ROSEAU, Dominica, Thursday May 23, 2019 – When Hurricane Maria, a deadly Category Five hurricane, devastated Dominica in 2017, the island coined a phrase Dominicans were determined to achieve – “Build Back Better”, and it’s at the heart of the Dominica Tours story.
In 1974, Yvonne Armour Hill’s parents, recognized as pioneers in Dominica’s tourism industry, founded Anchorage Limited, a tourism business which included a hotel, a land-based tour company, and a whale watching and dive centre.
Dominica Tours, which Armour Hill operated, coordinated the experiences of their guests. But the hurricane destroyed three properties under the Dominica Tours umbrella, making the tour company virtually obsolete.
Armour Hill, however, is not a quitter, and motivated by a desire to help get the entire island’s tourism industry back on its feet, she decided to rebrand and redevelop the company.
“Instead of continuing to focus solely on our 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,” she said. “And our focus is on promoting the Nature Isle experience.”
Even after a natural disaster as destructive as Hurricane Maria was, Yvonne’s plan works, because visitors to Dominica aren’t there merely for the hotels.
“We’re the Nature Isle of the Caribbean,” Armour Hill said. “They come here to hike, dive and experience the world’s only indigenous Kalinago territory, home to the indigenous people of Dominica. We attract the fit and energetic, people who want adventure and off the beaten track experiences in one of the Caribbean’s most authentic and best kept secrets,” she said. “So, we still have a lot to offer.”
As a tourism and hospitality consultant, Armour Hill was well placed to provide management support and training to 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 Organization.
She combined her industry knowledge and expertise with support from the Caribbean Export Development Agency. Through their new Women Empowered Through Export (WE-Xport) programme, which is designed to support Caribbean women in business to start exporting, or increase the exports of their products and services, Armour Hill, one experience at a time, is working to ensure Dominica is the number one choice for nature lovers. With a firm reach in the French Caribbean islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe and in France, she is focused on significantly increasing the export of her services to Europe, North America and the African Continent. And one untapped market she’s also focused on bringing in is the diaspora – Dominicans living abroad.
“This isn’t country specific,” she said, “But it’s definitely a market we should be going after. We want them to revisit the natural beauty of their homeland.”
Armour Hill is undoubtedly brimming over with ideas to help rebuild and expand Dominica’s tourism industry, but its long-term success will be dependent on creating a model that is sustainable. To achieve this, she has established Ayahora, a registered non-profit, designed to support the development of inspirational leadership institutes, which are focused on pre-primary, Montessori education and adult skills training. The foundation promotes sustainable development principles and practices through the delivery and support of quality, environmentally sensitive, culturally relevant educational programmes and initiatives.
“Ayahora’s work will support the development of the tourism industry by helping to mould responsible, thoughtful, good-spirited, productive global citizens,” Armour Hill shared. “So the foundation really is looking to address the needs of the industry in terms of the skills, and in trying to inculcate from a very early age, sustainable development principles and practices, so that in 15, 20 years, we have a workforce that totally and truly understands what Dominica, the Nature Isle is trying to do.”
Armour Hill’s plans for Dominica Tours and Ayahora exemplify Dominica’s determination to build back better, and are a testament to the entrepreneurial spirit.
“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,” Armour Hill said. “You have a choice. You can either wallow and not move on, or you can make a choice for survival.” (Caribbean Export)