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Montego Bay, Jamaica, April 29, 2014: The first cohort of students from a Russian and Spanish Languages Skills Training Programme introduced in November by the Ministry of Tourism and Entertainment through the Tourism Product Development Company (TPDCo), are already seeing positive results from their interaction with visitors.
President of the National Craft Traders and Producers Association, Mrs. Melody Haughton-Adams, says participants in the training programme have been able to use their newly acquired language skills to make more money in their trade.
The six-week programme targeted front-line tourism sector workers who have to interface with visitors from emerging Russian and Spanish speaking markets. Another objective was to sensitize service providers to the various cultures of these visitors.
The 262 craft traders, tour operators, drivers and tour guides from Negril, Montego Bay and Ocho Rios who participated in the programme were trained free of cost through funding from the Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF). Their graduation ceremony was held yesterday (April 28) at the Western Jamaica Campus of the University of the West Indies and graduates were able to show off their newly-acquired language skills as the ceremony was conducted in English, Spanish and Russian.
Keynote speaker, Executive Director of TPDCo, Dennis Hickey, said the training programme would continue but “those who participate after this will have to see it as a small investment in their future.” Mr. Hickey said, “we will endeavour to keep the costs at the minimum to make it affordable for those who wish to pursue it. Some graduates have also expressed an interest to pursue level 2 of the programme and we will be examining this in the immediate future.”
He disclosed that "the number of arrivals from Russian and Spanish markets has been trending upwards. Mr. Hickey also noted that the number of Spanish managed hotels had risen to some 12 properties and account for a substantial number of the total inventory of rooms in the country.
“The relaxation in visa requirements and increased airlift spearheaded by the Ministry of Tourism and Entertainment and its agencies, have had a positive impact. We also know that these visitors stay for longer periods of time, typically ten days. They are interested in experiencing the Jamaican culture, not just sand, sea and sun and they have high purchasing power,” said Mr. Hickey.
Outlining the role of TPDCo, he said part of the company’s mandate was “to build the capacity of workers in the industry.”
Noting that the language training initiative would help to better cater to the needs of visitors from emerging markets, Mr. Hickey said, “as a destination we are moving to diversify our markets and our products; this programme forms part of our effort to make the necessary adjustments to diversify our skills to meet this new wave. It requires breaking down the language barriers through consistent interactions and immersing ourselves to ensure a better understanding of the culture of these groups.”
For participant Lewin Haughton, a Red Cap Porter for the past 14 years, being able to communicate with Russians in their own language “is an eye opener.” He described the experience as “a life changer for me, in terms of improving my service to visitors; it helps you to interact with them, because sometimes they need the service and if you don’t know even a little bit of their language you seem cold.”
Having had the opportunity of using what he has learnt, he said “the people are happy I’ve been able to assist them.”
Althea Bennain, an employee with TPDCo who took the Spanish course, said, “it has helped me a whole lot because in conversing with the Spanish speakers it has helped me to assist them more with the directions and information on places to go... making them feel more comfortable that they are welcomed in Jamaica.”
Valedictorians Byron Chung and Kameisha Douse skillfully displayed their newly acquired language skills by addressing the audience in Russian and Spanish respectively.
The graduates were also addressed by other stakeholders including Executive Director of the Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF), Clyde Harrison; Education Officer in the Ministry of Education, Martha Corbett-Baugh; and Vice President of the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA), Vanna Taylor.