1ST JAMAICAN TO SERVE HIS COUNTRY AS DIRECTOR AND MINISTER OF TOURISM.
The youngest ever to be appointed Director of Tourism, Eric Anthony Abrahams achieved this feat in April 1970, just one month short of his thirtieth birthday. His tenure marked one of the most exciting periods in the development of tourism in Jamaica. He was to continue his record breaking performance in the tourism sector ten years later, when in 1980, he also became the first Jamaican to serve his country as Director and Minister of Tourism.
Returning to his homeland in 1967 from England where he had gone several years earlier as a Rhodes Scholar to Oxford University, and from a successful career as Reporter/ Producer with BBC-TV, he joined the staff of the Jamaica Tourist Board as Administrative Assistant to the Director of Tourism, John Pringle, and later to his successor, Stuart Sharpe. One of his first responsibilities in his new post was the successful organization of the Jamaica Association of Villas and Apartments (JAVA), a co-operative of owners whose properties are available for rental to visitors.
Two years later he was appointed Assistant Director of Tourism, and in addition to his general duties, he was given special responsibilities for spearheading the Board’s Development Department. This was not surprising, as leadership and responsibility were not new to Eric Abrahams. From as early as 1958 when he entered the University of the West Indies to read Economics, History and English, his leadership qualities became evident. He was appointed Chairman of the Students’ Union and President of the Debating Society representing the University at Students’ Conferences in Europe and the Middle East. Graduating in 1961, he returned to teach at his old school, Jamaica College, until he gained the Rhodes Scholarship and left to read jurisprudence.
At Oxford he became known for his brilliance as a speaker and debater and distinguished himself by making the leap from Secretary of the Oxford Union Society to its President in 1963. His influence on the Union during his presidency was characterized by its outspoken and courageous voice on issues of racism and equality and matters affecting the international and human interests. It was not surprising then that he became the first black television reporter for the BBC covering events like Ghana Coup in 1965 and, throwing caution to the wind, matched wits with Haiti’s dreaded Ton Macoute to interview President (Papa Doc) Duvalier at great peril.
It is noteworthy that Abrahams’ appointment to the top tourism post coincided with a trend in the world of travel which was likely to change the whole face of international tourism. He brought to the position an intimate knowledge of the industry and a grasp of the qualities necessary to make Jamaica a premier destination. It was the era of mass travel made possible by low airfares, and where others saw obstacles, Anthony Abrahams grasped the opportunity to equip Jamaica to benefit from this development.
His courage and boldness were welcome attributes at a time when the trend in international travel was irrevocably altered. With a new era of mass travel, and the introduction of exceptionally low Trans-Atlantic airfares, it became apparent that Jamaica’s days of enticing the North American tourist because of its proximity and its natural beauty, would be coming to an end. Mr. Abrahams had the foresight to understand and anticipate this situation and to take up the challenge of equipping Jamaica to take action to avoid a slump in tourism.
Since assuming overall responsibility for the Board’s domestic and overseas operations, he had pursued three fundamental policies: more aggressive and imaginative marketing to promote travel to Jamaica, improvement of the quality of a Jamaican vacation at prices and on terms which are competitive internationally and a move to gain the social acceptance of tourism, and integrate the industry into the mainstream of Jamaican life.
Under his administration, the operations of the Board’s overseas sales offices have been substantially re-structured to take greater advantage of markets previously untapped or undeveloped, and to increase the efficiency and scope of services provided in traditional major market areas: more important, however, he introduced a planned and researched approach towards development of Jamaica’s tourist markets by planned programmes of marketing.
He introduced into the Board itself, hitherto a strictly public relations and promotional organization, a new dimension of professionalism.
One of his first tasks, on becoming Director, was to restructure the Board to include a Special Projects Department to deal with the establishment of visitor attractions, and to expose visitors to the culture, history and rural beauty of Jamaica. He created a Planning, Research & Statistics arm which permitted the Board for the first time to undertake its own in-depth research into the industry, and to back up its promotional thrusts with sound analytical data.
Eric Abrahams became well known in travel circles and particularly in the Caribbean for his initiative in airfare policy decisions: he sought, and gained for Jamaica a reduction by IATA. Carriers in air fares in 1970 and a better group travel rate. It is extremely significant, too, that he changed the attitude of other Caribbean destinations which had been accustomed to accept, without query, air travel policies affecting those countries. Where formerly the airlines controlled our destiny Jamaica took a voice in influencing its own air fare, scheduling and route situations.
He has served on the three-man Public Passenger Transport Commission, he is a member of the Island River Rafting Authority, Chairman of the Jamaica Hotel School Limited, a Director of Air Jamaica and a member of the Board of the Urban Development Corporation.
He also made an indelible mark in the area of training. Through the Product and Industry Affairs division, which he introduced at the JTB, more emphasis was placed on training workers in tourism. He is credited with encouraging a closer alliance between the JTB and other tourism entities across the island.
He left the Jamaica Tourist Board in 1975 to became the Executive Director of the Private Sector Organization of Jamaica. He resigned that position when he was selected by the Jamaica Labour Party as member of the Senate, in which capacity he served from 1976 to 1977.
In 1978, the Organization of American States (OAS) appointed Minister Abrahams Regional Director of Tourism Programmes with special responsibility for Technical Assistance Projects in the Caribbean and Central America. In this capacity he was an adviser to the governments of Haiti, Grenada, Bolivia, E1 Salvador and Barbados.
Leaving the OAS in 1980 to return to Jamaica, Minister Abrahams was elected Member of Parliament for Eastern Portland, (the parish of which Port Antonio is the capital).