Carolann Birchwood-James, a prominent figure in Tobago’s tourism industry, was honoured with the Humming Bird Medal (gold) for her exceptional contributions to tourism advocacy.
The former president of the Tobago Hotel and Tourism Association attributes her success to the groundwork laid by her late husband, Ashton James, whom she worked alongside in establishing the Canoe Bay Beach Resort hotel more than three decades ago.
Birchwood-James, 67, said she was overwhelmed with joy and gratitude at being recognised for her efforts in promoting tourism.
“I accepted that award with plenty optimism because I still have faith in the industry,” she said.
She attributed her achievements to her faith in God, the unwavering support of her family, and the guidance of her late husband and mother. She also mentioned the crucial role played by members of the Hotel and Tourism Association and the people of Tobago in her journey towards this recognition.
She credited her late husband for introducing her to the industry and said she is proud in continuing their joint journey of tourism advocacy.
As Birchwood-James accepted the award, she thought of her husband’s absence and imagined him by her side, as they had embarked on this journey together. His sudden passing due to a heart attack during the pandemic ultimately inspired her to work even harder towards their shared vision of enhancing tourism in Tobago.
“When I arrived in Trinidad for the awards show, I told myself, ‘If he was alive he would have been here with me. His suit would be hang up in the hotel room’. It’s two and a half years. I know he’s with me and as I accept the award he’ll be right by my side,” she said.
Birchwood-James said her work in tourism advocacy started 16 years ago as a member of the island’s tourism association. Since then, she has dedicated herself to raising awareness about the benefits and potential of tourism in Tobago.
Her advocacy efforts spanned various platforms, including media appearances, interviews, and participation in trade shows. Birchwood-James was instrumental in highlighting the significance of connectivity, securing airline partnerships, and advocating for increase in both domestic and international airlift to Tobago.
Another major accomplishment was the establishment of the Tobago Tourism Development Fund during her tenure as the association’s president.
Reflecting on her journey, Birchwood-James said her belief is that the tourism industry is built on constant progress and innovation.
“Innovation and hard work is what is going to make the situation better. We have a lot of work to do in Tobago. We would always have a lot of work to do as far as tourism is concerned. That is the business we are in here in Tobago.”
She lamented the challenges faced by Tobago’s tourism sector, including the need for effective marketing strategies and improved connectivity.
Birchwood-James highlighted the importance of the industry for the island, emphasising that tourism provides valuable foreign exchange and promotes economic growth.
While grateful for the recognition she has received, Birchwood-James stressed that her reward for hard work is more hard work.
The mother of five and grandmother of 12 still dreams about establishing Tobago as a full-fledged tourism island, ensuring a prosperous future for generations to come.
“My hope for the future of tourism is that as we progress we are going to get it right, we are going to get the right formula. That goes to Trinidad and Tobago.
“I hope we are going to get the marketing right, we are going to get the connectivity right. People still can’t come to Tobago. We can have all the hotels that we want, all the marketing, if we don’t have the connectivity, tourism will not work.
“I need the people of Tobago to understand that tourism is good for us. We earn foreign exchange. Tourism is not slavery, it’s not servitude, it’s business.”