Whether you live in Aruba or on one of the many other islands in the Caribbean, you don’t have to stay on your island to pursue your career. There are many opportunities to explore in the Caribbean and even beyond.
U-SparkPeople spoke with Aruban born Malinda Hassell, Director of Tourism at Saba Tourism Bureau. We wanted to know more about her and find out why she chose an international career and what advice she would give to others who want to do the same. Ms. Hassell has more than 12 years’ experience in destination marketing, communication, and tourism board strategic management. Her dream had always been to one day work at a Tourism Board, and that dream became a reality. “However, the road to success wasn’t an easy path nor was it a short one”, she said, “but what I think helped was going through different careers and trying different things which helped build my career up to the point where it is today”.
After graduating from Mavo and then Havo (secondary education levels in Aruba), Ms. Hassell knew she wanted to pursue an HBO (bachelor’s degree) in the Netherlands. “I want young students to know that just because they are currently in a “lower” level of education, this doesn’t mean that they can’t have a university level education or successful career,” she said, “I told myself at an early age that if someone else can do it, I can do it too. That is how I motivated myself and became eager to find out what my passion was.” She soon realized that her passion was for tourism and hospitality, and this led her to study Tourism Management and Consulting at the Breda University of Applied Sciences. Upon graduating she returned to Aruba to start her career in tourism.
When asked why she chose to return to Aruba rather than staying in the Netherlands or Europe, she said “this was a decision I made right after I finished my degree. Although the Netherlands was nice, my heart has always been Caribbean. Also, Aruba is at the forefront of tourism compared to other islands and countries, so that’s where I wanted to start my career.”
During her studies, Ms. Hassell interned with the Aruba Ports Authority where she learned about the cruise ship aspect of the tourism industry. After graduating, she worked for De Palm Tours and got to know the ins and outs of the tour operating business. She then moved on to Tiara Air Aruba as their Sales and Marketing Manager and learned about airline marketing and commerce. While at Tiara Air Ms. Hassell found out that the Bonaire Tourism Corporation was looking for a Marketing Manager and she decided to apply. She was given the position and stayed there for 6 years. Although she started as a Marketing Manager, she took on different roles during her tenure including that of Interim Director. After six years she was ready to take on a new career challenge.
In 2019 she decided to return to Aruba and got a job with the Aruba Hotel and Tourism Association as their Communications Manager. “This was again completely out of my field because I had a marketing background and was now taking on a communications role for the AHATA which represents 90% of the hospitality industry on the island and was therefore quite a challenge. It was also a wonderful time since I got to work with Tisa (Henriquez) La Sorte (CEO and President of AHATA) who has strong leadership skills and from whom I learned a lot. However, working for a tourism board always remained in my heart”.
As it happens, she saw a job posting from the Discover Dominica Authority for the position of Marketing Manager. She decided to apply even though she had never been to Dominica before and didn’t know much about the island. She was successful and left Aruba for Dominica in November 2020 amid a pandemic. “I left my stable job in Aruba at the AHATA to go on an adventure and that was quite a daring move,” she said. “My friends and family were saying – what are you doing? It’s a pandemic! You are leaving something secure to go on an adventure. And I told them I have to follow my heart and my dreams and what makes me happy. So, I went to Dominica and worked there for 8 months. That’s when the position as the Director of Tourism in Saba presented itself and I had to choose. I chose Saba, and this is where I am today. “
Yes, because it helped me grow my network. As you grow in your career you grow your network, which I believe is very important in this career. I know that I can rely on my network in Aruba, even now that I am in Saba. For instance, when I have an issue with something or if I want to come up with a hospitality training, I can reach out to someone in my network in Aruba because they are so advanced in tourism and hospitality.
If you want to succeed in your career, you have to build your network. It will open doors and bring opportunities. In my case, two of the job offers that I got were through LinkedIn and because of networking and being recommended by people who knew me.
