'Jamaicafied' tour experience with FIWI Jamaica

'Jamaicafied' tour experience with FIWI Jamaica

BY ALEXIS MONTEITH
Observer writer

Sunday, December 15, 2019

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Harvel Jackson is a 50-year-old tour guide and entrepreneur who operates a Kingston-based business called FIWI Jamaica Experience Tours.

Jackson lived in the United States for most of his adult life and worked in the IT industry. He came back to Jamaica with the intention of going into both catering and the tourism industry but eventually focused only on the tour business.

Jackson utilises transportation companies when necessary and sometimes he may hire assistant tour guides for particular jobs but ultimately FIWI is a personalised service and a one-man operation that offers tours around Jamaica.

The excursions range from Blue Mountain tours, culture, nature and city tours which involve sites like Devon House, Bob Marley museum, Blue Hole hidden falls, Lime Cay, White River tubing, a coffee tour and a lot more.

The close personal relationship that Jackson nurtures with his guests is reflected in the positive reviews on his website:

“Thank you for taking such good care of us in Kingston,” expressed one satisfied customer. “We felt like we saw so much more of Kingston with you than we would have done as 'independent' travellers. Drinks at Tracks and Records was the icing on the cake.”

The Jamaica Observer sat down with the entrepreneur to ask questions about the challenges, demands and rewards of running a one-man tour company. Jackson gave us some illuminating answers.

What is the hardest part of running a one-man tour company at the age of 50?

Nothing

What is your biggest operational challenge?

My biggest challenge has been to find good assistant tour guides when necessary. After the first experience many guides say it is too much to commit to because of the requirements. I go everywhere with the guests so if they are climbing Dunn's River Falls we are climbing it together. If we are hiking in the Blue Mountains we are hiking together. If you are swimming in Portland and you don't want to swim alone, I swim with you. For many assistant tour guides that is too much.

How do you stay competitive as a tour guide?

I constantly try to keep my knowledge up to speed with the help of the Jamaica Tourist Board and my own research at the museums and historical places and through reading.

What is the most rewarding part of the job?

When my guests are happy with their experience in Jamaica. I term it as 'Jamaicafied'. They have become Jamaicafied. They tell me how much they have learned. A lot of times they tell me it wasn't what they had expected. They will tell me they felt safe and had a good time. It makes me feel happy. It makes me feel like I have done my job.

I am sharing my life with them and my own little twist on how I experience things. We have great conversations and they learn a lot. It is like having a friend.

How do you ensure a happy and satisfied experience?

Customer service. You have to be able to know what each guest is like and then tailor that experience to that guest. It could be the same experience, but the way you go about it, interacting with them and showing them can be different.

It's always best to go over the tour with the guest before you embark on the tour and I do it twice with them. It is best to explain to the guest what they are going to experience and make any adjustments they might want. Question them for expectations. What I have learned is to find out what their expectations are and find the tour that matches those expectations even if I have to change the tour at the last minute.

What quality do you need to make this kind of business successful?

The number one thing you have to have is perseverance, and you have to be willing to understand and find a way through the system of how Jamaica works and how this particular industry works and know the people in the industry from your competitors to your supporters.

How has your work enhanced your appreciation of Jamaica?

It has confirmed my appreciation of Jamaica and expanded it a million times because there are places that I have discovered and places that I have now experienced in greater detail just through trying to give the guest a greater experience. There are things I have discovered because I am constantly trying to learn more about Jamaica. If you have a passion for it, it makes it that much better.

What is the profile of your customers?

In Kingston most of the guests are business-oriented, but they are into adventure. They love nature, adventure and culture. Most of them come for business and then do a tour. I get some that come for vacation, but I would say that is probably 20 per cent. 80 per cent would have been here for business.

Where do you see your business in 10 years?

I would like to have a staff of no more than 10 people. I would like to have other tour guides but I don't want to be too big. I still want to be a personalised service. I see the company in 10 years having a strong online presence bringing guests from all over the world from online bookings as well as having more hotels providing me with business. I see myself being where I love to be in my country that I love so much and climbing the Blue Mountains and still visiting different places around the island.


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