Sam Dye and Claire Cathcart spent 2 weeks in Jamaica as part of Thomson’s internal volunteering programme. Here’s their travel journal…
Volunteer Names: Sam Dye and Claire Cathcart
Job Titles: Internal Communication Manager and HR Business Partner
Project Discovery Location: Jamaica
Assignment: To conduct research in Jamaica to find out what tourists spend their holiday money on and to make recommendations for how tourist spending can bring the greatest benefit to local people
As we settled in to our 10-hour flight to Jamaica, we were filled with a mixture of excitement and apprehension. We’d been tasked with surveying at least 200 customers in the last few days of their holiday, and we knew it wasn’t going to be an easy task!
Our work was to form part of the Travel Foundation’s research into how tourists spend their holiday money in Thomson’s destinations. In a nutshell, we were there to speak to customers staying in a variety of hotels to find out what they buy on holiday and to make recommendations on how Thomson and the Travel Foundation can encourage them to experience everything the island has to offer, whilst also benefitting local people by spending money with local businesses.
Our first stop was the Holiday Inn hotel in Montego Bay, just ten minutes from the airport. We settled in and prepared ourselves for a jam-packed 2 weeks.
We woke up in the early hours of the morning thinking it was UK time and ready for breakfast! It soon became clear it was going to take a couple of days to get used to the new time zone…
To kick things off, we met with Annette, the Travel Foundation programme officer in Jamaica, to hear about some of the great work that is already going on. We then spent the rest of the day surveying our first customers. Although it wasn’t always easy to track people down, we had fantastic Thomson Holiday Advisors on-hand to help, and all the customers we spoke to were brilliant.
We’ve spent the last few days speaking to both locals and tourists and working hard to get our surveys completed. The positive outlook among local people is really refreshing. After just a couple of days here, the lingo has also made an impression – everything is “Irie Man”, and in the words of one of the tour guides we met, “there are no problems in Jamaica, just situations”.
David Ward, the Thomson Resort Team Manager, suggested we took a trip to the airport to speak to customers in the check-in queue. It was the perfect solution: we had a captive audience of people who were definitely at the end of their holiday!
We also moved hotels, to the Grand Palladium in Lucea. We have lots of UK customers staying here, but the question is how to find them amongst the 1000+ people…
For our day off we booked a trip to Dunn’s River Falls. It’s one of the most popular excursions available, and it’s one of Jamaica’s national treasures. The waterfall extends more than 600 feet and visitors can splash through the water as they climb up the rocks. Needless to say, we had an amazing time.
It’s been hot, hot, hot and despite some challenges being thrown our way we’ve carried on and are feeling positive about the number of responses we’ve had from customers. All the feedback is helping us to uncover things that could be done to increase spending with local businesses and make tourism in Jamaica more sustainable.
Yesterday we were chatting with a local man, who told us he lives with his mum, dad and 2 brothers in a poor community in Falmouth. He works to help send his younger brothers to school, and when he’s not working at the hotel he goes to ‘hotel’ school. Despite working so hard to provide for his family, everything is “nooooo probleeeem” for the tourists he interacts with.
His story made us even more determined to find a way, to contribute to Thomson and the Travel Foundation’s efforts to ensure that the holiday money our customers spend directly benefits local people.
At the end of what feels like a long 2 weeks we’ve been looking back at our experience in Jamaica. Not only have we been blown away by the friendly, laid-back culture, but we’ve both discovered a lot about ourselves that we weren’t expecting!
We’ve seen first-hand how important tourism is to a country like Jamaica, and the local communities here are just as precious to us as our customers are. If we don’t support them, the country simply will not thrive. We’re both hopeful that the recommendations we make based on our trip will make a positive impact on lives of local people.
Finally, we’ve left Jamaica with a long list of locals who are itching to get to a UK football stadium to see a game – there are more Man United fans here than there are in Manchester!
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Author: Katie Gregory
Published: December 18, 2013
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