Auliana Poon does it for the love of tourism

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by: Bobie-Lee Dixon

Dr Auliana Poon

Dr Auliana Poon

Kerron Riley

She eats, breathes and sleeps tourism and she be­lieves in her heart that T&T can be­come a leader in this sphere, if on­ly it would be­gin to de­vel­op its peo­ple. Dr Au­liana Poon has spent a great deal of her life work­ing on cre­at­ing steps to sus­tain­able tourism. Her work in this field dates back to 1986 when she held the po­si­tion of se­nior econ­o­mist at the Caribbean Tourism Or­gan­i­sa­tion (CTO).

She is the founder of a tourism com­pa­ny called Leve Glob­al, for­mer­ly (Tourism In­tel­li­gence In­ter­na­tion­al TII). To­day she chats one-to-one with the Sun­day Guardian on her ac­com­plish­ments and fu­ture plans for Leve Glob­al.

How did you get in­volved in tourism?

I got in­to tourism pure­ly by ac­ci­dent. Af­ter com­plet­ing a mas­ter’s de­gree in eco­nom­ics at UWI St Au­gus­tine Cam­pus, the plan was to do a PhD in eco­nom­ics. But af­ter study­ing mi­cro­elec­tron­ics and the wider im­pact of the in­for­ma­tion and com­mu­ni­ca­tions tech­nol­o­gy (ICT) rev­o­lu­tion in the ear­ly 1980s, I con­clud­ed that the very nat­ur­al ad­van­tages that the Caribbean had in tourism could be erod­ed by the dif­fu­sion and im­pacts of ICT. So my fo­cus changed to ICT and tourism.

How old is Leve Glob­al and what re­al­ly is its role and func­tion?

Leve Glob­al start­ed in 1990. It is a high­ly-re­spect­ed trav­el and tourism con­sul­tan­cy serv­ing gov­ern­ment and pri­vate sec­tor clients in both es­tab­lished and emerg­ing tourism des­ti­na­tions around the world. Our role is to guide de­vel­op­ing coun­tries in their ef­forts to tap the eco­nom­ic and em­ploy­ment ben­e­fits of in­ter­na­tion­al tourism. We mon­i­tor trav­el, hos­pi­tal­i­ty and con­sumer trends in the key tourism mar­kets of Eu­rope, the Caribbean, North Amer­i­ca, and emerg­ing mar­kets such as Chi­na and In­dia. We share these trends with our clients through re­search pub­li­ca­tions, as well as through ad­vice pro­vid­ed by our con­sul­tan­cy.

You al­so be­gan the brand event, Lévé four years ago. Tell us what’s the pur­pose of this event, what does it en­tail and has it been suc­cess­ful?

Leve Glob­al al­so wants to make a dif­fer­ence. As such, we start­ed Lévé the event, an ex­ten­sion of our Tourism In­tel­li­gence Acad­e­my. Lévé is a Cre­ole word that means to ‘lift up’. Lévé aims to lift up T&T and the wider Caribbean, by draw­ing up­on the au­ra, beau­ty and ex­cel­lence of our rich his­to­ry, her­itage, cul­ture and most of all, our peo­ple.

The dawn of this in­vi­ta­tion-on­ly event re­flects an amal­ga­ma­tion of cre­ative ex­cel­lence, rep­re­sent­ing in fine art, fash­ion, cui­sine, cul­ture, rum, and rhythm, and most im­por­tant­ly, the en­er­gy and tal­ent of our peo­ple.

In its fourth year, Lévé her­alds an up­lift­ing of spir­its, prod­ucts, des­ti­na­tions, peo­ple and unas­sail­able tal­ent. Lévé is more than an event. It is a move­ment that will be a pre­cur­sor for pro­vid­ing a plat­form for the mar­ket­ing, pro­mo­tion, sales and ex­port of the best tal­ent and great prod­ucts from

T&T and the Caribbean.

You spoke of its fourth ex­hi­bi­tion, which was held on May 5,

2019. What were some of its high­lights and who was in­volved

this time around?

The theme for Lévé 2019, which was held at Vil­la Be­ing in Arnos Vale, was “Fash­ion­ing our Fu­ture”.

We used the Lévé event to gen­er­ate aware­ness and ap­pre­ci­a­tion for the en­vi­ron­ment. In its fourth year, the pri­ma­ry ob­jec­tives of Lévé 2019 were to pro-ac­tive­ly demon­strate so­cial re­spon­si­bil­i­ty and pro­vide a plat­form for per­son­al and com­mu­ni­ty ac­tions that will en­sure an en­vi­ron­men­tal­ly safe and sus­tain­able en­vi­ron­ment for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions; to show­case tal­ent­ed Caribbean culi­nary prac­ti­tion­ers, ac­ces­so­ry pro­duc­ers, fash­ion de­sign­ers, and en­ter­tain­ers to an in­ter­na­tion­al au­di­ence; to pro­mote the Caribbean as the quin­tes­sen­tial eco­tourism des­ti­na­tion and to pro­mote the Caribbean tourism be­yond sun, sand and sea—fo­cus­ing on its rich cul­ture, her­itage, fine art, fash­ion, mu­sic, lit­er­ary, culi­nary and oth­er tal­ents.

