Saturday 5 December, 2020

People in Tourism: Kelly Fontenelle dedicated to selling the Caribbean

kelly Fontenelle, founder of Travel Advisors Selling the Caribbean.

kelly Fontenelle, founder of Travel Advisors Selling the Caribbean.

For many international tourists, the Caribbean is just a handful of islands, blue seas, white sands, and pretty cocktails.

Through her organisation, Travel Advisors Selling the Caribbean (TASC), Kelly Fontenelle is aiming to change that.

With travel advisors working to jumpstart their industry and, by extension, the tourism industry upon which the Caribbean is heavily reliant, many have been joining the TASC’s Facebook page in search of information, answers, and new ideas.

From COVID-19 travel protocols which are ever-changing to details about the not so popular destinations in the region, Fontanelle provides travel advisors with crucial information that helps them to guide their clients.

Fontenelle, who was born in Saint Lucia, started the TASC last year.

“I started the group last August and I put in a few travel advisors I knew. When I had 100 people in there it became very engaging. Hurricane Dorian came about a couple weeks later and I would post about Dorian and I realised the travel agents were dependent on this for their news and it just grew organically,” she said.

The group currently has just over 6000 members on Facebook.

“And then COVID hit and from February I was posting information in there from the different destinations. I was posting tidbits in there to help people inform their clients. I used to get 100 inquiries a day and it just grew and grew and from March/April it was just about COVID and I realised I need to keep the agents engaged and we need to find a way to keep the Caribbean alive.”

Fontenelle started putting the spotlight on one destination a day to help keep an interest in the region. She started in alphabetical order with Anguilla first. She told Loop that one agent thanked her for that information since her clients never knew about the island and she was able to sell it or the first time.

“It was a great learning tool for them. I realised those people need to learn more about the Caribbean, they just knew the regulars like Jamaica and a lot of Europe specialists, for example, came to the group to learn. They posted questions and others answered, it is a community. A lot of high-end luxury agents can’t post in the group so they email me and they follow and for them, it is also good as well,” she said.

“It is about showing them that the Caribbean is more than just honeymoons and hotels and sun, sea and sand. I am doing it because I love travel and tourism but it is so rewarding for me that I wake up and put out content.”

Over the last few months, the TASC has staged wellness webinars with professionals across the region and is staging a virtual 12 Days of Cooking Festival to celebrate the region’s Christmas culinary traditions.

Fontenelle’s passion for the Caribbean is clear.

She worked for the Saint Lucia Tourist Board and was transferred to New York where she worked for a while before being sent to Atlanta where she opened the board’s office there in 2009.

Despite her passion for tourism, Fontenelle initially wanted to be a chef when she left high school.

She said while working as an intern in a hotel while in catering school, she realised that she preferred to be involved in the background policy decisions and with the culinary field very male-dominated, she switched her degree from culinary studies to tourism management. Her first internship was at the Saint Lucia Tourist Board where she developed a love for tourism.

After parting ways with the now Saint Lucia Tourism Authority last year, the mother of one opened her own boutique travel agency called KFMC Marketing Agency.

With COVID-19 exposing a gap in the information disseminated for those who sell the Caribbean, Fontenelle is committed to doing her part.

“We are more than just a tourism destination, we have so much history. When I first flew to the US and people heard my accent they asked if I am from Jamaica. We are so many cultures and history, but people put us in one big group. Every destination has so much to offer and we are so unique. We need to start educating the people who sell the Caribbean,” she said.

Looking toward the future, Fontenelle said she would love to get the tourist boards involved to highlight their destinations more.

She also expressed a desire to see the islands working together to sell the region with island hopping experiences, for instance.

She said: “I want to go off the beaten tracks beyond the sand and sea. COVID has taught us that we have to think differently about how we sell our destinations. For the Caribbean, we are very different and unique but together we are a strong group to be reckoned with. It is time that we forget about the big one and the small one, we need to work together.”

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