Mon | Apr 6, 2020

Deafinately Jamaica Tours creates Accessible Tourism in Jamaica

Published:Wednesday | February 19, 2020 | 12:18 AMJanet Silvera - Hospitality Jamaica Coordinator
The team of tour guides. From left: Setria Bryan, Peta-Gay Graham, Adrian Downer, Nickadian Smith and Davia Bartlett.
The team of tour guides. From left: Setria Bryan, Peta-Gay Graham, Adrian Downer, Nickadian Smith and Davia Bartlett.

It was out of concern for the future of deaf children in Jamaica, who are oftentimes not afforded the opportunity to reach their full occupational potential, which prompted Renee Campbell to conceptualise Deafinately Jamaica Tours.

Headquartered in Montego Bay, the island’s newest destination management company (DMC) is the first to target primarily the deaf and other tourists with disabilities and their families, providing ­booking of tours, deaf tour guides, hotel rooms and other requisite services.

The company is tapping into accessible tourism to woo a market still gravely underserved in Jamaica, despite the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) recognising facilitating travel for people with disabilities as an exceptional business opportunity.

Chief Executive Officer Renee Campbell, who is the mother of a deaf daughter, told Hospitality Jamaica that she initially grappled with communicating with her child, and as the youngster grew up, thought to herself that she wanted “something better on the landscape for positions or jobs” for her child and for other deaf persons, which would also enable them to travel freely to Jamaica and other countries without language being a barrier.

“As I looked at the students that have matriculated out of the deaf institutions, I realised that most of the time I see them in the supermarkets packing bags, or they are working in the hotels as housekeepers or sous chef, positions where their language is not really used up,” Campbell explained.

“I believe that when you go to a country, when you get first-hand experience of the country from the locals who work there, it enhances the entire travelling experience for you, and I don’t believe anyone in this landscape is able to provide deaf persons with a better experience than deaf persons themselves,” she added.

Along with two silent partners, Deafinately blossomed from just an idea in 2018 into a full concept which included data from intensive market research, consultations with the Jamaica Association for the Deaf, and overseas promotion which included familiarisation trips to the Deaf Nation conference in the US to promote Jamaica as a destination. These trips revealed some interesting facts, including the reason many deaf people and their families avoid Jamaica, despite them wanting to visit the island.

“Persons came to our booth and there was quite a buzz. Brand Jamaica is big in the deaf community, so we had to come and ensure that we had everything in place, getting our certification and our license so that we could be legal and not try to do something in the background,” Campbell said.

“They want to come into Jamaica – quite a number of deaf persons that travel – but because the services are not available in Jamaica, they avoid Jamaica. What we wanted to see is more deaf persons coming into Jamaica, and that would not only bolster our tourism product, but also help the persons within the deaf community to give them another avenue to use up their language and to interact and communicate with persons from other countries,” she said.

UNWTO statistics indicate that people with disabilities represent 15 per cent of the world population. If that same logic is applied to the one billion international tourists that travel each year, this means a 150 million market is there for the taking, in addition to their families or travel partners.

Having met the prerequisites of the Jamaican authorities, Deafinately is gearing up to kick-start operations come the 2020 winter tourist season, which Campbell says they will precede with several soft launches.

A total of 10 tour guides, nine deaf ­persons and one hearing person skilled in sign language, were trained and certified by the Tourism Product Development Company Ltd as tour guides, with the Caribbean Christian Centre for the Deaf in Granville, St James, providing the interpreter during the training exercise.

“They are on call and as we develop, we will have a trainer dedicated to the company. Training and development will be a big part of what we do,” she said.

Campbell also noted that the ­company’s intention is to, in addition to the use of the Jamaica Sign Language, which is a ­derivative of the American Sign Language, increase the vocabulary of the tour guides by exposing them to the different types of sign languages to enable them to better cater to people from other regions.

The start-up company has access to two buses owned by one of its directors, who is a player in the ground transportation sector. The vehicles are retrofitted with ramps to accommodate persons who are using ­wheelchairs, but the aim is to procure a ­specially designed bus for that purpose, and then grow based on demand, Campbell said.

In the recent past, the UNWTO also called for a change in mindset and for provisions in the model of tourism services to meet this major market demand, noting that ­“accessible environments and services ­contribute to improve the quality of the tourism product and can create more job opportunities for people with disabilities”.

The World Health Organization has also given its take on the matter of accessible tourism, noting that accessibility for all to tourist facilities, products, and services should be a central part of any responsible and sustainable tourist policy.

janet.silvera@gleanerjm.com