Hall recognises that Barbados’ tourism is no longer limited to restaurants, hotels, festivals, and while she concedes there will always be that visitor element that is content with the island’s sand, sun and sea, she said: “I think that definition has to be expanded to all the things that are within the island, which is what the modern-day tourist comes for.

“You will find there is a new tourist drive; a new tourism in which people are looking for community and cultural immersion. They want an authentic and cultural experience that they get in Barbados  and nowhere else.”

The Barbados tourism product in her scope takes  this into consideration  and she said: “I am  under no illusions how critical our role is as  we seek to renew, revitalise, recreate – every ‘r’ you can think about –  the Barbadian  tourism industry.”

She wants  to create within  the BTPA an inventory  of the myriad things people are doing here that would be of interest to the visitor, activities that could contribute to a diversity  of Barbados’ calendar,  and which in turn give Barbadians the opportunity to benefit from the  tourism dollar.

“It is a win-win situation  for all involved,” Hall raced on with overflowing enthusiasm, before stopping suddenly and saying:  “Am I talking too much? I have such a great passion for this industry that I can’t stop when I start to talk about it, so just stop me.”

The life of the party

She was so pumped up and forthright, it was hard  to believe her when she declared: “I am a very eclectic combination of introvert/ extrovert. I am the life  of the party one moment, the shy and withdrawn person the next.”

She is aware the shyness is sometimes misconstrued as aloofness, but anyone in her presence soon detects the Wes Hall sense of humour.

She can be just as funny as she is serious.

The laughter quickly disappears behind a furrowed brow, giving way to a countenance of studied focus  when, gently tapping on the desk with her fingers,  she makes the point that in seeking to enhance the tourism product there is no need to create projects  that are capital intensive.

“Let us look for those hidden treasures already out there in Barbados and let us pull them into the mainstream tourism industry,” said the “very honest and open” CEO.

With a wry smile, she added: “I call it as I see it and  I say it like I mean it. That could be another liability  as well, but I know no other way to be than that.”

It is this approach that will drive her performance  as she strives to put a new face on Barbados’ tourism.

gercinecarter@nationnews.com

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