18 Mar 2023 By travelpulse
After 20 years as Deputy Director of Tourism for the Americas for the Jamaica Tourist Board - and 20 years before that as a California-based regional manager - Donnie Dawson has announced that he will retire later this year.
TravelPulse Canada caught up with the familiar figure to discuss his accomplishments, memories and future plans.
"When I went out to California, the western part of North America didn't know much about the Caribbean and Jamaica in particular," Dawson said. "We started out with some charter flights, but when we were able to launch Air Jamaica flights from Los Angeles to Montego Bay, that was one of the proudest moments of my career."
The tourism industry in the Caribbean is entirely dependent on convincing airlines to offer flights - and then convincing travellers to get onboard. So the fact that Dawson earned the nickname of "Mr. Airlift" among colleagues also gives him a lot of pride."
"Without lift, destinations can't grow. Now, from the U.S. alone, we have 22 gateways for flights to Jamaica."
Dawson says Canada "was always a challenge," but he's proud of the growth that saw the island welcome over 400,000 Canadians annually pre-pandemic. He's sure that number would be over 500,000 if not for the COVID disruption.
When Dawson started with the JTB as a young man, Jamaica's tourism product was much different. "There were no all-inclusives, no one knew what an all-inclusive was. It started with properties like Negril Beach Village, that used a Club Med-style approach, with shark's teeth instead of beads.
Then Couples Resorts came along, then Sandalsâ€¦and the rest is history, with Jamaica now positioned as an all-inclusive leader.
"During my time we've gone from 10,000 rooms to more than 30,000, with lots more to come," Dawson said. "What we have produced is amazing to me."
"Donnie has been a valued friend, colleague and mentor since I first joined the Jamaica Tourist Board as Canada's Regional Director in 2019," says Angella Bennett, who continues in that role.
"He has brought an immense amount of passion and energy to his work with the JTB over the years, taking great pride in driving Jamaica's tourism industry and growing the island's profile on the world stage.
Bennett adds that Dawson has always supported and appreciated the role of travel agents.
"Throughout his career, Donnie has been a champion for Canada's hardworking travel advisors and has always made a special effort to recognize and celebrate the integral role our agents play in Jamaica's ongoing success. Donnie will be greatly missed by myself and all of his JTB colleagues in Canada. We wish him all the best in his well-deserved retirement."
Dawson is also proud of Jamaica's outsized reputation on the world stage, gaining attention for its music, its cuisine and its incredible athletes.
"We've had an incredible influence on many areas, for a small place that is the third-largest island in the Caribbean. We've given the world new sounds and new flavours."
Dawson says that despite his retirement later this year, he's "still got some gas in the tank," and will likely offer the wisdom gained by experience on an advisory basis.
"I'm going to play a lot of golf, take some rest time, but I want to keep active and I'm open to be an advisor. I'll be around."