30 APR 2019: Chat with Angella Bennett for more than about 10 seconds and it appears clear that the new regional director of tourism for Canada for the Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB) is meant to be here. Funny and engaging, Bennett is a natural, despite having only replaced former director Philip Rose a few weeks ago (on April 8) and having been engaged in a “whirlwind” introduction since then. 

She laughs about the winter, has taken family holidays here (in Muskoka) and seems to know (but won’t tell) tales about some of the trade personalities she’s known from having worked at RIU Hotels & Resorts (as director of sales) and most recently Melia hotels (where she recently launched the opening of the Melia Braco Village in Trelawny) on the island for nearly 20 years.

“These aren’t people I just say hi to,” she says of the latter. “These are folks that I’ve known for a very long time.”

And by having done stints at Melia and RIU, she’s had the chance to work with all of Canada’s major tour operator brands, she emphasized to Travel Industry Today from her office in Toronto, a detail that she jokes “looked good on my resume.” But more importantly, “It’s really prepared me for my time in Canada,” she says.

On a personal level, Bennett has friends in Canada whom she has visited in the past. “My family has felt very comfortable here. It’s very engaging socially,” she says.

The ability for Bennett to hit the ground running, both professionally and personally, is big advantage for Jamaica, which depends on a Canadian market that sent more than 400,000 visitors to the island in 2018, in spite of being a “tough year” due to a crime-related state of emergency that was declared on the island and fall-out from devastating hurricanes in 2017 that did not hit the island, but scared off many visitors from the entire Caribbean.

“Canada remains a vital market for Jamaica and we intend to aggressively push to increase our visitor arrivals from that country,” says Jamaica’s director of tourism Donovan White, adding that Bennett is well suited to the task “given her broad experience across the hospitality sector and her penchant for devising revenue generating strategies to increase sales.”

And so far so good in 2019, Bennett says, with winter numbers registering strongly, including April.

However, the boss is quick to commend the “amazing” team at the JTB office, which carried on during the transition period between directors and kept the office’s initiatives going at full tilt.

Bennett notes that though every director has their own style, she suggests that the JTB’s successful strategies of the past will continue, including building, nurturing and honouring their relationships with travel agents and the trade, increasing market share from the West (including developing more lift), and working extensively with hotel partners both new (like Excellence and Oceans by H10 Hotels) and familiar (Sandals, RIU, Melia, Playa…).

And also utilizing a “robust” marketing budget that will help achieve a 10 percent growth target.

“[Jamaica] has changed,” Bennett says, adding that with competitors like Mexico and the Dominican Republic boasting double the number of rooms that Jamaica has, she sees her country being marketed as “an experience, not on price.”

“For me, it’s bucket list destination. The nostalgia will always be there, there’s wellness, and the location. My approach would be a reintroduction of the destination.”

And agents will be critical to the process, she adds. “We really want to make sure travel agents are engaged in selling the product… our travel agent specialists are very important to us.”

Told that the JTB often garners status as the top tourist board in Canada as voted in various travel agent polls, Bennett isn’t at all surprised.

“We get [the trade],” she says. “We understand.”

And, from the looks of things, the JTB’s new director understands Canada too.

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Michael Baginski

Editor, Mike Baginski is well known and well respected within the industry across Canada, the US, in the Caribbean, Mexico and numerous other destinations outside North America.

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