Boosting tourism students’ skills

Encouraging young Caymanians into the tourism industry often seems like an uphill struggle – many young people are lured by the perceived financial benefits of a profession in the financial services industry and are encouraged to aim for these positions rather than accept a job in the tourism industry that they perceive cannot offer them a decent career. However, young people who have made the step to begin training for a job in the tourism field have had their eyes opened to an industry that is hard work, varied, fun and ultimately rewarding.

Tourism students

Students are eager to learn about the world of tourism.

The University College of the Cayman Islands runs two hospitality courses. The first is a certificate programme in hospitality studies whereby high school graduates can learn about the basics of the industry at an entry level, with subjects covered including front office, housekeeping, food and beverage service, accounting and computing.

Belinda Blessitt Vincent is the lecturer for the course and says, ‘Once students graduate from the certificate programme they can either enter the industry at an entry level or proceed on to the University’s two-year Associate degree programme in hospitality studies.’

Belinda estimates that around a third of all students go on to study the subject at a higher level at the University.

The University takes an innovative approach to make the certificate programme as fun and varied as possible for the students, utilising the skills of industry professionals who bring to life the theoretical studies.

Ross Philips, Marketing manager with Jacques Scott has been lecturing at the University for the past three years.

He describes his approach, ‘My interest in wine started when I worked in fine dining restaurants during my college days. Later I studied oenology and viticulture (science of making wine and growing grapes) in Bordeaux. I worked in the cellars helping make wine and worked in the vineyards as well. After nearly 20 years of working in the wine trade with hotels and restaurants I am happy to share my knowledge to share with the students.’

He continues, ‘I begin by asking (and answering) the question, ‘What is wine?’ I explain various ways wines are made. We discuss the reasons why wine knowledge is important when working in the hospitality industry. We talk about and taste wines of different styles and different regions around the world. We learn to decipher wine labels, make wine lists, and very importantly we learn the art of wine service. Many students have never used a cork screw or served a glass of wine.’

Belinda states, ‘Our partnership with the private sector has been an essential component of the course. It has been fantastic for the students to have a professional such as Ross come in and work with them. It really focuses their minds on what we are lecturing, putting into practice some of the sections that they have learned, and gaining more knowledge on such things as wine appreciation and service.’

She adds, ‘Ross was also extremely generous in bringing in a great selection of wines and champagnes for the students to taste. Our thanks go to him and to Jacques Scott for taking the time and trouble to contribute to this worthwhile programme.’

Priscilla Jackson chose the certificate programme because she thought it would be an easy option, however, having applied herself to the course she says that she has learned a lot about the business, particularly as it relates to restaurant service.

Tasha Wilson says that although she has completed the certificate programme, she is still not sure exactly what she wants to pursue, career-wise, yet she says that her eyes have been opened to all the possibilities that are available to her.

She says, ‘I enjoyed the session on wine, especially as it was the first time that I had actually tasted wine. We got to appreciate the differences in colour as well as taste of the wine.’

Fellow student Deandra Ebanks concurs that she now realises that there are a lot of options available in Cayman, working in hotels or restaurants.

Camille Webb says she enjoyed the customer relations side of the business, which she says she found challenging and thought she might pursue a career in sales and marketing.

Amy Scott says that she had hopes of becoming a massage therapist and found the course taught her many interesting lessons that she could apply to her chosen profession. She also said that she was now aware of all that was on offer in the industry.

One student who is already working in the industry is Sharon Myers, who has worked for a variety of employers, including Morritts Tortuga, Comfort Suites and Breezes by the Bay.

She says, ‘I have an absolute love for the tourism industry. It is my dream to someday run my own restaurant and studying for the certificate programme has made me aware of just how much there is to learn!’

All students have worked a stint in the private sector to gain real hands-on experience, ranging from working with the Department of Tourism, Civil Aviation Authority, Marriott Beach Resort, and Regal Beach.