Scholarships help Caymanians excel in tourism

Scholarships helping


From left, senior tourism training and development coordinator for the Department of Tourism, Alma McKenzie; Ministry of Tourism Scholarship Programme graduates Beeko Smith and Danya Ebanks; and Westin Casuarina Executive Chef Jason Koppinger. Photo: Submitted

Young Caymanians are being increasingly drawn to a career in tourism and their path is being eased by scholarship help.

The Ministry of Tourism Scholarship Programme is designed to facilitate more Caymanian involvement in the tourism industry, particularly in management roles.

Since its inception in 1995, 74 youngsters have benefited from the programme, with approximately half having completed their studies and gone on to be employed in tourism, either in the public or private sector.

This year, 15 qualifying students were awarded either partial or full Ministry of Tourism scholarships. By contrast, in 2007 and 2008 only eight scholarships were awarded, with seven in 2006 and five in 2005.


One recipient of this year’s award is Sam Tressider, who is studying for a bachelor’s degree in tourism and environment at Canada’s Brock University. Mr. Tressider, who graduates in 2010, said that he wants to stay in the Cayman Islands, so he is keen on helping its progress and development.

‘I’ve had various tourist related jobs prior to college, including working for my brother Ben who owns Sea Voyages. I thoroughly enjoyed all these jobs and this helped me make my decision.

‘I have realised that I’m particularly interested in ways of managing tourism in order that the environment is not damaged. This is my main focus because that’s what I feel passionately about.’

Another road toward work in the tourism industry is the Ministry’s Tourism Apprenticeship Training Programme. It is designed to guarantee a supply of highly qualified Caymanian workers that the Ministry said would ‘raise the level of competency within the tourism workforce, bring a distinct cultural flavour to local tourism products and services and give much-needed stability to the industry.’

Beeko Smith is based at the Westin Casuarina Resort & Spa, having benefited from the one-year course.

‘It has given me the foundation of culinary skills that I needed to go out into the hospitality industry, allowed me to meet people from all nationalities, and given me the chance to see what the industry really is like on the inside,’ he explained.

Mr. Smith’s duties are varied, encompassing shifting positions and roles in order to get as broad an overview as possible of various aspects of the culinary arts.

‘I grew up in a family of cooks and bakers so it was what I always wanted to do. I enjoy making people happy; anyone can relate to the universal language of food, no matter where you’re from.’


Mr. Smith and another of the programme’s graduates, Danya Ebanks, were both bronze medal winners in the Cayman Culinary Society’s annual culinary competition held recently at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman.

Miss Ebanks’ dish was the local, Caribbean-flavoured heavy beef soup while Mr. Smith’s Cayman fish stew and hot entrĂ©e of Island barbeque steak both wowed the judges. Miss Ebanks’ experiences in the Tourism Apprenticeship Training Programme helped her realise that the bigger picture of the hospitality industry is made up of many smaller elements working coherently.

‘My love for cooking and being able to do it as my career inspires me,’ she said. ‘The hands-on experience I gained with Chef Jason Koppinger was fantastic and being able to get a full-time job at the Westin is even better.

‘I would love to own a restaurant one day or become an executive chef, and give back something to the new students at TATP.’

The Westin’s Executive, Chef Jason Koppinger, praised the duo and their accomplishments whilst at the resort.

‘Since being a part of the team, they have learned multiple facets of the culinary arts; working in banquets, food preparation, various stations through brunch and more,’ he said.

‘This is just the start and they are prime examples of not only what the TATP can do, but they are role models for all young Caymanians who strive for a career in the hospitality industry.’

Alyson Hay’s interest in tourism began when she was 16 years old. With the help of Jean Solomon, she secured six weeks’ work at the Coral Stone Club condominium complex between finishing high school and starting at UCCI. It was a defining experience in her career, she said, and one where no two days were the same.

‘You deal with different people all the time and I met many kind and generous guests at the condo, although one day stands out when a guest was complaining and being very rude to the staff. I observed how the manager defused matters and I got a taste of how to deal with difficult situations.

‘But I especially loved talking about my island and recommending places to go. One lady even tipped me $100 when she left!’

Following her work at Coral Stone, Alyson completed an associate degree in business administration of applied science at the University College of the Cayman Islands, which she said allowed her to focus more on the business side of tourism. Wanting to explore her interest in the tourism industry further, she applied and was accepted for the Ministry of Tourism’s Scholarship Scheme in order to study for her bachelor’s degree at University of Tampa in Florida.

‘I literally screamed when I found out,’ Alyson said. ‘I decided to go there because the commute is close to home and the climate is warm – I hate the cold! UT also has a good mix of people from the Caribbean and I think I will fit in well with people of similar cultures.’

Financially it is often difficult to make ends meet and Miss Hay was in the position to choose between two scholarships.

‘The University of Tampa tuition costs exceed US$30,000 and the Ministry Of Tourism has awarded me US$16,000 per annum, plus I was awarded the government scholarship at an appealing award of $25, 000,’ she said.

Miss Hay decided to attend the Ministry’s scheme because it allowed her one-on-one interaction with her sponsors, which will be valuable in allowing her to network and create connections within the tourism industry and contains the potential of work experience with the Department of Tourism when she is on holiday from college.

Annual networking events are set up by the Ministry to introduce its students to tourist industry stakeholders and to provide an easier transition from university to a work environment. They also are offered the opportunity of internships at the Ministry, the Department of Tourism or with industry partners.

The scheme’s success was confirmed for Alyson when she found out that she and her compatriots were in auspicious company.

‘I was amazed and encouraged to learn that Cayman’s current Acting Director of Tourism, Shomari Scott, had also received a Ministry of Tourism scholarship,’ she said.

Like most of the current generation of young Caymanians, Miss Hay feels that tourism is inextricably linked with a desire to help better the Islands, while allowing for career development and ambition to blossom.

‘I love helping people, promoting Cayman and problem solving. And of course I love Cayman! I also like meeting people from different counties and learning about foreign places,’ she noted.

‘There is also great potential for promotion; tourism is a big player in Cayman’s economy.’