With Maureen Barnes-Smith, Director of Sales & Marketing, Unique Vacations (Representing Sandals and Beaches Resorts)

Open Jaw

Here’s a lady who has worked for Sandals for so long, and with such dedication that she’s synonymous with the brand here in Canada.

Where were you born?  In Clarendon Parish in Jamaica. I came to Canada in 1992 because I had finished University in Jamaica, was a little bored and all my elder siblings were here. And it has been an amazing adventure! 

How long have you been in the business? Twenty-fiveyears, always with Sandals. But feels like about 15 years.

How many people work for you? Twenty-four here in Canada.  

What’s the best part of the job? Dealing with the people, my staff and travel agents, the multiple different personalities, and always the unexpected.    

What did you want to be as a kid? I thought I would be a lawyer: I love to talk, argue and negotiate, but I’m also a great listener. However I met Sandals – or Sandals met me -- and the rest was history. I had heard that Sandals had opened an office here and they were looking for someone in administration which I was very strong in. As a Jamaican, I was aware of Butch Stewart, but more for his philanthropic work in Jamaica rather than as a hotelier.

What was your first ever job? Working in Jamaica at the University of the West Indies in varying admin positions.

Any guilty pleasures? Music – every kind.  My playlist would probably be a surprise, with everything including old school Jamaican dance hall music, hip hop, the blues, ballads and love songs.  

What’s your favourite airline? Let’s just say my points are important to me!

Favourite hotel chain? Can we ask that? Apart from Sandals of course, I love Ritz-Carlton because they are such high quality.

What’s on your tablet? Books and music, and lots of family photos. I read everything from autobiographies to historical romance.  

What do people not know about you? A lot! I’m married with three beautiful sons aged between 13 and 27 whom I love to death. My middle one just got engaged in Paris.

Any hobbies or interests? Dancing, reading, gardening. And I love to chill in Jamaica, my favourite place in the whole world. 

When were you happiest? I’m happy all the time.

What would you tell your 20-year-old self? “Enjoy life. Be happy. Don’t lock yourself into a box – be open and brave.”

Who do you most admire in the industry? Zeina Gedeon of TPI. I have so much respect for her. Very irreverent and a totally smart lady. I love that.

What skill or talent do you admire in someone? The ability to think quickly and problem solve. Don’t come to me with a problem, come to me with how you want to handle it.

What’s at the top of your bucket list? Spending at least 2 weeks in the south of France with my husband. 

Ever had a brush with fame? I’ve met a couple of the Raptors including Kyle Lowry.

What keeps you awake at night? (hearty laugh) Not much! 

How do you spend your frequent flyer points? I book a lot of family trips.

What is your greatest extravagance? I’m not a big shopper but I like nice purses. I once treated myself to a Louis Vuitton purse. How much did it cost? I can’t remember!

How do you stay fit when you travel? I try to eat healthily – no junk food and a lot of water.

If you could change one thing about the industry what would it be? Agents are very busy and very savvy but with the influx of home-based agents we must focus on education. Education is so important.

If you could sit next to anyone on a long-haul flight, who would it be? Barack Obama.

Do you have a favourite charity? I am a Director on the Sandals Foundation and am passionate about that. And anything to do with children gets me. When I’m in Jamaica I also mentor at-risk kids.

What will be the biggest challenge for the industry in the next 12 months? The whole Thomas Cook thing has been a reality check. I don’t think we have a reliability problem in Canada, but we must always be prepared to deal with unforeseen circumstances such as hurricanes.

Which is your favourite Sandals or Beaches resort? I’m Jamaican so I am partial to the resorts there…but I love Sandals Emerald Bay in Great Exuma in the Bahamas because the water, the beach is second to none. A wonderful off-the-grid feeling.

What do you hope to be doing in 10 years? I’m hoping my youngest son will be in University and I’ll be spending time in the South of France; I may have a place there, who knows? 

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