Written by 12:36 am Art

#BTColumn – Tourism craftsmen and masterminds in the Caribbean

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the author(s) do not represent the official position of Barbados TODAY.

By Commander Bud Slabbaert

Craftsmanship is a skill in a particular craft. Let’s make tourism and hospitality that particular craft. Think of “The Art of Crafting a Tourism Product”. Craftmanship requires a person who is a skilled practitioner with the ingenuity of a Master and a Leader-for-Change; a mastermind. 

Craftsmanship helps to build better tourism and hospitality products. The craftsman has convictions and there is a connection between mind, heart, and pursuit. Mastery is the goal of the true craftsman when trying to create something that’s more beautiful. The master-mindedness is about brilliant thinking and original ideas and not about competing with others.

Examples will be asked for. Three people that come mind as models of Tourism Craftmanship and Mastery in the Caribbean: Karolin Troubetzkoy of St.Lucia (Anse Chastanet and Jade Mountain Resorts), Gregor Nassief of the Commonwealth of Dominica (Secret Bay Resort), and the late Gordon “Butch” Stewart of Jamaica (Sandals Resorts). All three have shown the passion and devotion of a craftsman or Master to accomplish outstanding performance in tourism creation in the Caribbean, although hospitality may have been the emphasis. 

Too often, people’s minds are saturated with little things and therefore there is no space to do big things. It may lead to becoming content with doing small things. Without convictions, people just use what is easily available or take shortcuts. Often quantity goes before quality. They copy or get into a franchise. Uniqueness and authenticity that could make a tourism product or destination stand out, gets
lost. Subsequently, it may get a lower ranking in industry reviews. It also often leads to going cheap, to try to make numbers keep up.

Gregor Nassief

Craftsmanship is about doing what’s best regardless of how it is done. It’s about making sure that craft is aesthetically beautiful, performs what it was designed for and every detail that went into making it was carefully attended. A true craftsman will work until the job is done excellently.

The human touch is vital to unrivalled craftsmanship and performance. The craftsman is personally involved with the creation and treats it as an extension of his life. Some statements made by the above-mentioned tourism masterminds may give an impression of their mindset: 

“We needed something like Jade Mountain, so other hotel developers feel challenged to think outside of the box and also create something that is more unique, … I have found a lot of personal fulfilment, being able to give back to the local and regional community I have been a part of for all these years and ultimately, I hope I can inspire others to do the same.” Karoline Troubetzkoy and her husband Nick created a hotel that makes the foliage and the flowers, the perfumes and the peaks, the sea and the bird song an integral part of a vacation experience. It is claimed that the property produced more magazine covers and publicity for St. Lucia than perhaps all other properties combined.

“Hospitality to me is really about caring for others. It’s about being a part of people’s lives in a meaningful, transformative and lasting way. We’re seeing travellers wanting to have authentic, immersive experiences that allow them to build a connection with the destination, especially with its people, … Our love story resulted in creating Secret Bay” – founder and visionary, Gregor Nassief, has taken a family passion project and turned Secret Bay into a leading light for the hospitality sector that is recognized as one of the best resorts anywhere on earth.

Gordon ‘Butch’ Stewart

“From day one, I keep my own motivation, I have to have what I think is the best, … I run on gut instinct to a large extent, but at the same time I never make a major decision without bouncing it off of a circle of people that I work with, … Our top priority will always be to surprise and delight our guests, … and developing new opportunities for guests.” – Gordon “Butch” Stewart was one of the hospitality industry’s most vibrant personalities of whom was said that he changed how the world goes on vacation and was proclaimed “The King of Vacations”.

The craftsman knows first-hand that the creation is not about him. It is about and is for someone else, the customer. The craft is what’s connecting them. And the customer is a person, not a number in a mass.

The craftsman is creating a project twice: first mentally, then physically. Before setting to work, the master has already created his creation in his mind and plans how to bring a project to life from the womb to the tomb. A craftsman is always self-policing and the biggest critique of his own work. He accepts feedback and continues to make his work even better. 

Although the craftsman knows the importance of planning, he isn’t over-finicky about it. The master prefers the rough sketch, knowing that unforeseen problems or opportunities can arise during a creation. He leaves room for improvisation and changes. Fixing challenges can turn a creation into an experience. The craftsman is not a committee person but rather an individualist and sometimes a non-conformist.

Craftsman is not a title. Titles can be shallow, obsolete, and vague. Titles often inflate the ego, whereas craftsman skills inflate value. Craftmanship is not a study degree, but rather like any art form, it must come from an inside conviction. It’s a human trait that allows being from non-traditional to groundbreaking. Such wording is typically not found in job descriptions. But not reckless, a craftsman always measures twice and cuts once.

Stunning beauty and friendly people are some of the defining characteristics of the Caribbean. And if there are weaknesses, some of history’s greatest men turned them into strengths and have seen them as creative opportunities and incorporated them as unique and interesting. The region should be positioned to capitalise on its resources and opportunities. Upper-class products require upper-class craftsmen. Masterminds and leaders of change who use their signature strengths and virtues in the service of tourism and hospitality represent something much larger than they are themselves, and are a key to success in the Caribbean. 

Commander Bud Slabbaert is the Chairman and Coordinator of CARIBAVIA, the Caribbean Aviation Meetup, an annual result and solution-oriented conference for stakeholders of ‘airlift’ in the Caribbean. Slabbaert’s background is accentuated by aviation business development, strategic communication, and journalism. In accordance with his study of Economy in his younger years in Germany, he is authorized to carry the title of ‘State Certified Economist’.

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