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Red cap porters — Jamaica's tourism ambassadors

Observer West reporter

Thursday, November 09, 2017

 MONTEGO BAY, St James — When the hundreds of dignitaries and delegates arrive at the Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay for the upcoming United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) conference on Sustainable Tourism later this month, one of their first points of contact with Jamaica will be a unique group of workers — the red cap porters.

Apart from customs and immigration officers, they “are among the first and last persons” with whom visitors interact when arriving or departing the airport.

“While their role might seem low-keyed in a sector which is anything but low-key, the Red Cap Porters Association is an important partner, along with other stakeholders in the lucrative tourism industry,” says President of the Montego Bay Chamber of Commerce and Industry, T'Shura Gibbs.

“They are the ones who are asked the first questions about where to go, where to eat and the best attractions. They are the ones who set the stage for the social interaction to come in touch with other Jamaicans.”

The Montego Bay Airport Red Cap Porters Association Limited was formed in 1967 by the late John Pringle, a former Director of Tourism, and Colonel R T Michelin. The 15 initial members, were immediately dubbed “unofficial Jamaican Ambassadors.”

From there, the membership grew from strength to strength to become a formidable force, and today they are seen in some quarters, as “the true face of tourism,” at the Sangster International Airport.

Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett argues that some people mistakenly believe that “those who are perceived to be at the bottom of the chain are not important.”

“That is the kind of thinking we must dissuade every chance we get. When we think like that we are losing sight of the realities on the ground, losing sight of who the true unsung heroes are — the ones who are constantly in the line of fire day in, day out.”

MONTEGO BAY, St James — The minister maintains that the red cap porters remain an integral part of tourism and should also be given some credit for the growth that the sector is achieving.

“More visitors are coming in. Earnings from tourism are up and a large part of that is a result of the work performed throughout the sector, including the red cap porters at the Sangster Airport,” Bartlett emphasised.

“Porters are among the first persons whom visitors see when they land in our country; and among the last when they leave. We must remember how important that level of interaction is, and how professional these workers have to be.”

President of the Montego Bay Red Cap Porters Association, Levi Smith, said his association is happy to work in such an important area of the sector, adding that, “We take great pride in doing what we do.”

He also noted that, “We are looking forward to the UNWTO conference and the success it will bring to Jamaica.”

In terms of the roles of porters, Smith said, “We understand the roles we must play; and that it is our country that we are representing when we interact with visitors. We will therefore endeavour to operate professionally, knowing that we are important partners in the sector; and will do everything to ensure the satisfaction of conference delegates.”

The UNWTO Global Conference on Jobs and Inclusive Growth: Partnerships for Sustainable Tourism will be held from November 27-29 at the Montego Bay Convention Centre in Rose Hall, St James.