The renovated Saba Tourist Bureau in Windward-side was officially reopened on Sunday. “Farewell” was said to former Director of Tourism Glenn Holm at the event and his successor Malinda Hassell was welcomed.
There was much praise and many words of thanks for Holm, who retired recently after a career of more than 40 years at the Tourist Bureau.
“When one thinks about the tourist office, or tourism on Saba, many think of Glenn. He became well known for his charisma, his positive attitude and love for Saba, not only here in the region but throughout many international destinations. It is only fitting that we express our gratitude and appreciation for his efforts to help build Saba as a destination and for helping to put our ‘Unspoiled Queen’ on the radar for travellers throughout the world,” said Commissioner of Tourism Bruce Zagers.
He commended Holm for being able to build relationships with media outlets and others while having to work with a very small budget and limited advertising opportunities.
“He was often able to get substantial coverage for Saba at rates that were friendly for his little budget. His passion and the ability to build relations stand out to me. Having travelled with Glenn to the Vakantiebeurs in the Netherlands, I got to see him at his best. Glenn was in his element when speaking about Saba. It was impressive to see the scores of people who would visit the Saba booth just to see him.”
Tourism being one of Saba’s main economic pillars and considering the challenges that tourism has been facing since the 2017 hurricanes and with the current pandemic, Holm’s approaching retirement made it urgent to find a capable replacement with ample experience in the industry. This person became Malinda Hassell, who grew up in Saba.
“She is highly qualified and brings a wealth of experience which is needed during this recovery. We are all impressed with her motivation and ideas to help us build and diversify our tourism product. Malinda, we are happy to welcome you to our team and we look forward to seeing your passion result into tangible improvements for our tourism product,” said Zagers.
Hassell referred to Holm as the “special person who has been the face of Saba for the past 40 years and a true ambassador of our island, an overall icon, and a beacon of light.”
Holm has what she calls the “Tourism DNA: a mixture of passion for what you do with an unbeatable knowledge of our natural wonders that make you the most service-minded, patient and caring person I know.” She commended Holm for always being willing to run the extra mile.
“Growing up in Saba, I saw Glenn as the face of tourism and someone I admired. I left when I was a teenager and I promised myself that one day I would return. Over the years I went on to study marketing and tourism consultancy and my career evolved in both public and the private sector over the past 12 years. I would have never imagined that years later I would be Glenn’s successor,” said Hassell.
She said that with her knowledge and expertise, she seeks to contribute to the success of Saba’s sustainable tourism development during this post-COVID economic and industry recovery.
She said that now, more than ever, Saba has to work towards formulating strategic approaches and look into transformational opportunities; destination alignment, sustainable development and values-based marketing that will help formulate decisions for the future that will effectively help lead the bureau and the tourism industry.
Tourism Master Plan
“We need to start the engines of a new Tourism Master Plan to understand where we are, where we want to be and what should we do to get there. The tourism industry is of vital importance for the economy and as the island continues to have positive developments, also new room inventory in the next two years, maritime ferry connectivity and the future harbour expansions, it is crucial that stakeholders have a strategic plan with a clear direction, action plan and budget alignment for its implementation.”
Collaborations with neighbouring islands need to be fortified, marketplace presence increased and travel possibilities and new itineraries for visitors created. This, Hassell said, would help boost the day-trip market and overnight stays.
Saba’s digital marketing efforts and public-relations presence should increase as well. “We need to reposition and promote Saba within our key markets, seek collaborations but also support our airline and maritime partners, explore opportunities and new product developments that set us apart but ensure our natural and cultural heritage is promoted.”
Hospitality training in a post-pandemic era is extremely important to maintain a high-quality service level. The Tourist Bureau will explore the possibilities of also creating an e-learning Saba Tourism platform to involve partners, youth and the community.
Hassell said she would work closely with all partners, address the issues and challenges, hear constructive criticism, try to seek opportunities and solutions, and improve where needed.
During the slow period created by the pandemic, the public entity Saba took advantage to expand and remodel the Tourist Bureau. The interior was completely renovated, and a conference room and public bathrooms were added. The conference room is called the Glenn Holm Conference Room in his honour.
The office now has a more welcoming environment for both visitors and stakeholders, said Commissioner Zagers. Everyone is welcome to pass by and view the renovated bureau.
In his speech, Holm looked back at the time when the office equipment consisted of a manual typewriter, a telephone and a hand-cranked mimeograph machine for making copies.
“There were no glossy brochures, websites, social-media platforms. Building a tourism industry didn’t happen overnight. It was a gradual process. In time, as the island grew and offered more amenities and attractions, financing became available and more interest was shown in the off-beaten track destinations, the island became more known and sought after.”
Travel trade shows were attended with the assistance of the European Union and the Dutch Caribbean promotion programme, a budget for advertising and promotion was deemed necessary by the local government, more access to the island by air and by sea was developed and visitor arrivals began to increase.
Holm thanked the staff with whom he had worked over the years, local stakeholders and the travel trade in general. “To all the friends and acquaintances that I have made during my time in the tourism industry, it has been an absolute pleasure. I enter retirement today with a great feeling of accomplishment, also knowing that I’ve been the longest reigning director of tourism in the entire Caribbean.”
From the hands of Island Governor Jonathan Johnson, Holm received an award of recognition, thanking him for the many years of dedicated service, commitment and integrity to the Saba Tourist Bureau, stakeholders and the community.