Growing Canadian market is new tourism executive priority
May 2, 2019
Eight years ago, Angella Bennett interviewed for the Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB) Regional Director Canada position in Toronto.
Unable to secure a work permit in the required time to fill the immediate vacancy, Philip Rose got the job.
When he was reassigned to the northeastern United States last December, Bennett succeeded him.
“I had to pass on the offer in 2011 because they wanted someone to come here right away,” she said. “Nothing happens before its time and I think this is the right moment for me to take up a new challenge as my children are grown.”
Having spent the last two decades in hotel sales and marketing provided Bennett with an opportunity to come to Canada on several occasions for business and vacation.
“I have found the people here to be extremely warm and friendly,” she noted. “This is the ideal place for me to have my first posting outside Jamaica.”
As the Director of Sales & Marketing with the RIU Hotels & Resorts for a decade, Bennett oversaw sales and management activities for 2,500 rooms across five resorts. In the same role for two years with Jamaican-owned Melia Braco Village, she played an integral part in promoting the 232-room hotel opened in January 2016.
Bennett said those experiences and strong relationships with Canadian tour operators have prepared her for the new role.
“While at RIU, I worked exclusively with a partner in Canada,” she pointed out. “At Braco, I got to meet other Canadian tour operators. As you work for hotels with these operators, you develop a bond. That’s key to the operators here in Canada. It allows me to have a very good engagement with them and that makes the transition a bit easier.”
In the last two years, Canada has been Jamaica’s fastest growing market. This is a significant reversal from 2016 when there was a sharp and worrying decline.
Growing the Canadian market is Bennett’s top priority as she seeks to maintain the upward trend.
“Western Canada is a focus for us as we move to grow airlift,” the International Management Centres Association Fellow said. “We also want to extend the program we have in Montreal to make more seats available from that gateway. Increasing engagement with travel agents in more direct ways like face-to-face or though digital platforms is also on my agenda because the landscape of hotels in Jamaica has changed in the last 10 years. It is imperative that we educate travel agents on how to sell our new products. We already have the ‘Lunch & Learn’ sessions that offer useful information on how to upsell our destination.”
There are almost 35,000 hotel rooms in Jamaica, the majority in the western part of the country.
“Our inventory cannot compare with Mexico, which has about four times more rooms than we have, Cuba and the Dominica Republic who are all in close proximity to us,” Bennett said. “We don’t have the capacity to compete with those countries. We are more of a boutique destination and agents need to sell it as such. Instead of selling rooms, they have to sell Jamaica as a bucket list experience.”
While Montego Bay and Negril are the primary destinations for visitors, Kingston – already considered the Caribbean’s main cultural and entertainment hub -- is being promoted as a leisure market for visitors looking to experience more than sand, sun and beach.
Bennett attended the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) weeklong conference in Toronto last month.
“Coming out of that meeting was that one in three travellers want to mix business with pleasure,” she said. “As the heart and soul of Jamaican culture, Kingston is perfect for that. Right now, we are in discussions with a tour operator that want to create a business city hotel program that, I think, will be ideal for Kingston which is on my radar. You can do a little bit in Kingston which has the city life and entertainment and enjoy a resort in Ocho Rios which is about a 45-minute drive on the new highway.”
Kingston’s newest hotel, the 220-room AC Marriott by Sandals, is expected to open next month.
Jamaican journalist and event management specialist Janet Silvera said Bennett is a loyal and dedicated professional who will thrive in her new role.
“Angella has worked extensively throughout the industry, using her unique talents in marketing and promotions to bring business to Jamaica,” the Jamaica Gleaner Western Bureau senior writer said. “It’s no secret that her more than 25 years in the tourism sector has been a major factor in generating the gains that Jamaica have made in major overseas markets. Canada remains an important market for our country and with her at the helm, I know it will not be long before we will start to see the wisdom of her appointment.
“Her years of experience across the hospitality sector and her uncanny ability to think outside the box make her the perfect fit for this new position. Nobody that I know is more suited to drive JTB’s growth agenda in this amazingly important region. This is certainly a ‘win-win’ for Jamaica.”
Donovan White, the JTB Director of Tourism, is also confident that Bennett will grow the market exponentially.
“Canada remains a vital market for Jamaica and we intend to aggressively push to increase our visitor arrivals from that country,” he said. “Given her broad experience across the hospitality sector and her penchant for devising revenue generating strategies to increase sales, she is well suited to aid the JTB in achieving growth in this important region.”
The holder of an Agricultural Science diploma from Holmwood Technical High School, a Master’s in Tourism & Travel Services Marketing Operations from Revans University and marketing and front office management certifications from the University of the West Indies and the American Hotel & Motel Institute respectively, Bennett spent 20 months in the Half Moon front office and nearly nine years as Director of Tour Operation Management for Caribic Vacations Ltd. where she oversaw the product development, quality control and accounting management for a myriad of tour operators including Airtours International, TUI Germany, DerTours, Miers Weltreizen and Jetair.
In August 2004, she joined RIU that funds a children’s orthopaedic clinic as part of its corporate social responsibility.
Working in the hospitality and tourism sector wasn’t Bennett’s initial career choice.
“I wanted to be a veterinarian,” she said. “But after leaving Holmwood and looking at job opportunities in Montego Bay, I quickly realised that banking and tourism dominated the landscape there. So it was tourism. I still love animals, but tourism is my life and what I like about this career is its ever-changing pace. No two days are ever the same. I am now working for my country that has always been the end game for me.”
The 48-year-old tourism executive has two children.
Sean Bennett, 17, is enrolled in college in Wisconsin and 22-year-old Caterina Bennett studied culinary arts at Montego Bay Community College and the Culinary Arts Academy in Switzerland and recently completed a one-year internship in northern California.