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Rebuilding the Nature Isle’s Tourism Industry after Hurricane Maria – Dominica Tours

by Karen Rollins May 29, 2019

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Hurricane Maria, a deadly Category Five storm, devastated Dominica in 2017.

Most of the island’s population were left homeless, as 95% of its buildings were damaged, and it took several months to clean-up the worst of the destruction.

While the island was recovering, a phrase emerged which kept Dominicans going: “Build back better,” and that determination is at the heart of ‘Dominica Tours’, a company run by entrepreneur Yvonne Armour Hill.

Yvonne’s parents, who are recognised as pioneers in Dominica’s tourism industry, founded their business Anchorage Limited in 1974. The brand included a hotel, a land-based tour company, and a whale watching and dive centre.

Yvonne served as Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer at Dominica Tours, the tour operation division of Anchorage Ltd, which coordinated exciting experiences for guests. However, when Hurricane Maria destroyed three properties under the Dominica Tours umbrella, the tour company became virtually obsolete.

Despite the devastation, Yvonne maintained a strong desire to help restore Dominica’s tourism industry. She decided to rebrand and redevelop the company.

She says: “Instead of continuing to focus on our sister properties, we are now working on offering a level of quality support to hoteliers and other providers in the tourism industry to enhance the integrity of their products and services.

“And our focus is on authenticating the Nature Island experience.”

Even after a natural disaster as destructive as Hurricane Maria, Yvonne’s plan is working because visitors to Dominica come for more than just a holiday.

Yvonne explains: “We’re the Nature Isle of the Caribbean. Our very discerning visitors come here to hike, dive, enjoy our natural spas, go whale watching in the Caribbean’s whale watching capital, experience the world’s only indigenous Kalinago Territory, home to our region’s indigenous people…”

“We attract fit and energetic people who want adventure, and off-the-beaten-track experiences, in one of the Caribbean’s most authentic destinations and best kept secrets. As well as those in search of peace and tranquility in beautiful ‘eco’ spaces…So, we still have a lot to offer.”

As a tourism and hospitality consultant, Yvonne was well placed to provide management support and training to other hoteliers on the island.

She’s been in the industry for over 35 years, and has worked locally, regionally and internationally, including as a consultant with the Caribbean Tourism Organisation. She is also presently the Tourism HRD Specialist with a consulting firm that won the bid to review and update Dominica’s National Tourism Policy, Tourism Master Plan and its DDA Corporate Strategy.

Yvonne has combined her industry knowledge and expertise with support from the Caribbean Export Development Agency, and its Women Empowered Through Export (WE-Xport) programme. We-Xport is designed to support Caribbean women in business to start exporting or increase the exports of their products and services.

Yvonne is motivated to ensure that Dominica is the number one destination for nature lovers. With a firm footing in the French Caribbean islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe as well as France, Yvonne is also focused on significantly increasing the export of her services to Europe, North America and Africa.

And one untapped market she’s also hoping to reach is the diaspora – Dominicans living abroad.

She says: “This isn’t country specific. But it’s definitely a market we should be going after. We want them to revisit the natural beauty of their homeland.”

Yvonne is undoubtedly brimming over with ideas to help rebuild and expand Dominica’s tourism industry, but its long-term success will depend on creating a model that is sustainable. To achieve this, she has established ‘Ayahora’, a registered non-profit foundation, which is designed to support the creation of inspirational leaders.

The foundation promotes sustainable development principles and practices through the delivery and support of quality, environmentally sensitive, and culturally relevant educational programmes and initiatives.

Yvonne shares: “Ayahora’s work will support the development of the tourism industry by helping to mold responsible, thoughtful, good-spirited, productive global citizens.

“So, the foundation is looking to address the needs of the industry in terms of building capacity, and in trying to inculcate from a very early age, sustainable development principles and practices. In 15-20 years, we can envisage a work force that is more eco and culturally-sensitive, better equipped to contribute in real ways to the responsible development of our beautiful Nature Isle… first and foremost for us Dominicans, as well as for our visitors.”

Yvonne’s plans for Dominica Tours and Ayahora, exemplify Dominica’s determination to ‘build back better’, and are a testament to her entrepreneurial spirit.

She confides: “When you suffer such devastation and loss, you have to ask yourself ‘what’s the lesson to be learned’? How can I turn this to my advantage?

“You have a choice. You can either wallow and not move on, or you can make a choice for survival.”

Find out more about Dominica Tours and Yvonne’s work by visiting: http://bit.ly/DominicaTours

Visit the WE-Xport booth at BMEX in Barbados from 7-10 June 2019 to learn more about Dominica Tours.