Thriving in tourism

More and more Caymanians are finding their niche in home-grown tourism.

Brian Ebanks of Prospect, 24, is already deputy resort manager at the Reef Resort.

Brian is the son of Brenda Lee and Joseph Ebanks. He recently married Staceia Ebanks.

He received a Ministry of Tourism scholarship and graduated with a BA in Tourism and Hospitality Management from Leo University in Florida and began his career at the Reef Resort in 2007 in reservations. Eventually he was rotated through the resort to learn the entire operation.

In August, The Reef sent him on a three-month internship to the prestigious Gleneagles Hotel in Scotland.

He was promoted shortly after.

‘It felt good. I was excited about the change and responsibility that would come with it. It’s lots of work. You really have to think on your feet and react to situations very quickly.’

Brian reports to the general manager and oversees the daily operations and the manager on duty. He oversees guest services and overall resort upkeep, customer service training and enforces resort standards.

‘It’s almost second nature to me to have the ability to deal with people and react and to go over and beyond to make people’s stay at the Reef as comfortable as possible.

Tourism was not his first choice, having already embarked on the study of elementary education at St. Leo University in Florida. He soon realised this was not for him.

But he is glad that he re-assessed his options.

‘It feels great because generally in most resorts you will not see Caymanians. Meeting Caymanians makes the experience more authentic for the guests.’

Brian admits that it is not a glamorous industry because employees must start off in lower positions, but he would encourage young Caymanians to get into the industry.

‘If you’re looking to develop a career very fast this is the place to be. As long as you have a smiling face and a great attitude you can work your way up. It’s our industry, we have to own it.’

The Reef Resort is Caymanian owned and the majority of the team is Caymanian.

He attributes his success to ambition and encouragement from others.

‘My success is partly because of having the drive to excel and also because certain people have believed in me – the Director Tom McCallum and the General manager Laurence Haughton. They helped me to learn a lot about the hotel industry and certain departments and how to deal with certain situations and to manage people.’

The aspect of his job that he loves the most is working with the resort staff. ‘It is a fun atmosphere and it feels like a family. The great thing is that no two days are alike.’

Another shining Caymanian employee who has 41 years in the industry is Mrs. Delva Ebanks from West Bay, wife of Leon Ebanks.

And at 76, she has no plans on turning her back on it any time soon.

‘As long as I can do my job properly and pull my weight and do it right I’ll work.’

Ms Delva is in the laundry area of the Westin’s housekeeping department.

Boredom got her into tourism.

‘When I got married my husband said I couldn’t work, but after my son went to school and my husband went to sea . . . I got bored at home.

‘My cousin was working at Beach Club in the kitchen as cook and I said one day, ‘Could you get me a job there? I want to work.’ So I was waitress and when the chefs were off on vacation I used to go cooking in the kitchen. I worked there five years.’

She has worked in laundry, housekeeping or kitchen at Tamarind Bay, Seagull Apartments, Silver Sands and Dominoes Pizza, before finally arriving at the Westin 14 years ago.

‘I liked meeting the people, talking with them and they’d ask about the Island and how things were before and they would tell me stories about their travels and their homeland.’

Ms Delva is in charge of washing, folding and ironing the linens.

‘I love my job. I love the work I do and I like to see things get done the right way, proper way.’

Paula Avelli from George Town also works at the Westin and has been in the tourism industry for 28 years.

She is hostess for Casa Havana and Ferdinand’s restaurants.

‘I’m the first person that they see coming in the morning so I have to show a good face and be happy. I also take reservations for brunch bookings, questions if the guests ask and anything else that I need to accommodate them.’

She first got into tourism part-time at age 15 during holidays to help out her mum, Louise Forbes, and brothers and sisters.

‘I started off at Grand Old House as a busser and eventually they trained me to be a server.’

Four years later she moved to the Holiday Inn as a server and cashier and worked at Italian Garden, then took some years off until 1995 when she started at The Westin as a server before moving up to her present position.

‘I still love to interact with the different cultures. You learn things from them and when you interact with other nationalities sometimes you feel lucky about things, in some ways.’

When she first started in the tourism industry there were a lot of Caymanians working in it, but now it’s more expatriates. ‘In my department there’s just two of us Caymanians working here.

‘The young Caymanians are not really appreciating the hotel industry. Yes, it’s hard work. Like my mum always tells me ‘you have to crawl before you walk’.

‘You don’t start off on big money but eventually if you work your way up you can make good money off it.’

Ms Paula is mother to three and her husband Romulo is a chef at the Lobster Pot.

Another Caymanian who has shone within his field is 21-year-old Anthony Clarke of Red Sail Sports, who, at just 19 years of age, won the 2007 Rising Star Award at the Cayman Islands Tourism Association’s Stingray Tourism Awards.

Son of Alita Clarke, he is from Bodden Town, now living in Red Bay and has been working in tourism about four years.

His entrance into tourism was for a change from a bank job, which he says is not for him, at least at the moment.

He started on the beach and then moved over to ski boat captain and then onto his position as senior catamaran crew.

‘I love meeting people and it’s enjoyable telling people or showing them what island ways are like.’

He likes to be an ambassador for Caymanians with his friendliness and knowledge about the islands.

He has plans to go to college to get into fitness and nutrition, hoping to eventually combine it within the tourism industry.

Anthony encourages young Caymanians to get involved in tourism. ‘It opens up so much to you. I have friends all over the world. I went to Australia through friends who worked here. It just opens up so much of the world.’

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