NAME: Tameka Wharton
TITLE: Sales Manager
COMPANY: Antigua and Barbuda Tourism Authority
YEARS IN TRAVEL: 9
Within the Canadian travel industry, Tameka Wharton has become synonymous with Antigua-Barbuda.
Having moved here in 2013, she’s built a career as a sales manager for the destination’s tourism office, liaising with travel advisors to increase their knowledge – and sales – of the place she loves most in the world.
“I live and breathe Antigua and Barbuda,” she tells CT in a sit-down interview. “It flows from my pores – it’s just who I am. There’s a genuine passion about the fact that this is the place that raised me and made me into who I am today.”
Ask the travel advisors who know her and Tameka’s reputation – her passion for her country and her job – is undeniable.
“Tameka is the definition of an outstanding BDM,” Olimpia Govorusa of Flight Centre told us in an e-mail, a sentiment echoed by many across the industry. “The Antigua-Barbuda tourism board is very lucky to have her; she drives great results and has a fleet of doting travel agents that support and love her to bits!”
Tameka responds to the praise with pride and humility, and an insistence that she’s simply doing her job. Perhaps that’s all it is, and while a lot of her tactics might be commonplace, her drive to go above and beyond in day-to-day duties and to be creative in her approach is anything but – and the foundation on which she builds her business and her personal brand are proof.
“The first thing that I do is to put myself in the position of the person seeking information, and in doing so I apply respect,” Tameka tells CT, referring to the way she manages calls, e-mails and other communications. “And that is the reason why I respond to persons in a timely manner… I’m of the opinion that an e-mail is just like a conversation and if you ignore e-mails or other ways people are reaching out to you, it’s just as if they’re standing there and you’re saying, ‘I have no regard for you.’ So I’m very big on being responsive.”
In making herself available, Tameka is then able to aid agents with bookings before they move on to consider other destinations. “Respect is the key pillar, and from respect it branches off into empathy – understanding that not only do I need to respond to these agents in a timely manner, but their time is money and unless I get the information back to them, their clients could shift to other places that are more responsive – or even other agents,” she says.
This practice has enabled her to take advantage of marketing and promotional opportunities for Antigua-Barbuda that have also allowed her to build important relationships in the process.
As one example, Patti Dougan, an independent advisor with Vision Travel, had reached out to Tameka to gauge her interest in supporting a fundraiser for the Kids Cancer Centre in Hamilton, Ont. Tameka responded by offering seven-nights' accommodations in Antigua, which ended up raising $7,500.
“If we can help others while getting the word out there that Antigua is a place for relaxation, rejuvenation and for getting back on your feet, then we’re happy to do so,” Tameka said of the investment.
It’s just one commitment of many that she’s made throughout her five years with the tourism office in Canada – she also recently helped a travel advisor make arrangements for a Make-A-Wish child to go zip-lining in Antigua.
“There were so many things that could have gone wrong if we weren’t told of [this trip], but we were there to help,” she says. For example, the room his family was booked in was thought to accommodate the group, but “when we looked at it, we decided it wouldn’t work for his comfort, so we contacted the resort and they shifted things around,” Tameka explains.
Interestingly, it was Tameka’s first time working with the travel advisor in Sarnia, Ont. who connected with her about the project. “We’d never spoken before, which is to say you don’t have to be a producer; you just have to have a passion and we will help you to connect the dots.”
In fact, Tameka is a firm believer in working with those who have no experience selling Antigua, keen to identify the opportunity that may lie ahead.
“In order to become a top seller, you have to start somewhere. We don’t require any experience,” she reiterates. “We just require a passion for the destination and the commitment to assist in this and get clients to Antigua. And that pays off. Once the bums are in the seats, my tour operators are happy. Once the heads are in the beds, my hoteliers are happy. And once the feet are in the sand, our product providers are happy. So that’s the whole body into Antigua and we’re good to go.”
Aside from these extracurricular initiatives, Tameka was a key figure in establishing a training program for travel advisors, which officially went live in November 2016. It includes six modules, and upon completion, participants become Certified Antigua Specialists.
On the topic of education, familiarization trips are also a big part of Tameka’s strategy, which are well-regarded among travel advisors and as such, in high demand. And they are structured for long-term success, as fam participants are offered a booking incentive that spans 60 days after their return, not only as a way to track sales but also to show a “hard cash” return to tour operators and hoteliers who supported the venture.
“We encourage the agents that do come on these familiarization trips to go social with it and as they do so, other agents will see from their bird’s eye view what the destination is all about. We even create awards for ‘most social agents,’” she adds.
Social media is an important platform for Tameka herself in communicating with travel advisors, as a way to engage, educate and inspire her connections and in turn, ensuring that Antigua-Barbuda is constantly top of mind. Such efforts have seen the establishment of a community that continually supports her efforts and the destination, as a result.
In scrolling through Tameka’s Facebook page (she has a dedicated account to connect with her peers in travel), it’s clear that the people she works with are just as crazy about Tameka as they are about Antigua – and it’s something that she doesn’t take for granted.
“The agents make it so beautiful, you know? There are travel agents who helped me along the way – I can’t forget those that were here from the beginning when I got stuff wrong. Those that said to me, ‘Tameka, maybe try this, or that’ and I learned from them… and they’d look at me now and say, ‘Look how she’s grown,’ and I’m proud of every step of the way.”