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Grand Bahama: We have to make this work

The hospitality industry in Grand Bahama may owe a debt of gratitude to Carmel Churchill’s husband Donald, and a decision he made in the mid-2000s to change careers.  It paved the way for his wife to leave her new found interest as a contractor and return to the industry that she describes as her “inheritance”.

The daughter of Hadley and Violet Forbes – both still active in Grand Bahama’s tourism industry – Churchill said she got her start when she was just 13 years old.  Back then she would put together sales brochures for her father’s tour business.

Fast-forward about three decades, and Churchill is the senior sales manager of regional and group sales for Latin America, The Bahamas and the Caribbean for the Grand Lucayan resort in Freeport, Grand Bahama.  She’s responsible for prospecting for new business, managing existing clients and further developing the Grand Lucayan product.

It’s a challenging market, as anyone familiar with the tourism product in Grand Bahama would attest.  But Churchill is positively committed to doing her part to bring Grand Bahama to the world.

“As I tell everyone, Grand Bahama is my home,” Churchill said.  “It has always been.  I have nowhere else to go, so at the end of the day, failure is not an option.

“At every cost, every dream, every effort, it must be explored and developed to its full potential – we have to make this work,” Churchill told Guardian Business.

Churchill was just back in from a two-week promotional tour that took her through major cities in Latin America, including Lima, Sao Paulo, Buenos Aires, Monetvideo, and Santiago, when this newspaper caught up with her.

Travel, she said, builds her appreciation for what The Bahamas is, and what we have to offer the world.

Traveling through South America, she’d climb into taxi cabs and the question of where she came from would often arise, despite her very limited Spanish.  She’d reply, “The Bahamas.”

“Their immediate response would be, ‘It’s dream, it’s dream’,” Churchill said.  “The expression on their faces would change.  They would light up and think I’m the most fortunate person in the world.”

For all her passion about the industry, and her love for Grand Bahama, hurricanes Francis and Jean blew her job away in 2004, “totally destroying” the Garden of the Groves where she worked at the time.  Just the year before she had rescued her own home building project from a contractor’s shortcomings, so she said with her management skills, she felt it would be a solid career alternative.

She enrolled in the Bahamas Technical and Vocational Institute and after some practical experience in the field, she said she became only the second or third female contractor in Grand Bahama.

That’s where her husband comes into the story.  He wanted to move in a new career direction too, and the family decided it was best if she went back into the hospitality business.  She parlayed all her weddings experience from Garden of the Groves into a job with Old Bahama Bay as the weddings sales manager.

In July 2008, she took a position with the Grand Lucayan, sparing her a 45-minute commute to and from her job at Old Bahama Bay.  Her son, she said, was very pleased.

Churchill has studied development and administration of small businesses at Howard University, and recently completed a professional master’s in hospitality and tourism from Revans University.

She said given the chance, she’d direct young people still in school towards the tourism industry.

“Tourism today in The Bahamas, we need the brightest minds … you have a lot of savvy persons travelling to the destination, so therefore we need to have people who can dialogue with them and really give them a great experience.”

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