IC Caribbean was founded 18 years ago, but the idea for an online Caribbean hub for tourists was first conceived in 2005 by IC Caribbean founder, Icen Collins.
Who is Mr. Icen Collins, and what exactly is the vision behind IC Caribbean?
Marketing Intern, Lillian Hsiao, takes a deep dive into the history of IC Caribbean, its inspiration, plans for the future, and more in an interview with Mr. Icen. This blog communicates the content of that interview including Mr. Icen’s connection to the Caribbean, how he nurtures company culture, and more.
The Caribbean: Beautiful Beaches, Distinct Cultures, Rich History
Who is Icen Collins? Mr. Icen Collins is the CEO and founder of IC Caribbean. He is a native of Saint Kitts and Nevis, growing up in St. Thomas Usvi in the eastern Caribbean Sea, 40 miles east of Puerto Rico. His childhood there fostered a deep connection between him and the Caribbean. Today, however, Mr. Icen’s love for the Caribbean is not only because it is his homeland, but also because it embodies beautiful and diverse people and cultures. He shares,
“The Caribbean is [broken] down into … your French Caribbean islands, then you have your Dutch Caribbean islands, … your British. Then got you the United States, Caribbean islands. And then you have a bunch of independent islands… [The] French [are] kinda owned by France and they have their own French Caribbean culture. Then you have the Dutch owned by the Dutch. They also have their own culture, music. … it’s a whole mix-up.”
The Caribbean is also rich in geography, with over 700 islands and 30 territories. Based on its colonial history, each territory today is uniquely different due to its respective blend of European, Native, and other influences. Mr. Icen says that for him, traveling back is “to meet the people.”
Other than the people and culture, the simple beauty of the islands also draws Mr. Icen to them. He shares:
“It’s tropical. [Our] region [is] always hot, [it] is always 84-85° in the day and then 68° in the evening… You’ve got those beautiful beaches. You have pink sand beaches, you have black sand beaches. You have white sand beaches, you have gray.”
The Caribbean does indeed have some of the finest beaches in the world. They are connected to the Caribbean Sea, adjacent to the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean, and home to the world’s second-largest barrier reef, the Mesoamerican Reef. These beautiful sights make the Caribbean a cherished destination that Mr. Icen wants to share with travelers.
From the Caribbean to the United States
In 1973, Mr. Icen moved out of Saint Kitts and Nevis and to the United States. Following different work opportunities, he settled in various places within the US from Tampa to Los Angeles to Atlanta. During this time, he continued visiting the Caribbean, often traveling back with his wife who worked for American Airlines.
What did Mr. Icen do?
Mr. Icen managed a shoe store called Kinney Shoes. The family brand has now evolved into Footlocker, but managing the Kinney Shoe Store had both prepared Mr. Icen to be the CEO of his own company and had given him the inspiration for his startup.
Start of the Caribbean Travel Startup
Working on Manchester Ave in LA, and then managing Kinney Shoes in Inglewood, Mr. Icen’s coworkers would ask him about the Caribbean. They knew that he often visited with his wife and wanted to know what the islands were like from a native’s perspective. It was then that Mr. Icen first realized the lack of familiarity that non-natives had with the Caribbean. To him, someone who loves and wants others to love the islands, this lack of knowledge about the Caribbean presented itself as an opportunity. Mr. Icen says in the interview,
“That’s one of the reasons [that] got me started with this IC Caribbean… I was saying, “I could start a company and educate tourists who want to go to the Caribbean and have Caribbean native[s] speak to them about the Caribbean because now you have people who live it [and] … would know it from A to Z.”
While still managing Kinney Shoes, Mr. Icen started his second position: CEO of IC Caribbean… but it wasn’t called IC Caribbean just yet. Mr. Icen’s startup was originally called My Caribbean Space, modeling after Myspace, the social media of the early 2000s.
My Caribbean Space had a rough start, with Mr. Icen having to find different people to help develop both the functional frame and the actual content for his new company. After a few shaky attempts at setting up the website, My Caribbean Space finally established an online presence. Keeping up to date with the newest social media and tech, Mr. Icen decided to change the company name to fit in with newer trends. In 2010, My Caribbean Space was renamed IC Caribbean.
“This name models after the iPhone and i-everything trend,” Mr. Icen explains. It also alludes to his name, with his initials being IC. “It is basically ‘I C’ in how I see the Caribbean… you know, with [a] Caribbean native talking about the Caribbean from a local and a Native standpoint”
Today, IC Caribbean is a thriving website with all kinds of services for its audience, helping travelers to see the Caribbean the way Mr. Icen sees it.
After Mr. Icen’s time managing Kinney Shoes and working on My Caribbean Space, he embarked on a new chapter in his career in 1996. He joined the NAPA Distribution Centre in Atlanta, a significant auto parts warehouse. Taking on the role with dedication and expertise, Mr. Icen Collins served the company for an impressive 25 years, until his retirement on June 30th, 2021.
Throughout his tenure at NAPA, Mr. Icen continued to nurture his passion for the Caribbean and maintained his involvement with IC Caribbean. Even while working in the auto parts industry, he remained committed to his vision of showcasing the beauty and culture of the Caribbean to the world. With his extensive experience in both managing a business and understanding the Caribbean intimately as a native, he brought a unique perspective to his endeavors.