We have had the in­volve­ment of over 80 school chil­dren in this year’s ini­tia­tive. First­ly, 65 chil­dren from the Spey­side area got to­geth­er with Leve’s Cu­ra­cao-fea­tured artist Rober­to Tjon-a-Meew to send a mes­sage to the world through art. The chil­dren cre­at­ed a mur­al us­ing dif­fer­ent pieces of waste fab­ric from wind-surf­ing sails.

The idea was for the kids to dis­trib­ute and show their artis­tic mes­sage when­ev­er they see peo­ple not be­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal­ly re­spon­si­ble, take a pic­ture of it and post it on so­cial me­dia us­ing ap­pro­pri­ate hash­tag­ging.

In ad­di­tion, 16 chil­dren from the Youthquake Speechi­fiers craft­ed a pow­er­ful en­vi­ron­men­tal ad­mo­ni­tion to adults in the form of po­et­ry, in the tra­di­tion­al To­ba­go speech-band style.

Your brand seems to have a greater fo­cus on the sis­ter isle (To­ba­go). Why To­ba­go?

To­ba­go is re­al­ly a launch­ing pad, but it’s re­al­ly about pro­mot­ing Caribbean lifestyle at its best, and what bet­ter place to be­gin than right here in sweet and cre­ative T&T.

In your own words, what does T&T need to do to at­tract more stay­ing vis­i­tors?

T&T needs to be more da­ta-dri­ven. Trav­el and tourism are chang­ing rapid­ly and rad­i­cal­ly and it is the cus­tomers who are dri­ving change and the tech­nol­o­gy that is fa­cil­i­tat­ing change. To keep up, T&T needs to un­der­stand the cus­tomers, and de­sign, de­vel­op and de­liv­er the ex­cep­tion­al ex­pe­ri­ences that they are look­ing for.

What T&T has to of­fer nat­u­ral­ly (cul­ture, Car­ni­val, cui­sine, and cli­mate) are pre­cise­ly what the new trav­ellers want—the cre­ative class­es, the bour­geois bo­hemi­ans, the ex­pe­ri­en­tial trav­ellers. But how many in­ter­na­tion­al vis­i­tors

know that T&T has some of the best cuisines in the re­gion or that our ver­sion of Car­ni­val is by far one of the best in the world?

For the most part our cul­ture, our tal­ent re­mains best-kept se­crets. And we have to re­alise that what we have to of­fer is not the en­er­gy in the ground but the en­er­gy of our peo­ple. Un­til we un­der­stand that, and a par­a­digm shift takes place in our think­ing, we will con­tin­ue to sell same old sun, sand and sea, a for­mu­la that has not worked for T&T.

How is Leve Glob­al fund­ed and has it col­lab­o­rat­ed with any gov­ern­ment-af­fil­i­at­ed or­gan­i­sa­tion?

Leve Glob­al is 100 per cent pri­vate­ly run and fund­ed. We sup­port and part­ner with the pub­lic sec­tor when called up­on and where we are most like­ly to con­tribute mean­ing­ful­ly to eco­nom­ic de­vel­op­ment and to el­e­vate tourism, trade, and lives. For ex­am­ple, we are cur­rent­ly work­ing with the Gov­ern­ment of Do­mini­ca to de­vel­op their na­tion­al tourism pol­i­cy and tourism mas­ter plan. We al­so re­cent­ly as­sist­ed the Gov­ern­ment of Montser­rat to se­cure Eu­ro­pean Union fund­ing through the de­vel­op­ment of a com­pre­hen­sive im­ple­men­ta­tion roadmap in the form of a na­tion­al tourism strat­e­gy.

What are your fu­ture plans for Leve Glob­al?

We want to give back to so­ci­ety and so, we re­cent­ly launched our Tourism In­tel­li­gence Acad­e­my. This will be one of our main ar­eas of fo­cus in the fu­ture. The aim of the acad­e­my is to im­prove the sense of self and self-worth among the peo­ple of the re­gion. We want to cre­ate a cadre of con­fi­dent, in­formed and dy­nam­ic in­di­vid­u­als who are com­fort­able and proud of their Caribbean-ness. We recog­nise that many of so­ci­ety’s ills are based on the fact that peo­ple do not love and ap­pre­ci­ate who they are.

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