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Some of the participants at their graduation last December.(FP)??

They are some of the first people you meet when you travel and your interaction with them may often colour your opinion of a destination, your impression of a country’s people and affect your stay abroad; and while their role in the tourism sector is often underestimated, transportation operators are important drivers of the industry.

The Ministry of Tourism fully appreciates the contribution of taxi drivers, coach operators and others in the sector and, as a result, has created the Passenger Transportation Service Operator Training programme, which is being facilitated by the Barbados Community College (BCC).??

Created to enhance the skills, knowledge and attitude of operators in transportation, it is hoped that the training programme will assist in assuring a high quality of service delivery.?? In the long term, it is envisaged that training will become a prerequisite to obtaining a permit to operate in the sector.????

With the first round of training completed last October, Tourism Development Officer, Eleanor Jordan, noted: "It has not been an easy road. However, to have reached the stage where that first cohort has graduated is a foretaste of the success that will be achieved in the programme," she said, lauding all those who had signed up for the inaugural session.

She encouraged operators in the field to view themselves as professionals, embrace the opportunity for personal development, and register with the BCC for the next series of training courses, which will begin on Sunday, May 5.??

A long time in the making, the concept of transport operator training dates back to 2002 with the Green Paper on Sustainable Development of the sector which, as Mrs. Jordan explained, "identified the development and implementation of standards as critical issues in delivering high quality products and services in the industry and the competitiveness of the island in the global market place.

"…Existing regional and international standards were reviewed and a standard that was suitable to our context was developed," she said, adding that the Technical and Vocational Education Training Council had guided the Ministry in the development of the Standard for the Operation of Transportation Services in the Tourism Sector.

"The transport sector is one of the key sectors that accounts for tourist expenditure, contributing approximately seven per cent to Gross Domestic Product," the Tourism Development Officer disclosed, adding that guests were aware of good practices globally and were demanding similar high standards. "It was therefore, imperative that the programme was started without delay to ensure that we do not lose our guests to destinations that are capable of delivering a higher level of service," she explained.

While 59 students registered for training, 26 persons graduated from the programme last December.?? One of those individuals who persevered was Ronel Rollins, a taxi driver with nearly a decade of experience under his belt.?? Declaring that he believed in lifelong learning and self improvement, Mr. Rollins described himself as a ???people person’, which he said was crucial for anyone involved in the service and tourism industries.

The transport operator noted that while it was difficult at times to make it to the weekly sessions, it had been well worth the sacrifice.?? He described the tutors, who taught subjects in modules over a three-month-long period, as engaging and the information gleaned as beneficial.

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Ronel Rollins, a graduate of the??Passenger Transportation Service Operator Training programme, is encouraging fellow taxi drivers to take the course.(FP)

In addition to learning more about effective communication, Mr. Rollins and his fellow students were exposed to a range of topics including business management; marketing and the use of websites, business cards, and other media to promote their business; and history and geography, where tour guiding basics were taught.

"All the subjects were interrelated and very interesting… [such as] occupational health and safety that emphasised the need to…keep your car in good condition, ensuring the brakes, etc. are working well, as you do not want to injure your client or yourself.?? With defensive driving, I was wondering what it could offer me as I have been driving for so many years; but I was impressed with what I learned," he explained.

His greatest challenge, however, came in the language classes, where French, Italian and German were taught.?? He explained that he has already had the opportunity to use some basic greetings with his clients, who are encouraged when they see him make an effort to communicate in their native language.

When asked if he believed the training had made him a better taxi driver, he responded: "I’m satisfied that I’ve gained from this exposure…it has helped my outlook and it has helped me in the way I go about my taxiing…I see the client, whether visitor or otherwise, as repeat business, not only for me, but in terms of wanting to see people come back to the country.?? Fellow operators have a very critical part to play in tourism,

that is why I believe the Ministry of Tourism has targeted the taxi operators and has made this course possible, and at a small fee for such value.??

"I want taxi operators to see this course as something to gain from and come out and be a part of [it].?? They must make the time…Making money is important, but it is not the all in all.?? We must seek to make tourists as happy as possible," he advised.

Referring to an old industry slogan, Mr. Rollins noted that the enduring motto should be "tourism is our business, I will play my part…not just taxi operators, but all of Barbados."

Additional information on the Passenger Transportation Service Operator Training programme may be obtained by contacting the BCC’s General and Continuing Education Division at 426-3312.

nekaelia.hutchinson@barbados.gov.bb

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