Diaspora Dynamics, where we focus on keeping you abreast of the activities, achievements, and contributions of Vincentians all around the world. For this edition, we are pleased to feature Rachel Browne from Troumaca, North Leeward. Rachel is General Manager of award-winning Hermitage Bay Resort, a five-star hotel in Jennings, Antigua. Currently, she resides at St. John’s, Antigua, along with her husband Jerry Browne, and daughter Ari-Rose.
By Tricia Reddock
When I finally managed to catch up with her, the first thing I noticed about Rachel was her unbridled enthusiasm for her career in hospitality. She loves her job. It radiates from her. Without a doubt, she is a people person. This practically leaps out at you within a matter of seconds of interacting.
“Hospitality is my natural gift. I will not say that I was at the top of my class – I was certainly in the top ten, but there were some brighter students than me at school. My personal advantage is my drive and my love and passion for this field. Hospitality is something that you cannot do very well in unless you really and truly love it.”
Rachel Charles-Browne, General Manager of Hermitage Bay Resort at Jennings, Antigua, reflects on how she came to be one of those very rare, and probably, the only female Caribbean national in charge of running the various, daily operations of a five-star hotel and resort in the entire Caribbean region.
Under her stewardship over the past ten years, Hermitage Resorts has positioned itself as one of the leading vacation destinations in the Caribbean, receiving numerous international and prestigious awards, including: 2017 Condé Nast Travel Gold List, 2016 Haute Grandeur, Best Hideaway Resort and 2015 Top 10 Brides Honeymoon Best Resort awards.
In her current position, Rachel relies heavily on her old school upbringing, starting off at “fore day morning” at the gym, in preparation for a long, unpredictable day that will likely go late into an evening spent socializing with her guests at the resort.
Rachel’s love for hospitality began early at her childhood home in Troumaca in the parish of St. David, on the Leeward side. She was the first of four children. An African with Portuguese ancestry, she grew up in a huge extended family including her grandmother, mother, aunts, siblings and cousins.
“Our household operated like a community center. All of the children in my area were raised by the entire village. My grandmother and matriarch of the family was an extremely well known woman, and she was also very active in our community. She was the Postmistress, she was also the Registrar for births and deaths and a leader at our church.
The people in our neighborhood came by to to see her for everything. They came to her if they needed someone to listen to them. They came to her for support, and sometimes they even came to ask her to mediate some of their conflicts.”
Rachel recalls a home that was always a hive of buzzing activity, growing up as a little girl. Her grandmother, her mother and her aunts frequently hosted the villagers who regularly gathered at her house for the food, storytelling, laughs, and friendly company her hospitable family readily provided to the members of their community.
Following in the traditions of her family, she discovered she had a knack for making people feel happy, comfortable and at ease. For Rachel, hospitality isn’t simply her career, it’s her way of life.
“People travel for different reasons. It isn’t always just for a simple getaway. There are times when our guests come for healing after a traumatic or life changing event. I try my best to give them the comfortable space that they need.”
Rachel first left SVG at sixteen to spend a year in at a high school in Livermore, California, United States, through the American Field Service Intercultural Program. Her host family lived near San Francisco’s Bay Area.
After returning home to complete her studies at Bishop’s College, Kingstown, she won a USAID scholarship to Hocking College’s Environment Management/Tourism program in Ohio, in conjunction with The American Hotel Association.
Rachel quickly discovered an affinity for the hospitality and guest services aspect of tourism.
The program attracted international students primarily from nations developing their tourism sector.
“There were lots of Caribbean and African students. I loved the diversity and I loved my studies. I dove right in because it was all so natural to me.” She stayed on campus for an additional two years, to continue her studies through an online program offered by Florida International Hospitality University.
Upon completion, Rachel returned to SVG and a position in guest relations at Palm Island Resort in the Grenadines. She provided front desk customer service to hotel guests.
