The founder of two thriving businesses, Be Distinctly Different (launched in 2013) and Your Caribbean Travel (in 2016), Jamie-Lee Abtar has done what many of us strive for but don’t always achieve; find a way to combine a passion into a career.
Jamie-Lee grew up in Barbados where travel and tourism is the main economic earner on the island. However, she says that her passion for travel is definitely down to her mother. “Every summer we would travel to different islands in the Caribbean like Jamaica, St. Lucia and Grenada, and I saw the unique flavour that each island has. This just made me want to travel and see more of the world!”
From a young age, she knew a career in the industry beckoned, but it was only after she completed a degree in hospitality studies followed by a BSc in hotel and tourism management, that she discovered her niche, travel marketing! A move to the UK was next to complete an MSc in Tourism Marketing and Management at Bournemouth University.
Explaining further how she honed her knowledge of the industry, she said: “Practical work experience is really important so throughout my studies I took on as many internships as I could possibly manage, I then had the double whammy of experience and qualifications. Now, I like to keep abreast of everything that is happening in the industry. I follow all the major travel organisations, blogs and travel news distributors as well as attending conferences and workshops.”
Today, Jamie-Lee looks back on a career as a highly respected travel and tourism marketing professional with more than 10 years experience. She launched her first business, Be Distinctly Different, four years ago. It is a boutique travel marketing and PR agency that helps travel and lifestyle brands to grow, develop and make more money. One of the ways they do this is through a new Travel Marketing Toolkit that they introduced last year. “Through the toolkit we teach travel and tourism brands actionable marketing, branding and PR strategies that they can implement into their business. We host workshops, seminars, networking events, webinars, group coaching, as well as one on one consults in London, the Caribbean and very soon Africa too!”
Her most recent company launch is Your Caribbean, a travel company that focuses on group travel experiences, personal luxury concierge and weddings/honeymoons to the Caribbean. “I founded Your Caribbean Travel with my partner Reuben, we took our intimate local knowledge of the Caribbean and use this to create escapes for our customers that have the perfect blend of authenticity and luxury. From the quaint locally owned inns, boutique hotels and plantation houses nestled in secluded coves, to the private islands of Mustique, Palm and Petit St. Vincent, and the experiences that will make holidays truly memorable.”
While all of this sounds like a mammoth undertaking to us, Jamie-Lee runs her businesses, with a relatively small team of three individuals working as consultants.
Her efforts have not gone unnoticed among her travel industry peers as last year she was listed in TTG’s 30 under 30. She said:
“It was a wonderful achievement and it felt great to be recognised for the hard word that has gone into the various travel products we have created.”
It’s not been all plain sailing however. At the beginning of her career, she struggled to get a foot in the door, which she sadly puts down to being a woman of colour. But she turned this adversity to a positive, using the experiences as stepping stones to start up her own business.
“I remember going to over fifteen interviews with three in particular calling me back for third interview but the one that really stung me hard was being told I had got the job and that they would send all details through. I was working through an agent and he also received the same glowing reviews. By the Monday I received an email telling me that unfortunately I had been unsuccessful. Totally confused and under the impression it was sent to me in error I contacted them to be told ‘sorry we really like you and your qualifications and experience match but we have found someone better suited for the job’.”
A fully paid up member of the ‘working mother club’, Jamie is a married mum of two. Has she succeeded in finding the perfect work-life balance? She said: “In the travel industry and as a business owner, the hours can be pretty unsocial at times with lots of evening networking events and weekend conferences, as well as the times that I have to travel for work. This can be difficult to juggle with two young children. It’s the ever-present struggle for a professional woman, finding the holy grail of work-life balance. My saving grace is being organised and planning ahead, and of course loving what I do!”
Some of the actions that keep her focused is having a daily ritual that help keep her grounded. “Getting up early on mornings at 5:30am for either running, yoga or quiet meditation. I am extremely driven by the goals I have set for myself and I keep them close to me in the form of my vision board.”
So, what words of wisdom would she give to someone who is thinking about starting a travel business?
“Be willing to embrace change. Things are constantly changing in the travel industry and you have to be able to evolve quickly and adapt. Be creative and Innovative. It’s a pretty competitive industry and to be at the top of the game you have to have a constant flow of new and original ideas to differentiate you and your business. Be self-starter. Travel is a fun industry, no matter what area of travel you work in, you’re bringing dreams to fruition for many people but it’s also hard work for exactly that reason- it has to be done right.”