A major challenge for the Cayman Islands’ tourism industry has long been the lack of involvement of Caymanians.
Slowly, things are changing.
Three Caymanians – Fernando Soler the director of human resources at the Grand Cayman Marriott Beach Resort; Shalico Christian, a front desk agent at The Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman; and Erika Walton, manager-in-training sales and marketing also at the Ritz-Carlton – are three examples of shining lights within the tourism industry. For these three Caymanians, the tourism industry is more than just a job – it’s a passion.
‘I don’t think at this stage in my career I could see myself doing anything else,’ said Fernando, who has been in the tourism industry 22 years and is from West Bay, son of Celia Doxey.
He has been at the Grand Cayman Marriott Beach Resort for 12 years and previously worked for the Hyatt Regency Grand Cayman, along with a stint at a Hyatt in Aruba. He also spent time working at the Courtyard Marriott in Grand Cayman.
‘My career started at the Hyatt Regency in December of 1986. I started as a 16-year-old bus boy and very quickly I moved up and was given more responsibilities. By the time I was 20 years old I was a manager at the Hyatt, managing restaurants throughout the property,’ he explained.
He spent about 15 years in food and beverage before becoming a housekeeping manager for five years. He has spent the past two years in human resources, and since December in the role of director of HR.
Fernando loves the variety offered in the tourism industry, but he acknowledges that many others don’t see it that way.
‘I find that it’s very difficult to overcome that stigma that the hospitality industry is really only about tourists,’ he said, ‘but there are so many other areas that really you could have a career in. We have finance, IT, sales and marketing, engineering, the reservations and front office and a lot of different sectors that anyone could develop a career in within the hospitality industry.’
32-year old Shalico Christian has had his own experience within varied sectors of the tourism industry, from aviation to now being part of the hotel sector.
He plans on experiencing a lot more within The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman before he reaches his goal.
‘My hope is to be general manager of this property,’ he said.
He is a Bracker who is the son of Dortha Dilbert and Leslie Christian
Shalico has already spent 17 years in the aviation industry straight out of high school, including 15 years in Cayman Airways where he worked his way up to supervisor of baggage services.
Working at the Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman since October 2007, initially part-time while still working at Cayman Airways, he has worked as honour bar (mini-bar) attendant, a concierge and now is a full-time front desk agent.
‘I could have started at mid-level management but my philosophy is that in order to get to know the whole operation you begin from the bottom, so to speak.
‘I’ve been doing customer service for practically all my life and front desk, when it comes down to it, that’s where your personality, your skills, your conflict resolution comes into play, simply because if a guest is not happy, the first place they are going to hear about it is the front desk,’ he said.
It is also a source of great pride to him as a Caymanian to be a first point of contact for guests at the hotel.
‘That’s one of the reasons why I decided to leave the aviation industry and to pursue my career now in hotels.’
He said he is proud to serve in his position as a Caymanian first and then also proud to be working for the Ritz-Carlton hotel company. ‘They foster team work. There’s always education there for you to learn and grow continuously. The only limit it has is the limit you put on yourself,’ he said.
Another Ritz-Carlton employee who is excelling is 21-year-old Erika Walton, daughter of Cecil Walton Jr. and Jeannie Ebanks from George Town.
Having already spent time as an intern at the hotel, once she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in advertising and public relations from the University of Tampa, she took up a full time position with the Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman in January.
‘I guess I didn’t really know what industry I wanted to work in, and since I’d been here and I was comfortable with the people and I liked the environment, I came back,’ she said.
She is manager in training of sales and marketing with special focus on the communication/PR aspect of the job.
‘There’s never a dull moment really,’ she said. ‘I like meeting different people – you don’t see the same people every day. Even your co-workers change often in the hospitality industry.’
She enjoys meeting guests and being an ambassador for Cayman at the hotel. ‘It’s kind of flattering to be [guests] credible source,’ she said.
Both Erika and Fernando allude to the long hours.
‘The industry is not a 9 to 5 industry. There’s no guarantee of weekends off. That’s one of the beauties I do find about working in hospitality is that no two days are ever the same and you have to also be comfortable with that. We have a lot of twists and turns in our day. You could start off with doing one thing and then something completely different. That is part of the beauty of it, keeping us from boredom.’
Shalico agrees. ‘In high school, during my summer internship programme, I got to work for Cayman Airways as well as Cayman National Bank and that was what many Caymanians tend to do – go into the banking or finance sector. I liked the work experience, but I’m not a sit-down-behind-the-desk person and going to work for Cayman Airways, you never have a carbon copy of the day before.
‘There’s always something different, especially dealing with customers. I enjoyed it and the travel benefits that came along with it also helped to seal the deal.’
Fernando said he knew, before he even finished high school that he wanted a career in tourism.
‘I just had a love for the industry and meeting people and taking care of people. My inspiration to join the industry came from spending weekends at the Holiday Inn or the Galleon Beach with my grandmother and I just knew at a very early age that my career would be in hospitality.
‘It’s a love of service and I would suggest to anyone that chooses this industry that you have to have that quality to truly enjoy working in hospitality – the spirit to serve other people.’
And while the financial rewards may not be as great as in other industries it’s rewarding in a lot of other ways, he says.
‘We have such a diversity and I don’t think in many other industries you’d find such a diverse workforce. You make a lot of friends, you meet a lot of people and that’s one of the things I love about working in hospitality.’
Erika notes that she believes the pay is a reason not many Caymanians are involved in the industry.
‘I know a big part of it is pay and hours and in other industries the pay is higher and the hours are shorter, but then that’s also just a boring sit-at-your-desk-and-never-really-interact-with-anyone job so I think that’s why I didn’t choose that,’ she said.
She would like to see more Caymanians become involved in tourism and believes there are plenty of good opportunities for young people within the industry.
Getting hands-on training at the Ritz-Carlton hotel is something she feels I highly beneficial. ‘It’s not like you go somewhere and they just show you how to do something. I actually get to take responsibility for different projects so I feel that’s more beneficial.’
The Ritz-Carlton is focusing on growing its numbers of Caymanian employees. When it opened, 19 per cent of its staff members were Caymanian. That figure has grown to 23 per cent.
At the other hotels the focus is also on recruiting Caymanians into tourism wherever possible.
Fernando said, ‘That is something right now that we’re working on. Today I have six kids from John Gray High School spending a week with us so we try really hard to get that message out there that the hospitality industry has a broad variety of areas that you could branch into.’
But he emphasised the need for the industry as a whole to make more of an effort to ensure that once a Caymanian is drawn into the industry, they are encouraged to stay through mentoring and training.
Managing director of the Grand Cayman Marriott Beach Resort Walter Regidor said, ‘We are proud to be part of a company that develops local talent wherever it operates.
‘I was developed in Argentina long time ago and when I left that property almost the entire executive committee was local. I am really happy that Fernando is our first Caymanian member of our executive committee. I always say that ‘This is just the beginning’.’