Our TDM students are 8 weeks into the course and almost halfway through Phase 1 of their master. Aliyyah Shakeer, TDM student from Trinidad and Tobago, sat down with us for an interview. She talked about her personal background, her motivation to join the program and shared some impressions of studying at NHTV and living in the Netherlands. Enjoy the read!

Hi Aliyyah, thank you for doing this interview with us today. To start with, could you tell us something about yourself? What is your educational background and what kind of working experience do you have?

I did my Bachelor degree in Economics and Management at the University of the West Indies in Trinidad and Tobago. There are three campuses. One is in Barbados, one in Jamaica and one in Trinidad. After that I worked at a few places, but I ended up working at the Tourist Board in Trinidad and Tobago. Initially, it was Tourism, Trade and Investment. However, in 2005, the country decided to focus a little bit more on tourism, so they separated the field from trade and investment and set up an independent tourist board – the  Tourism Development Company. I have been with this company since its inception.

I didn’t really plan to work in tourism and kind of fell into it. But I love the sector and I think there is a lot of potential in my country. It is not a country that has traditionally focused on the travel industry. In fact, in the past, our first Prime Minister focused more on oil and gas as crude oil is our main natural resource. But over the years they started to realize the importance of tourism. Yet, we still haven’t been able to move forward. Maybe this is due to politics and a bit related to poor governance. I am not too sure. But having worked in the sector for some time now I have seen where we have our challenges.

Was that your primer motivation to start a master degree in tourism?

Yes, two years ago, I was  compiling some information on potential sites and attractions in Trinidad. I realized that each municipal corporation had a tourism plan. But these plans were never implemented. It was then when I thought that it might be nice to get some more academic knowledge on the industry and everything that surrounds it. I want to use this knowledge in my home country as I believe there are great opportunities. I think Trinidad can do a lot better in terms of tourism infrastructure, customer service, transportation, and accommodation. We only have about 4-5 chained-brand hotels on the island. We currently have a room stock of only about 3.000 rooms. There is still some bureaucracy and challenges in terms of getting things done. That was my motivation. I thought that if I can get the knowledge that I need maybe I can come back and help the industry in Trinidad to improve.

It sounds like you have concrete goals for the time after you graduated.

Applying my knowledge and new experiences in my home country is what I would like to do. There are quite some interesting plans developed by the municipal corporations, but they are just not implemented. Initially, I would be ready to volunteer if that is required to contribute to the improvement of our industry. But in the future, I would love to work with the Caribbean Tourism Organization. That is the body for tourism development in the entire region. It is my dream to work with them one day.

Having explained your motivation for starting your master degree, why did you choose for the Master in Tourism Destination Management at NHTV?

One of the reasons I came here was that we have been trying to market our tourism product in Europe for a long time. But I don’t think we quite understand the European traveler. Therefore, I was searching for different programs in Europe. What I liked about TDM is the fact that I don’t have to be away from home for an entire year. I also like that the three months of field research in Asia give you a little bit of a hands-on experience. But the number one factor for my choice was the program curriculum itself. Currently, we are having the course ‘Destination Stakeholder Management’. This was one of the courses that peaked my interest when I read about the program. In my opinion it relates to a lot to the challenges we are facing back in Trinidad.

How did you experience the period between being accepted to the program and coming to Breda? Was there any difficulty you experienced during the preparation time?

I think for me it was quite easy. I had all my documents in order which is the most important thing and prevented me from having any problems. One thing that was a bit difficult is to find accommodation. But I was lucky because I have a cousin that lives in Utrecht. I think for someone else that might be more of a challenge especially when coming from outside the EU and not knowing anyone in the Netherlands. Other than that, I can’t think of any difficulties during the preperation time really.

After arriving in the Netherlands, how did you experience the first weeks? Was there anything that surprised you? Any challenges related to cultural differences?

One interesting and funny thing about coming from the Caribbean is that somehow there is always somebody everywhere. There is a quite large Trinidadian community here. In fact, on my first night I went to a ‘Lime’ which is a slang used for a Trinidadian get-together. That was quite a familiar welcoming to a foreign place. Besides that, I think everything is so organized in the Netherlands and everything happens on time which is wonderful, but very unlike home. It is amazing because you have such a large population, still everything seems to work smoothly. I haven’t had any challenges to adapt so far. Adjusting to the cold weather is a bit new to me though. (laughs)

Be aware that it is getting worse.

Yes, I know. Last Monday there was a really nice day and it was quite warm. I took advantage of it because I know there won’t be too many of these days anymore.

Is there anything that you didn’t expect or pictured  differently before arriving here?

I think I read a lot about the Netherlands before I came here so I had quite a clear picture already. Something I really love is taking a walk in Utrecht at night. This is something I cannot do at home. Here I feel safe. This feels magical for me. I also love the canals. In fact, I didn’t expect so many boats to drive around on them. One thing I knew already is the biking culture. Many people had told me about it. Still, being someone who walks it is something to get used to. You have to look out for all the people on bicycles (laughs). But I really love this culture in general.

And how did you experience the first weeks of studying at NHTV?

At the beginning it took a lot of time to adjust to the schedule. I felt there was a bit of an information overload and I needed to figure out each module and what goes where. That took a little while and then suddenly there were first deadlines coming up already. But I realized that you just need to get to work right away. The moment you get an article you should just read it. Now, I have already gotten into the groove of that. It is indeed a challenging and intense program and things work differently than for instance in Trinidad, but that is part of why I am here.

Can you share with us one learning experience that you have taken from the course so far?

In relation to what I just said, one thing is time management. I think this is very important in order to keep track with the content and actually understand and take something from the topics and material discussed. This is the key. Also, the workshops we had on team building and how to work in groups are critical. For me, when working in a group it is important to know what to expect from each other. If you run into challenges it is then much easier to overcome them. I think by now, we kind of know each other a bit better, know about the strong points of the others. This will help us with the upcoming group projects.

When you think about the next weeks and months, what are you most looking forward to?

Well, on a personal side it is to experience winter (laughs). I am looking forward to what it will be like and how it maybe has an impact on me emotionally. Will it affect my stress level? I don’t know and am curious to find out. TDM wise I am really looking forward to the course on economic impact of tourism. I am very interest in that one. This is because it is an area that I also covered a bit during my job in Trinidad.

As our last question, when you think of your first weeks of studying at NHTV and living in the Netherlands, what are the first three things that come to your mind?

Definitely bicycles (laughs). I further think it is ‘internationally diverse’ both at NHTV and in the Netherlands. And somehow to me here it feels a bit like ‘old and new’ at the same time, traditional but modern. So, I would say these are the first three things that come to my mind.

Aliyyah, thank you very much for taking the time for this interview with us.  

My pleasure.