Working as the Jamaica Tourist Board's regional director for Canada since April, Angella Bennett brings nearly 30 years of travel industry experience to the role, starting with a job at Jamaica’s iconic Half Moon Golf, Tennis and Beach Club in 1990.
"That was a great starting place and served to introduce me to the hospitality industry at a very high level," she recalls. "After that, I went on to Caribic Vacations, where I gained experience in destination management services geared towards the European markets. Those two experiences served as the foundations of my career."
Although she's worked in the travel industry for as long as she can remember, there was a time when Bennett thought her life would take her on a different path.
"Funnily enough, my career plan as a teenager was to become a veterinarian," she recalls. "I loved caring for animals, and I still do. However, life just had different plans and I was happy to go along with them. The allure of the tourism industry was too strong, and I have no regrets at having joined it."
Most recently, Bennett served as the director of sales with RIU Hotels & Resorts in Jamaica, a role she held for more than 13 years, as well as Melia Hotels International, where she worked for two years.
Now living in Toronto, Bennett says Montego Bay, Jamaica will always be home, but Toronto is quickly capturing her heart.
"Toronto has been working its charms on me: it’s a very agreeable city with extraordinarily friendly and polite people," she says. "I’m having no problems in making the adjustment to the city and cottage life when I can sneak away with friends."
As regional director for Canada, Bennett's day-to-day role includes "directing a team of six exceptional professionals in the Canada offices with a single-minded purpose: promote travel to Jamaica by Canadians."
"A typical day may involve a team meeting at the office, a visit to a travel wholesale company, or meeting with an airline to negotiate more airlift in respond to growing demand. Other days could involve meetings with advertising or public relations professionals to plan strategies, or interactions with consumers through various promotional activities, which we devise to target various market niches."
Here, PAX Checks In with Angella to learn more about the drastic measures she took to relieve a sea urchin sting, a chocolate experience she'll never forget, and why one song by Ella Fitzgerald means so much to her and her father.
PAX: What are three essential items you always travel with?
Angella Bennett (AB): My telephone, which is always on; comfortable walking shoes; and a credit card. After all, today’s telephone is a veritable portable office and the walking shoes are for traversing airports and walking around new cities when I arrive. I usually spend a few hours checking out the neighbourhood around any hotel into which I’ve checked in. Of course, the friendly piece of plastic is indispensable in this day and age.
PAX: What are some of your favourite vacation spots?
AB: You shouldn’t be surprised if I begin with Jamaica. Even though it's home, it’s a big enough island to support a vibrant domestic tourism industry, of which I often took advantage. There are so many places to discover and enjoy between the coast and the mountain ranges: waterfalls and rivers for swimming; mountain trails to hike; quaint towns and villages to discover; and music festivals of one kind or another to enjoy. There’s no limit to what one can do and experience.
I would say my next choice would be Berlin, as it's such an interesting city. The old and the very new coexist there and one can visit some of the world’s finest museums on one day, and then experience the pageantry and tradition that Europeans are so good at preserving. The visit to the site of the Berlin Wall was very emotional. At the same time, it’s a trend-setting, cosmopolitan city with great shopping, international dining and fabulous entertainment.
PAX: What's your favourite airport and why?
AB: The Sangster International Airport has been named best airport in the Caribbean by the World Travel Awards for nine consecutive years. It also happens to be my favourite airport, for a particular reason: it’s the place at which I arrive whenever I travel home, being the airport at Montego Bay, Jamaica. While being capable of handling eight international flights concurrently, it has managed to preserve its "island charm," which is to say it works with the precision of a Swiss watch, while it still maintains a reggae rhythm.
However, if you had asked about a non-Jamaican airport, I would have said Vancouver International Airport, which in many ways has similar characteristics to MBJ. It’s a wonderfully designed airport that takes into consideration the passengers needs and preferences so well. It’s a very comfortable space in which to spend time, which is not the usual reaction one has to an airport.
PAX: What do you love about your job? The travel industry?
AB: First and foremost, I like and value the team that I have working with me. Their performance has consistently set the bar very high and I welcome the challenge of sustaining that level of performance.
It’s a very stimulating job and I like the opportunity that it presents to meet and interact with people. I also like the variety of activities in which it involves me from day to day. It's never routine, nor does it chain me to a desk. I have made friends with people from so many countries! I don’t know how else I would have been able to achieve that.
Finally, I’m very conscious of the important contribution that the industry makes to Jamaica’s economy and I feel great pride in the fact that I can make a meaningful contribution to that.
PAX: What's the first vacation you ever took?
AB: Italy, Rome and Milan. It was my first trip outside Jamaica when I was 20 years old. I visited Verona, the magical city in which Shakespeare set Romeo and Juliet and had coffee and croissants at a street cafe and learned how to make real Italian pasta dishes. My close friends can attest.
PAX: What’s the biggest splurge you’ve ever made on a trip?
AB: I tend to be sensible about spending and resist self-indulgence as much as I can (wink wink!) But, I do give in from time to time, like the time a Swarovski ring beckoned to me while on vacation in Florida. I just couldn’t resist and, frankly, I never regretted it.
PAX: Most memorable food/meal you ever ate while travelling and where you ate it?
AB: I had the most heavenly dessert in Montreux, Switzerland, a chocolate indulgence one could almost describe as sinful. But then, it was Switzerland and who makes better chocolate than the Swiss? The memory still lingers.
PAX: What’s your biggest travel pet peeve?
AB: When fellow passengers express their annoyance at crying babies on a flight. What should a parent do? I mean, you can be sure the parent is trying to hush the child and being rude or insensitive won’t help one bit. Infants only have a few ways to communicate and they cry when uncomfortable for some reason. We all did it at one stage of our lives. Admittedly, it’s a jarring sound. Nature designed it to be. But a considerate or compassionate person will just “grin and bear it” in the circumstances.
PAX: What are your hidden talents?
AB: Well, let’s just say, if I had to sing for my supper I would not starve. My dad is a very talented musician and I seem to have inherited something musical from him; I have sang for him while he plays the guitar on so many a moonlit nights in Jamaica. My Funny Valentine by Ella Fitzgerald brings out a special moment for us.
PAX: When flying, window shade up or down?
AB: With me the shades are kept up after take-off as I enjoy the view of a country from above. However, I tend to put them down on landing.
PAX: What's your funniest travel anecdote?
AB: Well, it may be a Jamaican old wives’ tale, or a genuinely effective traditional remedy, but once when I stepped on a sea urchin, or a sea egg to us Jamaicans, to remove the spine that got stuck in my foot I had a friend pee on it! It may be an old wives’ tale, but it really worked.
PAX: What should travel agents be aware of right now in regard to Jamaica?
We have had a record year of visitor arrivals from all of our markets. There’s been tremendous growth in our hotel room stock over the past five years, all with internationally-recognized hotel chains.
Getting around the island is also much easier, thanks to the completion of a network of magnificent highways. It’s a very beautiful island and the new highways make sightseeing all that more rewarding, particularly through our mountain ranges.
Our economy is in good nick and Jamaica was recently singled out as an economic performer by international financial agencies.
Jamaica was recently voted the best island destination by TripAdvisor, and with good reason. It's truly a “bucket list” destination, with larger-than-life experiences. That “certain something” is in the sizzle of the cuisine, the rhythm of the music and the warm, friendly vibe of our people.
Travel agents may be interested to learn that Jamaica now offers an online version of the Immigration and Customs declaration form (C5) for use by arriving travellers at the island's international airports. It enables passengers to be processed more seamlessly on arrival through Customs and Immigration and a reduction in waiting time.
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