Combining his knowledge of technology and social media trends, Mr. Icen successfully transformed My Caribbean Space into IC Caribbean, embracing the “i-everything” trend and aligning the name with his own initials. This shift in branding allowed the company to thrive in the digital age and attract a broader audience.
As of today, IC Caribbean stands as a testament to Mr. Icen’s entrepreneurial spirit and dedication to sharing his love for the Caribbean with others. The website offers an array of services, catering to travelers who seek an authentic experience and a deeper connection with the region. Through IC Caribbean, Mr. Icen Collins continues to fulfill his vision of educating tourists about the Caribbean, ensuring they see it through the eyes of a knowledgeable native and appreciate its rich cultural heritage.
IC Caribbean is an online travel agency and Caribbean hub. It includes blogs and travel guides full of information about the different Caribbean islands. It even has a podcast that explores different topics with locals. IC Caribbean also partners with different organizations, both large and small, to provide the best services to its audience. Some of IC Caribbean’s partners include TripAdvisor, Expedia, and Booking.com to offer deals to site visitors. We also partner with local tour guides to promote authentic, quality tours while also supporting the local businesses of the Caribbean. He explains,
“We just [got] a partnership with MSC cruise line where we have a direct partnership with them to promote … their company and also promote their promotion[s] …So each time they have a promotion, we get a lot of the first information [for us to] place on our website.”
IC Caribbean also uses social media as a way to better connect with and serve site visitors, maintaining an active presence on LinkedIn, Youtube, TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook.
The Mission of Sustainable Tourism
With all of these different services, and throughout its many years of existence, IC Caribbean stays on track with how Mr. Icen envisioned this company.
IC Caribbean’s official mission statement is:
“We aim to provide travelers with the most comprehensive information and convenient booking services for their Caribbean vacations while promoting sustainable tourism practices that benefit local communities.”
In other words, IC Caribbean exists to serve travelers and benefit local communities. This is what guides the company and makes it unique. When asked about what sets IC Caribbean apart from other travel agencies, Mr. Icen responds:
“It gives back to the community. It is made up of locals and for the local communities. You don’t see that with a lot of bigger companies; they’re not doing that much to help the local community. Outside companies don’t completely understand the Caribbeans that well either.”
In serving travelers, IC Caribbean provides information about all the islands on one site. It also promotes it and educates readers about the Caribbean from a local standpoint. It goes beyond simply educating; it nurtures a community of Caribbean and travel lovers. One example is the company’s Facebook Group, Caribbean Dream Vacation, where travelers, company members, tourists, and locals can share travel destinations, vacation experiences, questions and answers, and more.
Unexpected Success in Digital Marketing and Tourism Internship Training
Their idea, which has already begun its implementation, is to maximize IC Caribbean’s diverse and talented team to train local Caribbean high school students through internships. While this seems unexpected, IC Caribbean has had significant success in training interns. Mr. Icen explains,
“Since 2019 we have [had] over 50 interns. … A year ago I saw that it was helping so many people [that were] from all over the world: Egypt, Japan, Taiwan, Europe, Africa, especially India, Pakistan, and Nigeria.”
IC Caribbean’s intern initiative first started in 2019 when the company partnered with Acadium to mentor interns and provide them with hands-on experience. From then on, more and more interns have cycled through the team through local hiring as well as other internship programs. Now, IC Caribbean is working on promoting internships to Caribbean neighborhoods to further expand the opportunity to locals. This not only benefits students on an individual level but is also using the company’s resources to give back to the very communities that IC Caribbean is promoting. This internship program would invest in human capital by providing local interns with hands-on experience in a variety of fields from business management to digital marketing to communication, writing, and more. These students will also have a chance to use their identity and experience as a native of the islands to educate others.
IC Caribbean Captain and Crew
With a global team and one that is planning to expand, how does Mr. Icen manage his team? What is IC Caribbean company culture like? When asked this question, Mr. Icen replies very matter-of-factly:
“If you are happy with your job, if you are happy in the field of work… if you are happy, chances are [that] happy ideas, which are gonna be good ideas, are gonna come out of the happiness. And that’s what I try to generate. That’s what I try to create. One of the reasons why so many people enjoy coming to our internship is because we celebrate, even though we’re so far apart, we celebrate each of the little stuff.”
Mr. Icen creates a psychologically safe, relaxed, and fun environment for his team through this simple philosophy. He is often found welcoming new members with fun emojis and introductions in the company WhatsApp group chat. Coworkers send happy birthday and happy anniversary wishes to one another. The Caribbean Crew team and the company are what Mr. Icen calls the “Caribbean cruise ship.” He is the captain and he leads his crewmates joyfully and passionately.
IC Caribbean: Education, Community, Empowerment, Philanthropy
So… who is Mr. Icen and what is IC Caribbean?
Mr. Icen is someone who is passionate about the Caribbean, meeting people from all over the world, empowering students with modern digital marketing skills, and more. He loves not just the Caribbean’s beautiful weather and scenery but also its diverse people, history, and culture and is eager to collaborate with Caribbean tourism authorities and businesses to promote the islands together. He has created IC Caribbean to highlight the islands from a local perspective and serve travelers while also benefiting local communities. Over the years, IC Caribbean has evolved a lot from changing names to acquiring partnerships, starting new initiatives, and even beginning an internship program to train local high school interns. Today IC Caribbean continues as a premier, all-things-Caribbean online hub for travelers and it braves new waves of challenges with Mr. Icen captaining the ship.