Vassel Johnson, known to all as Bud, was an extremely popular winner of the Lifetime Achievement Award in the 2011 CITA Stingray awards.
The Atlantis guru was as modest as ever about being recognised for his tourism work over nearly three decades, preferring to point out the successes of his team over the years.
“It was a good night. One of the things that we have done over around the last six years is make the effort to recognise our employees. We have had three different employees named Water sports Employee of the Year. Every year we nominate employees – it is extremely important to recognise them. Often you get tied up with challenges, but CITA does a tremendous job in acknowledging and recognising the employees who sometimes do not get the credit,” Mr. Johnson said.
“When my managers came to nominate me it was rather late – the afternoon of the deadline. I was busy and said, ‘sure, go on’. I am not a public person and even after they nominated me I said I was too young for this. But I was honoured that my staff felt that way and then that the tourism association felt I was worthy of it,” he said.
Do what you enjoy
After studying as an engineer, Mr. Johnson worked in a bank for four years, but realised it wasn’t his passion.
“Atlantis Cayman started in December 1985 and I joined in September 1986. I actually took a pay cut from the bank to work with them but I did it not because of the money but because it was something I knew I would enjoy. And 25 years later I don’t have any regrets about it.
“Being a Caymanian in the hospitality and tourism business one thing I wasn’t expecting were some of the questions I got from my peers about why I would make a move. It is a social challenge that we in the industry have in attracting Caymanians because to an extent that stigma still is there,” he said.
He added, somewhat wryly, that people would ask him why he would move from ‘a good job in a bank wearing a necktie’ to ‘wearing shorts on a submarine.’
“You see the arguments in the papers about why Caymanians are not in the [tourism] industry and there is a perception in certain sectors of the community that it is not as ‘noble’ a profession as finance.
“But to young people I would say do not be influenced by what people think of you in your career choices. Be influenced by something you would enjoy doing. Not because of the money, but something you enjoy. And the rest of it will come,” Mr. Johnson said.
Of many golden moments in his career, the Stingray Award winner said when he joined the company there was only a single submarine and since then there has been expansion and a long-term business.
“Having been a co-pilot, a pilot, a supervisor and having been involved in the evolution of operating procedures [was valuable]. Nobody had done it before, so we had to work with various bodies to develop procedures for a passenger carrying submarine. From that perspective I am proud of what we have done. We have been able to operate in a brand new industry with no major incidents.
“On the negative side the weather scenarios that we go through from time to time can be quite tough.”
Delivering the experience
Ultimately it is about delivering a great experience for the submariners, he said.
“Guests want to have fun. One of the things about this industry, whether working in a submarine, a dive shop, a hotel it is the same – tourists go on vacation and want to have fun. When we travel abroad we are the same,” Mr. Johnson said.
“I say to my staff – loosen them up and they are ripe for the picking; they will respond. If you like people and like having fun it’s the industry to be in. It is entertainment; we think the submarine is what it’s all about, but at the end of the day it’s the guy who takes the guests down and interacts with them who can make or break it, and that will never change.” The tourism industry in Cayman is linked to the world situation, of course, he said. But Mr. Johnson said better times are imminent.
“Assuming it does not crash anywhere else I think we are on the rebound. The people that are making the decisions are listening and trying to do positive things for the island,” he said. “We cannot ignore crime in Cayman, but we must also understand that other destinations that have all-inclusives have them for a reason.
“Cayman’s tourism industry is well positioned going forward; we have new offerings in the market from Stingray City and helicopters to the beaches. I am expecting a good couple of years coming forward from air arrivals especially. We are certainly heading in the right direction.”