With new developments likely to lead to major job growth in tourism, authorities are keen to attract Caymanians to the industry. As some hotel bosses and government officials struggle to persuade locals that travel and tourism offer viable career options, a leading Caribbean tourism expert says the industry needs to shake off its “low pay, low prospects” image to bring the “brightest and the best” into the fold.
With air arrivals hitting a 10-year record, a new cruise dock on the way, a hotel in development and a golf resort also in the works, the future looks bright for Cayman’s tourism industry.
But what does that mean for the job prospects of Caymanians? Hundreds of opportunities are out there and more are on the way, but the representation of locals in the industry remains relatively low.
For Vincent Vanderpool-Wallace, the former Bahamas tourism minister and a former head of the Caribbean Tourism Organization, Cayman is suffering from a malaise that has afflicted much of the region – a failure to make the most of local talent.
Mr. Wallace, speaking at the Cayman Economic Conference, tapped into an issue that authorities here have been grappling with for some time – an apparent reluctance on the part of many Caymanians to seek careers in the tourism industry.
He said the Caribbean, as one of the world’s most popular tourism destinations, should be a hotbed of talent and expertise in the industry. Instead, many countries, including Cayman, import both expertise and people to staff hotels and resorts.
The Cayman Islands Tourism Association partnered with the National Workforce Development Agency in an island-wide recruitment drive recently aimed at matching unemployed Caymanians with current opportunities in the industry. Only 12 people got jobs from the program, with apparent apathy toward the industry cited as one of the reasons for the low returns.
Mr. Wallace said countries across the region, experienced similar issues – largely because tourism is seen as a source of low paid, low skilled jobs.
He believes reversing that perception is critical to attracting “the brightest and best” of the region’s young people to the industry.
“We are not going to get where we want to get to if we continue to perpetuate the myth about travel and tourism having these low paid jobs.
“If you tell people about the range of jobs available in travel and tourism and how much they pay, which is something that we have done in a number of jurisdictions, it makes a world of difference.”
He said young people, especially boys, need to see that there is a clear career path that could lead to well-paid jobs.
“Many young men shun tourism because as far as they are concerned, no woman is going to be attracted to them if she thinks he is going to be mired in low-scale jobs. Let’s not be shy about telling people, even hypothetically, what some of the salaries are.”
He said many great careers in tourism started in low paid jobs.
“One mistake that we have made in a lot of countries, including this one, is you see someone come in the door as general manager of a hotel and many people don’t know the history of that person. They don’t know where they started, they don’t know how hard they have worked. They see them as someone that has parachuted into this place and all of a sudden they are general manager.
“We need to ensure that young people understand the same struggles they see themselves going through – that’s how those people got there too.”
Thomas Mason, the manager of the Comfort Suites hotel on Seven Mile Beach, believes that Caymanians are interested in the industry, if they can see that there is a decent living in it for themselves and their families.
The hotel has 90 percent Caymanian staff and added eight new local employees in its own recent recruitment drive. He believes more hotels could follow the example.
Starting salaries in the tourism trade are not always high. But Mr. Mason said the tips are good and with the right work ethic and experience, the payoff would come over time.
“The sky is the limit. Once you have experience and have developed skills, it opens up a whole new level of opportunities.”
He said the hotel is committed to developing local talent.
“It has not been the easiest route, but we operate in Cayman, it is only right that we hire Caymanians. The result has been that we have developed a highly skilled, highly focused service driven Caymanian workforce.”
He said competitive salary and benefits as well as training, feedback and encouragement, along with the opportunity to move up, are central to keeping people interested.
“Local people definitely want to work in the industry. Sometimes you have to be patient and take a chance on somebody when others might not. You have to develop and encourage people.”
Government and CITA are also attempting to attract locals to the industry, with varied results. A new hospitality school, running out of UCCI and featuring a significant work experience component in local hotels, opens this year.
CITA organized a one-of-a-kind recruitment drive late last year. Top executives from the industry met with 120 job seekers to give one-on-one career guidance in a series of district road shows.
Around 40 got job interviews, but only 12 found full-time work. Ken Hydes, president of the association, said he is not deterred by the result and there are enough success stories to indicate that the program, which will be repeated later this year, will be an effective tool in “changing the dynamics of the industry.”
He said the private sector is doing its part and people need to take advantage of the opportunities.
“We are dedicated to improving the employment of Caymanians in our industry. The local population also has to equip themselves by getting relevant training and taking up the opportunities on offer.”