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Tourism feat for Pat

Gercine Carter

Tourism feat for Pat

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These days Pat Nehaul only takes a cursory look at the state of Barbados’ tourism. It is no longer her headache.
When she does, however, she sees an industry that has evolved from the 1950s when she started work as a receptionist at the airport for the Publicity Committee, a forerunner to the Barbados Tourism Authority.
The year was 1950 and Pat worked along with just a few pioneers building what has today become the main plank of Barbados’ economy. She remembers going “hat in hand” to Bridgetown businesses trying to get a commitment for money to advertise Barbados in targeted tourism markets.
The need to solicit that kind of assistance ended when the Barbados Tourist Board was established as a statutory board by an act of Parliament in 1958.
Sitting amidst the lush greenery of ferns and a variety of blooming orchids on the patio of her St James home, Pat looked back on years of work to build a tourism industry for Barbados and she said, “I went through every position that the Tourist Board had” – from receptionist to secretary, to accounts, to marketing, to public relations and eventually as director.
Asked about the challenges along the way she replied, “The usual story. If you are a woman you have to work ten times harder in order to move on and you were expected to do that.” But she added, “Regardless of how much was expected of you it was still a job that was very challenging and most enjoyable because you never knew what you were going to do from one day to the next.”
As director, she worked long days, sometimes from nine in the morning to midnight. Even before reaching the top she was part of that marketing effort that saw Barbados being pitched as a desirable destination to Britain, the United States and to Canada.
“Canada was probably the first country that we identified to have some serious marketing in,” Pat said as she recalled the work of the BTB’s Canadian representative, the “exceptional” Dennis O’Leary.
“Not only did he agree with our vision for the development of Barbados’ tourism but he was also very creative in what he did.” It was during O’Leary’s time that the CHUM FM Breakfast in Barbados show was launched and Pat is happy to see it continuing.
“We were lucky to have identified similar people to work with us in other markets,” she added.
She was part of the effort when Barbados tried to market to everybody at the outset, the initial focus being on “the upmarket” with the belief that “most of the other markets would follow”.
The strategy clearly worked, forcing an increase in the local hotel stock – established West Coast properties of the day like Sandy Lane Hotel, Miramar, Coral Reef and Cobblers Cove, South Coast bed and breakfast-styled operations along with smaller highly-sought-after classy properties like the Caribbee and Ocean View Hotels, the Hotel Royal and the Marine Hotel.
Achieving classification of Barbados’ hotels is a feather in Pat’s cap. It was she who travelled to the United States and Britain for discussions with the Automobile Association of America and its British counterpart to get a classification system in place for local hotels. Though the exercise proved to be one of her bigger challenges, “I could say that we were successful,” she said.
It is now 21 years since she has retired from the Barbados Board of Tourism, years in which she has found relief and release from the rheumatoid arthritis which dogged her throughout many years on the job. “I have had it (arthritis) for about 40 years now,” which made her have corrective surgery on her arthritic knees and still picks every step cautiously.
Retirement also gave respite from the stress as she said, “When I retired I had such bad headaches it was unbelievable. I was told I only needed to rest and in three months the headaches passed.”
She spent her first six months of retirement feeling under the weather, but eventually returned to a hobby she enjoyed in her younger years – painting. “I did that for about the first five years or so and then I found my fingers were crumpled.”
Surgery performed in Canada about nine years ago enabled her to return to that art fully about a year ago. She is currently taking art instruction and the walls of her home are testament to her prowess as a promising artist, though she protests with modesty “I enjoy art but I am not an artist.” 
Pat said it was not difficult to leave a life of high social visibility and “meeting all sorts of interesting people” behind for an easier-paced life.
There is no mistaking the fashionista edge which she maintains.  During her days as an active high-profile professional in the tourism industry one always noticed her classy style of dress. On the day of this interview, her classic style is in evidence – brown slacks and matching blouse, strands of her otherwise neatly-coiffed silky silver-grey occasionally disturbed by a morning breeze.
She has a passion for books: “I could stay all day reading”, and also claims lack of computer literacy, saying in this computer age “I have nothing to do with the computer,” but keeps checking her emails on a tablet.
In these sunset years Pat Nehaul says she plans to “enjoy myself and to be happy.”
She is content to divide her time between the Almair Home for senior citizens of which she remains a director; the Barbados Gallery of Art Trust of which she is president and the Art Collectors Club.