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Martinique cruise ambassador Jacques Bajal retires

Martinique's Jacques Bajal.jpeg
Jacques Bajal said making people happy is the prerequisite for success in the cruise industry
Jacques Bajal, the face — and, many would say, the heart — of cruise tourism in Martinique, is retiring after 40 years in the travel business.

Most of those he spent as manager, cruise & sailing, Martinique Tourism Authority.

‘He personified Martinique,’ said William Tatham, vice president, cruise shipping and marina operations, Port Authority of Jamaica. ‘You knew Martinique because you knew Jacques. He certainly made me want to visit Martinique. I can only think positive things about Martinique because of Jacques.’

Bajal has contributed to making cruising an important part of Martinique's tourism development, according to Gaetan Paderna, director, marketing & communications, Martinique Tourism Authority.

‘For (nearly) 30 years, his strong interpersonal skills have been an asset to the Martinique Tourism Authority and all the cruise stakeholders with whom he has established strong and durable bonds. We will miss him,’ Paderna said.

A natural ambassador

‘I am a natural ambassador. I enjoy promoting Martinique. It is an exceptional destination,’ Bajal told Seatrade Cruise News.

He extolled the island’s biodiversity and cultural diversity. Influences include the Caribs, Africans and East Indians, and Martinique has been part of France since 1635, except for three short stints when the British took over. It is European, too, Bajal noted, due to France’s EU membership.

The varied landscapes include mountains, mangroves, an active volcano and beautiful beaches, some with white sand and some with black sand.

What is most important for a destination, though, is the people, in Bajal's view.

The secret to success

Early work at a travel agency ‘taught me how to make people happy. That’s the prerequisite for success in the cruise industry: loving people and making people happy.

‘Service is not what you do, but who you are.’

Bajal is also proud that, thanks to the port authority, Martinique has cruise infrastructure that can ‘very easily handle Harmony of the Seas,’ world’s largest cruise ship.

‘In terms of the tourism product, there are more and more tour operators with new ideas,’ he added. Tours are being created around the biodiversity, the museums, rum distilleries (Martinique rums carry the official French certification Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée), plantations, estates, hiking trails and rain forest.

Eastern Airlines and Roger Albert Voyages

Before the Martinique Tourism Authority, Bajal worked for a major airline and a travel agency that was a cruise tourism pioneer. Starting in 1980, he spent eight years at Eastern Airlines as a training coordinator. When Eastern went bust, he was snapped up by Roger Albert Voyages, a travel agency, ground handler and tour operator. At the end of each tour, participants were dropped off at a luxury goods shop owned by Roger Albert.

‘At that time, our currency was the franc and at 10 francs to the dollar, Martinique was a very cheap destination for visitors,’ Bajal recalled.

During the 1990s, Martinique had nearly 700 cruise calls a year, making it one of the major cruise destinations — not just in the Caribbean, but the world.

In 1993, a change for Bajal arose from a tragedy. Martinique’s cruise representative, attending the annual Seatrade conference in Miami, suffered a fatal stroke behind the wheel and his car plunged into the water. Bajal was recruited to take over.

Caribbean Village

Since then, he’s been promoting Martinique far and wide, including at Seatrade Europe and Seatrade Cruise Med where he was part of the Caribbean Village for nearly 15 years.

Tatham considers Bajal ‘extraordinary … He sincerely celebrates people’s successes … He was an incredible supporter for the Caribbean Village.’

This regional marketing platform won Marketing Initiative of the Year in the 2019 Seatrade Cruise Awards.

‘You can’t imagine how happy I was. It was one of the most unforgettable memories of my career,’ Bajal said. ‘When you are recognized by the cruise industry for your efforts to promote the Caribbean, that is extremely rewarding. It gives you pride, dignity, happiness.’

He added his wish that the Caribbean Village thrives to become an established platform for the Caribbean brand, similar to MedCruise and Cruise Europe.

Heading to new adventures

‘I feel honored and a little proud to realize I left some positive impact among the stakeholders,’ Bajal said. He’s sad to leave but has no regrets and is excited to ‘try new adventures.’ Colleagues are family to him, and he looks forward to staying in touch with cruise industry friends.

He also intends to keep active. Health-conscious and sporty, he swims and recently began scuba diving, racking up more than 160 dives. Plus, he’s a percussionist and singer in a folkloric group.

‘He’s a truly decent, good human being with tremendous kindness and sincerity. I’m going to miss him terribly,’ Tatham said.

The Martinique Tourism Authority will soon appoint a successor.