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Monday, 07 July 2008

TRAVELHOTNEWS PROFILE: MADELINE BLACKMAN

Antigua & Barbuda representative has spent over 20 years serving her country; considers it “a privilege”
Charmaine Pang

Madeline Blackman, Consul General and Director of Canada's Antigua & Barbuda Tourist Office
This month, TRAVELHotNews.com continues its series of industry profiles, turning its attention for the first time to the tourism boards. July's profile features Madeline Blackman, one of the few tourism board directors who have spent many years in service to her home country, Antigua and Barbuda.

Another unique fact about Blackman is her dual role as both tourism director and Consul General for the island nation. She has worked for the tourism board for “well over 20 years,” not only in Canada but in her home country; at the same time, she has served as the Consul General of Antigua for the past nine years.

One of seven siblings

Blackman grew up in Antigua as one of seven siblings (two boys and five girls); she is the third oldest. “There were seven of us, a mother and a father. I would say I had a pretty normal, regular childhood.” Most of her immediate family remains in Antigua, but she has other relatives in the United States and the United Kingdom.

She has worked for the government and in the tourism industry for her whole career, saying, “I sort of just stumbled into the industry. Like most people when they were leaving school, they went to nursing, teaching or banking; none of those held any particular attraction for me.”

Antigua's Falmouth and English Bay

The only career she’s ever had

Madeline Blackman, Consul General and Director of Canada's Antigua & Barbuda Tourist Office
At just 18 years old, Blackman was offered a position at the Antigua Tourist Board (ATB). At the time, the ATB was a group of private individuals – “merchants and other people in culture and the arts who thought they needed to do something to help the industry along. The government had little or no involvement at the time. The business grew and grew and then the government became involved.”

Blackman came to Canada in 1977 when she began her career in Toronto, working at the Antigua and Barbuda tourist office. She also studied in Canada at Sinclair College in Windsor, obtaining a degree in Communication Arts.

“Singing the praises” of Antigua and Barbuda daily

When describing her role, Blackman says “What I do is unique in a sense, because I sit in a foreign country and pretty much everything that I speak about, every phone call I make, has to do with a country – my country of birth. In other words, I have a position which allows me to sing the praises of my country all year round. Being the Consul General also gives me the opportunity to interact with the national community.”

Blackman, third from right, with representatives from other Caribbean tourist boards, including Bermuda, Cayman Islands, Grenada, Jamaica, St. Maarten/St. Martin, St. Vincent & Grenadines

“The position allows me to do something like tell travel agents or consumers how wonderful Antigua and Barbuda is. The next week I could be talking to the national community and looking after their interests and their concerns, and seeing how they can also be an extension of what we’re doing.”

Blackman continues, “If we’re able to feed information to them in terms of development in Antigua and Barbuda, [it’s also helpful]. Some of them left home 30 or 40 years ago. They may relate to Antigua the way it was in the 1960s or 1970s. It’s our [mission] to bring them up to speed as to the development and allow them to be the extra voices for us within the marketplace.”

Where would she be if she wasn’t in travel?

Blackman says she would work in the non-profit industry or to help with development in the Caribbean
The travel industry has been a big part of her career and TRAVELHotNews.com asked Blackman what she would have done if she worked in another field. She responds, “It’s hard for me to guess! If I weren’t in travel I’d probably be in some other area of the public sector.”

“It’s pure speculation on my part, but I really believe that’s where I would have been. It would have been something in the nature of public service…that’s what I’ve been drawn to. I don’t have any regrets; being in public service is ‘home’ for me. If I wasn’t doing it at the national level I probably would have been doing it on the regional or some other level.”

She adds that non-governmental organization work which focuses on development would also appeal to her.

An industry ever-changing

At the same time, Blackman loves working in the travel industry. What’s not to love? It’s exciting, fast-paced, and things are changing all the time. She’s not one to get bored easily and with her many roles, every day is different.

“Either the products are changing or the perception of the destination, or the people’s interest and travel patterns are changing. To me the biggest challenge is not to have a crystal ball, but trying to be able to read these signs and determine the best way to position Antigua and Barbuda to take advantage of whatever the mood is, or what the trends are.”

Don’t rule out the public sector

Madeline Blackman offered some advice for young people getting into the travel industry, and that is not to overlook the public sector, a type of work which she recommends; it’s a cause that is near and dear to her.

“The public sector happens to be one of those very interesting and dynamic sectors which straddle so many of the other areas, including airlines, hotels, accommodations, attractions – the public sector comes right in the middle of that and is the centre of the hub around which all these other spokes come out.”

Continuing in the same vein, Blackman says that everyone should have an opportunity to work outside the country in which they’re born. “The experience in itself adds a tremendous dimension to anyone’s development. I don’t think it is an experience that one can have by remaining fixed to the same city, town or province; it is necessary to go somewhere else to get that sort of a broadening [of self].”

The sound of music

In her spare time, Blackman is musically inclined; she takes part in choral singing and is a member of her church choir. She enjoys music “in all its forms” and has spent the last few years learning various instruments, including the flute, the African djembe drums and the steel pan. “Dabbling is all I would say; I really haven’t mastered any of them.”

More recently, she has taken an interest in “some degree of writing, just some sort of literary expressions…so that’s what I’ve been doing.”

“Bored is not a word in my vocabulary”

With regards to reading and literature, she tends to stick strictly to non-fiction books, on the subjects of personal development as well as historical works on Antigua and Barbuda. As far as movies go, “I don’t care for them at all,” she laughs. She’s the type of reader who has several books on the go at once.

“Bored is not a word in my vocabulary. There are so many things that I’d love to learn, including cake decorating, card tricks – so many things that I don’t think I would get bored.”

Personal growth: proudest achievement

When TRAVELHotNews.com asked Blackman what achievements she is most proud of, she responded, “I want to look at this more ideologically, where I see people not existing for the jobs that they do, but the jobs existing for the development of people. I think in that regard my own personal development probably is my proudest achievement.”

“I say that not in any sense of bragging, but having had the opportunity to work in an international market in a job that allows me to relate on a daily basis to my country is not only a major privilege for me, but has also created opportunities for personal growth.”

When asked what her leadership style is, Blackman prefers to “leave that one out,” with typical modesty. “Life is good. I have no big beefs. I know people that get into all these ups and downs. I tend to be more like this,” she says, while gesturing a straight line.

“I think life is great. I’m fortunate to have this opportunity to serve – I see it as an honour, if you ask me.”

TRAVELHotNews.com would like to thank Madeline Blackman for her time and cooperation for this interview.


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