I think coming from an island like Aruba has also helped a lot because compared to some other islands it is a bigger or has a broader experience with tourism. This helps you see things differently and often you tend to take bigger risks. Especially when you’ve experienced what works and can use that as a benchmark.
I would say first of all that you have to be happy when living abroad. The place where you choose to live has to feel like home, and if you don’t feel that from the beginning then it’s probably not for you. You have to be honest and know what’s best for you.
You need to be tenacious. Don’t be afraid. It takes tenacity to make those bold moves in your career. If you only keep looking at all the negatives, you won’t make any moves. Every job has its challenges and less positive sides, but it’s up to you to figure out how you can make a difference or make it a success and then just go for it. I think that there are a lot of opportunities in the Caribbean, but a lot of times young professionals in Aruba tend to keep applying only within the island. That’s great of course because you help to build up the economy, but there are also opportunities outside the island that can help you advance your career. By exploring different career options you tend to learn more about yourself as a professional. This is why you need to have tenacity and make bold moves in your career. My experience living in Saba has been different because my grandparents are from here, and I already knew the island. Every island in the Caribbean is different and that is something you should be aware of. My boldest move was my first one, when I moved to Bonaire. Overcoming that hurdle of going to a different island, working, and living there, opened the world to me. It showed me that if I can do it there, I can apply it anywhere else.
Pace yourself. Allow yourself to get to know the culture. Realize that you’ll have to get used to a different culture and that you’ll be a foreigner. Many times when you work in a different destination you’ll hear “isn’t there someone from our own island that can do that job?”. The worst you can say is “in Aruba we used to do this, or we used to do that…”. That’s a big no. Instead, try understanding the culture and the ways things are done. Often the work tempo is completely different, or the efficiency is at another level. Aruba is very digitalized compared to other islands and things move faster, so you have to be very patient. You must do your research, ask questions, take the time to learn and become a good listener.
Build up a new network and meet new friends because it’s not only about business. Take Dominica for example. The people I have met there are contacts that I’ll have for a lifetime now. I must say that I learned a lot from the eastern Caribbean. People there are very eloquent, and work at a different pace and level of professionalism that often tend to be lost in organizations on other islands. I think that everywhere you go, you learn something new. And if you want to return home one day these experiences will make your resume (CV) stronger because you’ll have acquired new skills. It’s important to believe in yourself and that you can be successful. Make those bold moves and don’t limit yourself.
I think that eventually in all you do, happiness is the most important. That you’re happy where you are and with what you’re doing. Because the moment you feel that you’re forcing yourself to work on an island where you don’t feel safe and comfortable living, it’s no longer for you. You also have your personal life, and you will have to ask yourself how you feel outside of your working hours.
Before you decide to move to a different country, I think it’s a good idea to at least visit there first. Because of the pandemic I didn’t get to do this this when I went to Dominica, even though I was planning to. So for me it was just a one-way ticket, and I took it from there. I would say before you decide to move, to take your time and go take a look. See how it is and how you feel there. Although being on vacation and living in another country are two different things, at least you’ll get a sense of what it’s like.
I think that with Aruba being so advanced in tourism and hospitality it’s a great opportunity for Aruban professionals to export their knowledge to other Caribbean islands and help them with their development, while at the same time learning from them as well.
I love product development as well as assisting destinations in their development, and if later in my career I can go into consultancy that is definitely something I am interested in. There is still so much to learn. It takes time and you want to keep learning and acquiring more skills. So maybe in the long run.
Right now, I am at a stage in my career where I have achieved the position of Director at the Saba Tourism Bureau, which is the highest rank you can reach in a tourism board. I am focusing on Saba’s tourism’s recovery and development for now.
We’d like to thank Malinda Hassell for taking sharing her experiences with us and our followers. We believe that as professionals we can all learn from each other, and what better way to do this than by listening and asking questions. At U-SparkPeople it’s our mission to assist professionals develop their career, and to advise organizations on how to implement strategies that will strengthen their business.