‘To my mind, care homes are really another branch of hospitality,’ declares tourism professional Jean-Marc Flambert. ‘Yes, you need medical professionals on hand, but the sector is all about looking after people and making their lives more comfortable. All the things that we do in the hotel industry.’
Born in Haiti, the hospitality entrepreneur spent two decades living in Sri Lanka, before moving to London 17-years ago. With a background in business strategy, branding and marketing, Jean-Marc opened a boutique agency – Your Tourism Partnership – in 2008 to represent airlines, destinations, hotels and experiences in the UK.
He has worked for destinations such as Saint Lucia, Antigua and Barbuda as well as Haiti, but recent experiences have launched Jean-Marc down a parallel career path. After 20 years of targeting travelling customers, he entered the care sector mid pandemic.
‘I’ve always had an optimistic outlook on life and in the early weeks of the pandemic, I still believed that the tourist industry would bounce quickly, but recovery has been slow,’ he admits. ‘So when I got a call in January 2021 from an industry friend asking if I could help with communications for the Eleanor Health Care Group, I decided to find out more. My 80-year-old mother is currently living independently in Sri Lanka but may well need care as she gets older’
Jean-Marc soon saw parallels with the industry that he knows so well, and he successfully applied his branding and marketing skills to the challenge of recruiting carers. Another unexpected phone call a few months later focused his mind on the rewards of helping other people.
‘Out of the blue I heard in November that I was a bone marrow match for someone in their 40s in the US,’ he says. ‘I’d forgotten I’d even registered! But 4 days before Christmas I was in hospital for the operation. I felt so honoured. You really can’t do anything better than save a life.’
Now Jean-Marc hopes to use his business expertise to improve the lives of elderly people in Sri Lanka faced with declining health. Unable to persuade his mother to relocate to London or to be near his sister in Canada, he worries how she will cope in the years ahead.
‘At one time, I would never have considered outside care for her. In Sri Lanka, we look after our old people within the family and when my wife and I were first engaged, I seriously wondered if I could marry into a family who put their elderly grand mother in a care home as this was not in my DNA at the time ! But whilst I have issues with the structure of the NHS, the standard of care in the UK is generally excellent and I’d like to bring that to Sri Lanka.’
Jean-Marc plans to open a care home in 2025 and, in the meantime, is bringing carers from Sri Lanka to train in the UK. Beyond that, he wants to open a facility with supported living accommodation for elderly people, and with ‘hotel style’ accommodation where people can holiday with a family member in their care.
‘I’ve always encouraged my tourism clients to think about the needs of older travellers. In Sri Lanka, for instance, older visitors don’t just want to tick boxes. They want to move slowly and immerse themselves in the country and its culture, which is why we named our brand Secrets of Ceylon, recalling the old traditions of our country. So I’m delighted now to be amongst the first members of the Silver Marketing Association where I hope I can have some influence for the better.’
Ask Jean-Marc for the best piece of advice he can give about growing older and the reply is instant. ‘Enjoy now! My father died when I was 21 and there were so many things we hadn’t said or done together. When my mother was 75 and still fit, I threw a big party for her and hired an official photographer. She still loves looking at those priceless memories and at the video messages sent by those who couldn’t attend.’
So what if he could pass one piece of legislation to improve life for older people? Jean-Marc pauses. ‘I would educate children about the life cycle of being nappy dependent, then growing from child to adult, and back in to some kind of dependency,’ he says thoughtfully.
I think people would respect and support their parents much more if they understood the cycle in advance, and hopefully they wouldn’t let go of their loved ones when they need them most.’
Jean-Marc Flambert was interviewed by journalist Gillian Thornton for the Silver Marketing Association.