Akeya Herbert (third from left), the new junior minister of tourism, is congratulated by her fellow competitors after the awards ceremony last Saturday at Maria’s by the Sea. (Photo: ONEBVI/FACEBOOK)

Tourism in the Virgin Islands — home of wooden boats and beach shacks — would go ultra- high-tech if the new “junior minister of tourism” has anything to say about it.

Elmore Stoutt High School student Akeya Herbert beat out seven other competitors from schools across the territory last Saturday at Maria’s by the Sea, where, in three-minute presentations, they went head-to-head on heavy questions about how to improve the tourism product, focusing on improving customer service and implementing “smart travel” solutions.

For Ms. Herbert, this meant rolling out “BVI Travel: the innovative and inspiring Virgin Islands experience.” Her plan, which scored highest among the five-judge panel, would incorporate “artificial intelligence at ports of entry to facilitate efficient and personalised experiences.”

An automated chatbot, “Hi BVI,” would be placed at each entry point to answer tourist questions instantaneously, and would be integrated with the BVI Tourist Board’s official social media platform, she explained. “Where can I find local food? How can I get to The Baths? These are just a few of the examples,” she said during her presentation. “Just imagine the endless possibilities.”

She didn’t stop there. Her second idea involved biometric tools like facial recognition, fingerprints and passport scanning service kiosks, which would have “have a transformative impact and eliminate long lines,” she said, adding, “The do-it-yourself approach will make travelling more convenient and increase efficiency while making travel more secure.”

Infrastructure

Her third proposal involved upgrading the VI’s physical infrastructure, which she called “an absolute necessity.”

“The synergy between technology and comfortable, aesthetically pleasing spaces will exponentially enhance our visitors’ experience using smart technology such as wireless charging ports and real time departure and arrival boards,” she said. In a later response to a “surprise” question, she explained how harnessing young people’s obsession with social media and viral videos could get them interested in coming to the VI.

“I think using the youths of the BVI, we can create an ambassador board to come together monthly and create promotional videos,”she said. “We are blessed with astounding natural beauty and welcoming people. It is incumbent on us to showcase it to the world.”

Prizes

For her efforts to make VI tourism “smarter,” Ms. Herbert — who also won “best interview” and “best video” — will get a one-month paid internship with the BVI Tourist Board, where she’ll travel with the staff on official trips, a gift bag and a laptop.

Next, she’ll head to the Caribbean Tourism Organisation’s State of the Industry Conference in St. Lucia, where she will represent the VI and compete against students across the Caribbean.

She also won out in the “meet the executives,” event at Coco Maya Restaurant, in which students were graded on how well they wowed the BVI Tourist Board staff with their poise.

In the overall competition, Kathlyn Archibald-Drew of Cedar International School was named first runner-up, while Olivia Freeman of St. George’s Secondary was voted “Miss Popularity” among her peers.

Paige Fredrick, Nicklous Kanhai and Kavon Kisnasammy of Bregado Flax Educational Centre’s Secondary Division; Shamorie Glasgow of Cedar; and Kiandra Meyers of BVI Seventh-day Adventist School all received participation medals.

Tourism education coordinator Natalie Penn explained why she decided to revive the competition, which had been held regularly for more than a decade before taking a year off after Hurricane Irma.

“I dusted it off and tried to bring it back to something that we could look forward to and enjoy,” she said.


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