When Gayle Talma was growing up, she knew her calling was to share her Bajan spirit with hundreds of thousands of people.
She wasted no time in answering that call after a little nudge from her father during her secondary school years.
“From the time I was young, even when I was in primary school, I liked cooking and I liked to pretend that I had a restaurant,” she said.
A few years later, that dream would become reality.
Today, Talma is the Group Operations Director at Elegant Hotels Group, a post she has held for the past two years.
A part of her duty includes overseeing the operations of the seven hotels in the group—Turtle Beach Hotel, Tamarind, Waves Hotel & Spa, Crystal Cove, The House, Colony Club and the newest property, Treasure Beach Hotel.
She is also responsible for the standards, purchasing and the day-to-day running of the properties and ensuring new concepts are developed and implemented. Talma also has the opportunity to make important changes to respond to competition and demands. Of course, all of this is done with the support of her general managers and other team members.
Talma says the best part of her job is seeing a project move from idea to fruition, and observing her junior staff achieve career advancement in the industry.
“Watching a project succeed, watching an employee succeed, and being able to develop people, and creating new things and seeing success from the commercial stand point, that is very rewarding,” she said.
Stating that her team members were very important to the success of the award-winning hotel group, Talma said: “The walls of the hotel are very important with their décor and everything, but it is the people inside and the Bajan hospitality that make the hotels. It is all about good service.”
This Bajan gem attended the St Winifred’s Primary School and later the Foundation School where her passion for the hotel industry blossomed.
“I always told my dad I wanted to own a restaurant. He said, ‘well, do hotel management instead of just focusing on the restaurant’. So when I was in Foundation School, I did Home Economics and all those classes that were hospitality related,” she said.
“From the time I was doing my O’ Levels I was looking for a school that was hospitality and doing hotel management. So I always loved that from the time I was about 10 years old. I wouldn’t say I was specific in hotel management. I knew I loved food and beverage, but then I grew to love everything hospitality.”
Talma also attended the Barbados Community College and the Florida International University (FIU).
Bubbling over with that constant need to be the best at what she does, Talma later enrolled in a two-year management training programme at the then St James Beach Hotel.
“From there, I went into the management of hotels, mainly in the food and beverage side, then I [became] deputy general manager, then I [was] director of food and beverage, then general manager. So I have been with the company, this year, 27 years,” she said proudly.
Talma has two siblings, including well-known windsurfer Brian Talma.
Born and raised in Atlantic Shores, Christ Church, she later moved to Bathsheba, St Joseph where she now resides with her 15-year-old daughter and husband of over five years.
“I have good family support from both of our families and from my husband, and it goes from there. You try to create that balance, but when you work in hotels it takes up a lot of your time, so you have to have good support at home,” she insisted.
Talma went into the hospitality industry knowing it was not a 9-to-5 job and, over time, she became very much used to the long, demanding hours.
“So for the last 27 years, I have worked every Christmas Day, so if I had to not work a Christmas Day I would find it strange. Once you do it from the time you are young, you are accustomed to it and your body becomes accustomed to the long hours, being up early and going home late. But the one thing I do every day is take my daughter to school,” she said.
For her, the Bajan spirit means the warmth and friendliness of the citizens. This, she said, was especially important since Barbados was a tourist destination.
“Bajan spirit is very important in our industry because it is the Bajan people that make tourists come back time and time again. Barbados is a great repeat destination and any time a guest comes to a hotel and talks about a hotel, the main thing that guests will talk about is the people. So there is no more fitting place to see Bajan spirit than in hospitality and in hotels,” she said.
Her wish for the tourism industry and for Barbados is growth “from strength to strength in all aspects”.
Talma, who sees the hospitality industry as one of the most important cogs in the wheel of the economy, said that from interacting with guests, they wanted to see the island “get back on track”.
“They are very critical about the roads, sidewalks and lighting. My wish is for us to continue to be competitive within the Caribbean and globally. That is the main thing—to be very competitive,” she said.
To get where she is now in the industry, Talma had to give up a lot of her beach time.
“When everybody would be going out, I would be at work,” she said through laughter. “I guess I liked it so I didn’t really mind, but I definitely did give up a lot when I was younger. I had to decide that I am about the work and the hotels. Back then, it was even longer hours, over six long days.”
The hotel executive said she now manages to fit in a little beach time whenever she is off. She also enjoys cooking and spending quality time with family and friends.
“I still fit them in, especially on Sunday. Sunday is my day when I go to the beach, cook and hang with family and friends,” she said.
Her advice to young people seeking to enter the hospitality industry: “You need to have some form of passion for it and be able to give of the time that is required. You definitely have to be passionate about it and like people, for sure.”