Few people have their hands on the pulse of Jamaica’s tourist industry quite like the passionate Janet Silvera. As Senior Writer for the Caribbean’s historic newspaper, The Gleaner, Janet recently picked up the prestigious Bernard/Sealy Award for “Best News Journalist” at the 2009 Press Association’s National Journalism Awards Ceremony in Kingston. But it is perhaps her role as Coordinator of the innovative tourist trade publication “Hospitality Jamaica”, through which Janet has made her biggest impact. With a decade working in the tourist industry under her belt, Janet is a recognised presence at all local and regional tourist conferences. Not many other journalists understand the commerce of tourism and its significance to the island’s economy as well as the dedicated writer, who has spearheaded “Hospitality Jamaica” from it’s infancy into that of an established industry publication in a mere 6 years.

Nothing important ever takes place on the island of Jamaica without Janet Silvera, always impeccably and appropriately dressed, on the scene. Her wealth of experience from the hospitality industry coupled with her abundant communication talent and ardour for the tourist industries of Jamaica and the Caribbean, has made her uniquely qualified to comment with expertise. President of the Western Jamaica Media Association (WJMA), Janet is also a director of the Press Association of Jamaica and has served as director of the Montego Bay Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Janet’s success story is built on the cornerstones of a good rearing and good education. She walked her childhood shoes in the tourist capital of Montego Bay, where she attended Mount Alvernia High School. Her childhood, which she describes as loving, but strict, focused on good values and attitudes. Says Janet, “We were poor, but there was a lot of love in our home.” Her late father, Clifford Finley, was committed to buying school uniforms, shoes and whatever else his children needed for their education, “He would give us the last cent in his pocket so that we could go to school, even if that meant he had to walk to work. He sacrificed a lot,” she recalls. Commenting on how the times have changed since then, she says, “We had to show respect to our neighbours,” explaining that any neighbour had the permission to discipline the area’s children if they saw them misbehaving. “The village raised the children. I wish we could go back to that type of discipline, it would lead to less crime.”

Says Janet of her original vocational dream, “I first wanted to become a teacher.” And so, upon graduating from high school, she went to Excelsior Community College in Kingston to fulfil her aspiration. However, Janet must have known herself quite well already as a teenager, because, as she laughingly explains, “I quickly realised that I was way too flamboyant for the class room!” Hence, she returned to her hometown at the age of 18 in the search of other opportunities.

Back in Montego Bay, she found work at the front desk of the Wexford Hotel, where she worked for a year and a half before applying for a job as an airport hostess with the Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB). Recalls Janet, “I thoroughly enjoyed that job, which entailed attending the JTB welcome desk at MBJ Sangster International Airport to help arriving passengers deal with all kinds of issues.” Named “Hostess of the Year” by the staff after only 6 months, she was promoted to Senior Airport Hostess, supervising the team after 2 years.

Explains Janet, “After 5 years in the role of Senior Airport Hostess, I felt that it was time for a change”. Bumping into then Minister of Tourism Frank Pringle at the airport, Janet saw her opportunity to lobby him for another job at the JTB. Despite lifting his eyebrows at her petition and calling her “feisty”, Pringle must have realised that her talent was being wasted, because not long after, Janet landed the prestigious job of Marketing Officer in the overseas relations department where she dealt with media, tour operators, travel agents and event organisers. “I was qualified for the job and applied for it. It is the best job I have ever had in my life, it was a really exciting time to be working at the tourist board, and I learned what it took to ensure that the tourism engine was oiled properly,” says Janet. “It was a well rounded learning experience,” she continues, pointing out that the only downside was living out of a suitcase, going from hotel to hotel and never being home. Says the journalist, “I missed my family and home cooked food.”

Working with French tour operators and travel agents, Janet realised that learning French would be a huge advantage in her job as a Marketing Officer. Explains Janet, “I went on a 6 month sabbatical to the University town of Rennes in Brittany, to learn French. I gained enough knowledge of the language to get by and serve the French companies better.” Missing her then 5 year old son Rayon, who would cry on the phone from her parents’ house, she returned to her job at the JTB Marketing Department in 1990.

Convinced that every single Jamaican had an impact on the tourist product, Janet championed a program called “Tourism Janet and Jerry Springer when she worked as a marketing officer with the Jamaica Tourist Board Watch” directed at the business community while at the JTB. Explains the journalist, “We wanted to get local business owners to buy into the idea that their activities impacted on the overall tourist product, whether they were directly involved or not.” Janet is equally as passionate about this conviction today. “It is important that the local people understand that the tourism dollars work for them, whether they work at a gasoline station, as bank tellers or sell cigarettes. Anybody who is in contact with a tourist, affects the overall perception of Jamaica as a tourist destination.” Describing tourism as the lifeblood of the island country, she considers it for the locals to buy into the idea that they are part of the island’s tourist product. “The friendliness of the Jamaican people is our most important asset. It has set the island apart and led to the selection as ‘most popular destination’ by travellers numerous times,” says the writer. Due to her responsibilities as a single mom, Janet moved on to a part time job at The Gleaner advertising department after almost a decade at the JTB. “I really liked it because I could work at my own pace and spend more time with my son.” Her potential as a writer was quickly discovered, and today, Janet forms an integral part of The Gleaner team. Among her many accomplishments is the establishment of ‘Hospitality Jamaica’ for The Gleaner, a publication that has received numerous prestigious awards, including from the Caribbean Hotel Association/ AMEX, The Kiwanis Club of Providence and the Hilton in Kingston. The six year old tourist trade journal is published by The Gleaner twice a month, and diligently read by every single person in the island’s tourist business. Explains Janet, “Before ‘Hospitality Jamaica’, tourism did not get the prominence that it deserves.” Featuring special and important industry events and promoting tourist products and services, the 16-page publication has received several accolades, including the ‘2006 Caribbean Hotel Association/ AMEX Award for Tourism Reporting’.

On the question about casino gambling, which is currently on everyone’s lips, the media professional is positive, “Casino gambling will enhance the overall tourist offer. It will be a great addition to the island’s rich and vibrant diversity.” According to Janet, the Montego Bay area has the rooms, but needs a main attraction. “Casino gambling will bring a different type of tourist to the island looking for nightlife and entertainment. It would play a pivotal role in the improvement of our overall destination offer. More people would come and they would stay longer.”

Completely ‘ageless’ like most Jamaicans, Janet’s age is an enigma and her youthful personality doesn’t make it easier to determine. A question about her son leads to the surprising discovery that he is now 23 years old and has just graduated from Florida International University (FIU) with a degree in communication. Seemingly following in his mother’s footsteps with a mix of media and hospitality, Rayon is going back to school to get his Masters Degree in Hospitality Management. Janet is currently doing a Degree in PR at the University of West Indies’s campus in Montego Bay, a study, which she juggles with work. Look for Janet at the middle of the action, where she loves to be, reporting on the latest news on the tourism beat. She moves in all circles with enviable ease, and is equally on par with kings, business moguls and regular people from the street.
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