After four decades of service to the Jamaican tourism industry, Donnie Dawson, the retiring Deputy Director of the Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB), understands the value of professional travel advisors to the future growth of the sector and is stressing the importance of maintaining strong relationships with the network of travel agents.
According to Dawson, “travel sellers” are still the primary drivers of the island’s tourism industry. He dismissed the idea that online travel agencies (OTA) would eliminate the need for traditional advisors, and observed that they remain active, essential partners in the tourism industry.
“Let nobody fool you, I’ve heard it again and again for 40 years: ‘Oh, the retailers are going to go out of business with the OTAs.’ They’re still here, man,” he said, noting that even Expedia has a program for travel agents.
Dawson highlighted the success of the 12-year-old Jamaica Travel Specialist program, an online training course for travel agents that has grown beyond expectations. With tens of thousands of graduates in the program, the JTB strategically leverages this core database to sell Jamaica.
“I have convinced people that the retail trade is still here to stay. They’re not going anywhere … and that, to me, is probably one of my crowning achievements that I would reflect on,” said Dawson, who shared that the travel specialist program is available in multiple languages, including Spanish, Portuguese and French.
Speaking at the Routes Americas airline route development conference in Chicago last week, Dawson reflected on his professional journey and the significant changes he has seen during his tenure, including successful efforts to increase air connectivity to Jamaica. Affectionately known by his colleagues as “Mr. Airlift”, Dawson has also witnessed the growth of the island’s accommodations footprint with the tripling of rooms across the destination to more than 30,000, driven by the all-inclusive segment.
“Jamaica is deeply indebted to Donnie Dawson for his decades of service to develop and promote tourism to the island,” said Edmund Bartlett, Jamaica’s Minister of Tourism. “He has been a steadfast ambassador throughout the years, dedicated to helping Jamaica become one of the world’s leading tourism destinations. We are truly grateful to him for everything he has accomplished and wish him a very happy retirement.”
“We are truly saddened to see Donnie go, as he has been a respected colleague and an invaluable leader to the Board over the many years he has worked with us and whose passion and drive helped make our tourism industry what it is today,” said Donovan White, Director of Tourism of the Jamaica Tourist Board. “However, we wish him only the best as he leaves his storied career to pursue life beyond it and we will absolutely remain in touch. Donnie will indeed be missed!”
As he retires, Dawson plans to work on his golf game and spend time with his grandchildren. He leaves behind a legacy of dedication and passion for Caribbean tourism, and his contributions will be valued for years to come.