She proved to be a natural leader in the hospitality environment, quickly advancing to Island Manager in just five short months.
In that capacity, not only was she responsible for the daily operations at the hotel, she also functioned to coordinate the maintenance services provided by the resort to the privately owned residences on the island.
“I was the chief cook and bottle washer on Palm Island. I was in charge of the maintenance and operations for the whole island, as well as the day to day operations at the resort itself. I loved that position as it was my very first working introduction to the hospitality industry.”
After a little over five years, the opportunity to represent SVG in Europe as Manager, Sales and Marketing for the tourist board presented itself to her.
In this new career, Rachel was responsible for developing SVG’s tourism product. She acted as the liaison between the Government of St. Vincent: Department of Tourism, and all of the travel agents and tour operators in Western Europe.
In the six years she functioned in this position, she lived in London, United Kingdom. While in London, Rachel continued her hospitality studies through Sheffield Holland University.
“For me, this was a very challenging position. It was a wonderful opportunity for me to learn the other side of the business, as far as developing the tourism product. I was proud of St. Vincent, and I wanted to tell the world all about what we have to offer to visitors.”
Equally challenging was striking a balance between the bureaucracy in the form of red tape, and the budget constraints of government, against the technical aspects of marketing SVG as a tourist destination in a fast paced, commercial arena.
“Working in that capacity gave me deeper insight into how all things worked together in the industry. I realized the full scope of how sales, marketing and tours etc., all worked in tandem to bring the guests to our shores.”
Her time in London was also the setting for one of her greatest personal challenges. In 2005, Rachel gave birth to her only child, daughter Aria-Rose prematurely, with her fiancé, Antiguan Jerry Browne, a Senior Aircraft Mechanic at LIAT. Although she returned to work, it quickly became clear that her daughter needed more nurturing and a warmer, healthier environment in order to thrive.
“Those times were a major challenge for me. I was alone, Jerry visited as often as he could from Antigua, and my mother and sister were living in Africa Gambia at the time.
Balancing everything made me into a stronger person. Especially having to do it mostly on my own.”
Rachel decided to resign from her position. She got married to Jerry in Gambia, then they moved together as a family to Antigua, with Aria-Rose.
She briefly held a position at one of the big island resorts. It wasn’t the right match for her, so she continued looking at other opportunities. Soon after, she was offered the chance to move over to the recently opened Hermitage Resort as Assistant Manager.
The rest is history. Within three months, Rachel became one of the first Caribbean women to be appointed general manager at a major resort in the region.
Rachel continues to take classes to increase her knowledge of, and expertise in the industry. Most recently, she participated in Cornell University’s General Managers program, obtaining an Executive Manager’s Degree. When asked about what she loved most about her position, her response was immediate and sure.
“I love interacting with diverse peoples from all over the world. I cherish the caring and respectful relationships I have developed with my staff over the years. My team has over 105 members, yet we operate like one big, loving family unit.
I especially love the social aspect of my career. I love meeting people and making them happy. I get to be sociable and attend a lot of our functions here at Hermitage.
I get to travel outside Antigua promoting our brand. I wind up socializing at our in house activities almost every night. I love my life and what I do.” Does she see a future in St. Vincent?
“Not permanently, nor in the immediate future. For the short term, I will be delighted to play a role in improving our product, so perhaps working with students of hospitality and with hospitality workers in terms of training.
Our product is unique, we are relatively unspoilt and with the opening of AIA we will be in a much better position to compete.
However, we need to make sure that our bed stock is increased, and that we are catering to all aspects of the traveling spectrum. Once we achieve this, I see us as a real competitor in the Caribbean tourism sector, we have been blessed by nature and our people are warm and friendly.”
Rachel’s passion for people is expressed through a simple guiding principle. Her philosophy says, “live and let live. I only do what makes me happy. Happiness trumps money, social standing, and any material thing I can think of. I chose a job I love, so I never had to work a day in my life.”
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