'Tourism is all we know'

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'Tourism is all we know'

Richard and Carol Bourke's journey from nothing to something

Sunday, October 18, 2020

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Today we start a new feature looking at the far-reaching and transformative effects of tourism on families, communities and businesses across Jamaica. Some are the stories you would expect to hear, and some you could never imagine.

Having collectively been in the tourism industry for over 70 years, Richard and Carol Bourke could well be considered among tourism's elite, if not ultimate power couple.

Richard Bourke, 60 — justice of the peace, former president of the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association Montego Bay chapter, and current managing director of Amstar, a local destination management company and a subsidiary of the powerful and internationally renowned Apple Leisure Group — will however tell anyone that his wife has always been the “star of the family” and the “true engine behind our remarkable union”.

Carol Bourke is general manager at Hilton Rose Hall Resort & Spa, and the first female managing director for a major hotel chain in Jamaica. She was voted hotelier of the year in 2016 and tomorrow will be honoured by the Jamaican Government with an Order of Distinction.

“I have had my moments, but my wife is the real big shot,” quipped an obviously proud Richard Bourke, while sitting back leisurely in his chair inside the Hilton Montego Bay board room.

“I have been to places and have accomplished many things during my 38 years in tourism. There is nothing, however, that I have done that will ever come close to what my wife has achieved and what she continues to achieve,” added the man who also served as general manager of multiple hotels and president of the Trelawny Chamber of Commerce.

Carol Bourke, clearly the more reserved of the two, said her husband was simply “being kind”.

“Richard has been successful in every aspect of tourism… starting out as a hotel night manager to a water sports operator and moving all the way up to general manager,” she stated.

“He has had a great run, and even today I can say that I continue to rely on his advice and support,” added the 55-year-old proud mother of one.

Their genuine humility belies their experience of life being far from a cake walk.

Theirs is a classic tale of “from nothing to something”.

“Nothing was handed to us… no godfathers… no caregivers… no sympathisers,” the couple revealed.

“From entering the industry as a teenager fresh out of Westwood High School at the tender age of 17, and as an events coordinator, I had to fight every step of the way to earn respect and to be where I am today,” recalled Carol Bourke.

“When I talk to my staff, telling them that they can be whatever they want to be in this sector, I see the look of disbelief as if what I am saying is so far-fetched and so way out there in left field. I told them, however, that I am the living testament of perseverance and that they can achieve their dreams by just having the right attitude and believing in their own abilities,” she explained.

With a teary-eyed Richard Bourke looking on, Carol Bourke recalled when she was told by “one of my early superiors” that because of her lack of a college education, “I could only go so far” in the tourism sector.

She noted, however, that while perturbed and “amazingly disappointed” she remained undeterred and used it as motivation to become “even more ambitious”.

Richard Bourke also spoke of his many obstacles in an industry which, on the surface, can appear glamorous and filled with “distinguished characters”, but like any big industry where people are eager to climb to the top, it can be cold.

“I followed a friend to Negril in 1982 where he was to do an interview for a job at a hotel. Miraculously and against all odds, I ended up doing an interview and getting a job which was to be my first foray into tourism,” said Richard Bourke who, at the time, was a computer supervisor and barely four years out of high school.

“It also meant packing my bags and leaving my comfort zone in Kingston for a new life to which I never looked back. It also brought me to Carol, who I met two years later and who would be my backbone ever since. We would also bring a beautiful daughter — Samantha — into the world, who has very much been a part of our incredible journey and who, in all probability, might well know this industry more than we do.”

He said the only thing both he and his wife know is tourism. “This is the industry that has given us everything… the one thing we can look back and say that this is where we got our start… as upstarts with basically nothing except our ambitious minds,” he explained.

The Amstar boss added that both he and his wife are, however, grateful for those who have paved the way “for people like us”, adding that they see themselves today as mentors, “elder statesman and woman” who feel a sense of obligation in giving back and helping others to succeed.

Carol Bourke became emotional when the conversation shifted to the crippling effect that COVID-19 has had on the tourism sector, resulting in many workers being displaced and facing a future of uncertainty.

It was, she said, the first challenge she has faced during all her years in the sector where “I simply had no answers.”

“What I am happy about, though, is that the industry is now speaking with one voice, and people in general, throughout the length and breadth of Jamaica, are having a better acceptance and appreciation for the sector on a whole,” she said.

She also noted that their philanthropic approach over the years has given them a better understanding and appreciation for what people are going through and their natural urge to do “all we can to assist”.

Richard Bourke added that tourism is the one industry that has consistently demonstrated a level of profitability and dependability.

“I am happy that the Government is doing all it can to give stakeholders the opportunity to make this work” and also to help the country recover from a pandemic “the likes of which the world has never seen before,” he said.

“Let's continue to make the resilient corridors work,” he added. “We are not saying that they are perfect, but they are the closest thing we have that the sector can currently rely on.”

Visitors to Jamaica are required to remain in the areas deemed the “COVID-19 Resilient Corridor”, which gives health authorities the ability to trace and contain their movement.

The corridors are on the north coast (seaward side) from Negril to Port Antonio; the south coast from Bluefields Bay in Westmoreland, eastward to Treasure Beach in St Elizabeth and Mandeville; and New Kingston and its environs.


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