DoT reveals challenges, plans

Department of Tourism officials were on hand last week to discuss current initiatives with the finance committee.

Acknowledging a lack of district-specific tourist information, Acting Tourism Director Pilar Bush told committee members that the Department will be creating informational materials for tourists looking to explore North Side, Bodden Town and East End

Ms Bush said the materials will be developed as a complement the Go East initiative once the results of recent district community forums have been analyzed.

Ms Bush explained that the Department will be working with tourism operators to better educate them about the districts through special excursions and stay-over programs.

On the international front, asked why recent advertising has tended to feature the Cayman Islands’ natural attractions rather than the people, Ms. Bush revealed that the Department is currently experiencing challenges with producing advertisements featuring Cayman faces.

The lack of faces, she said, is a result of a low level of local cooperation, citing occasions when the Department had paid for and arranged photo shoots and the Cayman ‘talent’ did not show up.

‘If there is truly a desire within the Caymanian community to feature local faces in our international advertising, we will dedicate ourselves making it happen. But the people who we are hiring to participate must also take their commitment seriously,’ she remarked.

Another challenge the Department is committing itself to face is the large percentage of frontline workers who are not well-versed in Cayman’s history, culture and geography.

The Department intends to deal with this issue by targeting both the local population as well as expat workers through a number of avenues.

Grassroots education

The Department is engaging in grassroots educational efforts, with a 4-person team dedicated to improving human capital on the island, which engages in school outreach, training, and community awareness.

A tourism apprenticeship program is set to get underway for the 2006-07 academic year. It will provide technical training for interested Caymanians, whether they are new to the tourism industry, students, or those already in the industry looking to further their skills.

This is addition to post-secondary tourism scholarships the Department offers qualified students. There are currently 38 active participants in the program.

Ms Bush said the Department is working with the Department of Education to assist as many interested students as possible to obtain the needed qualifications for applying to overseas tourism-related programs.

Upon their return home, participating students are then offered ongoing assistance in entering the industry through such events as meet and greet career events where the students have a chance to interact with local tourism businesses.

As the tourism industry continues to expand, Ms Bush described the continuing challenge of developing a unique Cayman ‘product’ and effective local brand presentation.

She said that the Department has expanded its internal education and training efforts in order to achieve across-the-board high levels of customer service and background knowledge within its staff, while supporting external programs.

The Department is encouraging the hospitality sector to embark on a cultural education program similar to one the Ritz-Carlton has implemented.

While recognizing the education of Cayman’s frontline workers will not be an overnight process, Ms Bush underlined its importance for the tourism sector as a whole.

‘There are many more tourism jobs than Caymanians, and the industry must be prepared to have the best informed staff possible on hand,’ she said.

Ms. Bush said that because tourists interact with people outside the tourism industry, non-traditional industries also need to have access to receive more information.

Service standard

She explained that she saw it as the DoT’s responsibility to make it easy to transfer cultural knowledge by creating reference materials that can be widely distributed.

‘The ultimate goal is to have a standard of service and knowledge that reflects the unique Caymanian character in all of Cayman’s industries,’ she said.

Ms Bush also described how the department will be assisting local businesses in developing their marketing skills with the international tourism sector.

Local tourism operators will have a chance to meet key industry players at the Florida Caribbean Cruise Association annual conference being held at the Westin and Ritz-Carlton 30 October 30 to 4 November 4.

More than 1,000 delegates are expected, and the Department hopes that smaller operators will be able to benefit from the opportunity to meet potential clients face to face.

The DoT has already commenced delivering workshops for Caymanians interested in attending the conference on such topics as how to effectively interact with key players, and how to approach executives with confidence.

The first two workshops took place on 22-23 May. The next two workshops will discuss how to translate an idea into a business, as well as explaining how to do business with cruise lines.

The sessions will be held on Thursday, 1 June 1st at Pedro St. James from 7pm-9.30pm., and on Friday, 2 June at the Westin Casuarina from 9am-11.45am.

Featured speakers for both workshops are Tourism Minister Charles Clifford, Ms Bush, FCCA President Michelle Paige, Mico Cascais of Carnival Cruise Lines, Graham Davis of Princess Cruises, and Cayman Islands Investment Bureau Executive Director Dax Basdeo.

Ms Bush said participants will also learn which gaps the Ministry has identified within the industry that Cayman businesses are in a position to address.

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