Juliet Gordon (right) conducts a tour of the St Andrew Parish Church, which was founded in 1664. The church has one of the oldest and most beautiful monuments and memorials of any church in Jamaica, and is one of many that Gordon incorporates in her heritage tours. – photo by Dionne Rose
When Juliet Gordon retired as a nurse four years ago, she saw her retirement as an opportunity to start a new phase of her life. So, she formed her own company.
The former director of nursing services at the University Hospital of the West Indies decided to carve out a niche in Jamaica's tourism industry by offering tours of historical churches islandwide, to tourists and locals. Her market, she said, is split 50-50.
Gordon, who operates out of her home in Kingston – sometimes employing a part-time assistant when business is heavy – capitalised the company using her own resources.
"I thought of an occupation I could do that I would enjoy, that would be different," she said. "There is someone who I know who has a tour com-pany, and so I got a little interested in that, and because of my interest in churches, and when I looked around, I thought of combining both of them."
Gordon then visited the Jamaica Business Development Centre (JBDC), which helped to focus her ideas and develop a business plan.
Two years later, she is now offering tours on a wide scale to tourists and locals through her company, Olde Jamaica Heritage Tours.
Gordon said she pumped some $114,000 into getting the business started, money that financed her business plan, registration and licensing.
"The historical churches have such a history. It is rich – the history of the churches' struggles and what they went through," said Gordon. "The stories are very interesting and it also helps you to appreciate more of Jamaica," she said. Jamaica is heavily populated by churches, many small, and built by communities through volunteerism and church offerings.
But of those that have been around for centuries and have a place in history, just 25 of them have been declared national monuments, according to the Jamaica National Heritage Trust. Several others, however, are listed as 'places of historic interest' by the trust.
Gordon's tours are islandwide, from Kingston to as far as Montego Bay. She has made use of the country's rich church heritage. Some of the churches that are on her list include one of Jamaica's national monuments, the Holy Trinity Cathedral on North Street in Kingston.
The 17th-century structure, Kingston Parish Church, and the formidable Coke Methodist Church in downtown Kingston, which was originally built in 1840, are some of her clients' favourite sites.
"There is also the St Andrew Parish Church, which is extremely interesting. It dates back from the 1660s," she said.
"And the Jewish Synagogue, the only one of its kind left in Jamaica. Very interesting, the floor is of sand and they have a museum there."
But Gordon points out that the rural areas also offer similar experiences, with churches such as the St Ann's Bay Methodist Church, which was built in the 1800s, and the Littitz Moravian Church in Manchester.
Gordon also incorporates other sites into her tours such as the famous Devon House on Hope Road in St Andrew, and Liberty Hall, formerly the Kingston headquarters of the Universal Negro Improvement Association, which was restored and reopened in 2003.
She told Sunday Business that her company has been doing well as a result of the tremendous interest from clients. She charges US$40 per person (J$2,800), but that rate falls when persons tour in groups.
"The response has been overwhelming, but in terms of numbers, I am not yet at the stage where I am really satisfied, because this is a new concept of touring churches," she said.
The company's busy period coincides with the winter tourist season, said Gordon. At this time, she says she gets about two to three tours per week.
The cost of her services depends on the size of the group and where people would like to go. "The larger the group, the cheaper it is individually, because some of the tours involve lunches," she said.
Gordon is optimistic that the business will grow, given the interest her tours generate.
"It will continue to grow because it is also tied in with faith-based tours, and that is an area that is taking off overseas, and I think it will eventually get to Jamaica," she said.