Caribbean technocrat and diplomat Dr Jean Holder is dead
The late Dr Jean Holder (Photo: CMC)

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, (CMC) — The distinguished Barbadian technocrat Dr Jean Holder, well known throughout the region for his pioneering work in tourism and diplomacy, has died. He was 85.

“In tourism, unlike in the case of the export of sugar and bananas, the region's horizons are not circumscribed by old connections with former colonial powers that, in any case, no longer carry the burden of guilt caused by colonial exploitation. The tourism world is indeed the Caribbean's oyster,” Holder wrote in his 2014 publication titled Caribbean Tourism.

Holder's service to his homeland and the wider Caribbean began after graduating from Oxford University in England, when he was recruited into the diplomatic service to represent the newly formed West Indies Federation.

But the illustrious career he had envisaged with the West Indies Federation was not to be as in 1961, Jamaica decided to leave the federation, followed closely by Trinidad and Tobago.

“The whole thing began to collapse. Jamaica had a referendum in 1961 and decided that she would leave, followed by Trinidad…the seven eastern Caribbean countries plus Barbados found themselves struggling to survive,” he would later explain.

Holder said that the remaining countries “rescued the situation” by forming the Barbados-based Eastern Caribbean Commission with offices in London and Canada.

Holder, who had been trained in diplomacy, international law and political theory at the University of Toronto in Canada, was posted as the “number two” in the office in London, and, in addition to looking after matters of trade and the relationship with the British Government, was also responsible for the welfare of immigrants to England, including students from the Caribbean.

While in London, Holder became engaged in the conversations regarding Barbados's move towards independence in 1966, with then Prime Minister Errol Barrow giving him the task of keeping Barbadians and other Caribbean countries apprised of negotiations with the British Government.

Holder returned to Barbados in 1968 to head the Economic and Policy Division of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs where his interest in the region's tourism sector grew.

He said he was attracted to an advertisement for the creation of a region-wide research and development tourism organisation, and while admitting that he had no experience in the tourism industry, he remained engaged in the efforts to transform Caribbean tourism from being simply an activity driven by marketing, to being a developmental sector chartered mostly by research statistics and planning.

“I was looking for a change from the foreign service. I had been in the foreign service actively for 14 years and thought that perhaps I needed a change, and I felt I had the ability to get the job done…I think that my 14 years in diplomacy had given me the skills to get persons to get things done.

“It was a job which had really nothing to do with tourism. It was about creating an agency, designing an agency, selecting the kind of economists and statisticians — people that were never associated with tourism prior,” he added.

Holder spent 30 years in regional tourism, and, at the end of his tenure, the CTO had become the region's major tourism marketing and development organisation, with a membership of 34 Caribbean states, as well as several national, regional and international private sector travel and tourism agencies and companies.

Holder would later expand his role within the region's private sector, becoming the chairman of the regional-based carrier, LIAT, whose major shareholders were the governments of Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica and St Vincent and the Grenadines.

Holder also contributed significantly to the development of Barbados's cultural landscape and was chairman of the first National Independence Festival of Creative Arts (NIFCA) Committee in 1973.

He would later be awarded the Governor General's Lifetime Award for his contribution to NIFCA.

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