Beyond sun, sand and sea
The Caribbean has a whole new story to tell
Although over 75% of the Caribbean “didn’t even have a breeze” from the devastating hurricanes of 2017, the CEO of the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association said the impact of Irma and Maria were widespread across the region.
“The perception that’s out there is that the Caribbean is one place,” said Frank Comito, on location in Montego Bay, Jamaica for the 37th annual Caribbean Travel Marketplace. “The geography of the region is not fully understood.”
Despite the residual implications of the hurricanes, along with rising concerns of global economic uncertainty surrounding issues like Brexit, and high airfares, Comito took the stage to announce that tourism officials in the Caribbean are upbeat about the year ahead, with 85% of hoteliers surveyed in the fourth annual CHTA Industry Performance and Outlook Study expressing optimistic views.
The main factors driving these positive results are: unprecedented growth in airlift, continued increase in capital investments, new and updated properties coming on stream, and that fact that tourism is bouncing back in destinations affected by the hurricanes, complete with a new and improved offer.
“I see tremendous opportunity from the perspective that a lot of the product that was damaged has come back really strong, new, so there’s been a tremendous amount of improvement in product, which encourages improvement across the board,” Patricia Affonso-Dass, president of the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association, told Canadian Travel Press. “I think out of a horrible experience has come a real improvement overall to the product quality in the region, and that bodes well for improvements in rates, improvements in revenue and improvements in opportunities for our people.”
Beyond the sun, sand and sea
Coming at a time when customers are demanding richer experiences while travelling, Affonso-Dass believes the Caribbean needs to focus on promoting itself beyond the sun, sand, and sea.
“Over the last couple of years we’ve seen a tremendous number of events that affect our region, in the last couple of years there have also been natural weather events,” she said. “For a long time the focus has been the beach, the sand, the sea, that’s the image everyone wants, that’s the image people typically associate the Caribbean with, but we have an amazingly diverse and rich region and we have a wonderful opportunity to pivot the story in a way that helps insulate us a little bit against those types of weather events or sargassum or whatever, so when people are thinking of the Caribbean, they’re coming to us not just for the beach, but for the richness of the experience, the diversity of our landscapes.”
While there’s no denying Canadians like their warm escapes, she says there a slew of interesting and exciting experiences that await in a region that spans 2.754 million km², and a focus should be placed on the local connections.
“Let’s tell a bigger richer story, let’s get people more involved and make it a more people-centric story, because they don’t change,” she said. “The beach may come and go, we may have all sorts of things going on in our destinations, but ultimately the people that make up these destinations and derive a living and a value from it, they’re the ones who really make a difference.”
The Canadian Connection
Produced by the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association in collaboration with the Jamaica Hotel & Tourist Association, the Jamaica Tourist Board and the Jamaica Ministry of Tourism, the recent trade show marked the fifth time Jamaica hosted the event, welcoming 576 supplier delegates from 147 companies.
The Jamaica Tourist Board’s director of tourism Donovan White said the destination is coming off another record-breaking year with total arrivals exceeding 4.3 million visitors.
Dan Hamilton, district sales manager and acting regional director – Canada for the Jamaica Tourist Board, told CTP Canada represents the second largest source market for visitors to Jamaica and the goal is to grow arrivals from the market by 10% this year.
“We plan to grow our arrivals by significantly increasing our visibility and engagements in the marketplace,” he said, adding it will also be consumer facing across radio, TV and print campaigns to hockey rinks and grocery stores. “We are also strengthening our relationship with our travel trade partners, redoubling our engagement with our retail travel agents and enhancing our Jamaica Travel Specialist/One Love Rewards program. There will be more joint promotions with our wholesalers, tour operators and the consortiums.”
With upwards of 78% of all bookings stemming from the trade, he points out that retail travel agents remain the primary conduit for visitors to Jamaica.
“We’ll be rolling out Jamaica Travel University series of training events across the country, we have also launched a new window scrim project, where we will come in and install some nice, attractive Jamaica imagery on their storefront windows,” he said. “We will also be adding to our boots on the ground, particularly in Eastern Ontario, ensuring that we have adequate personnel to effectively provide service to our retail partners.”
White also announced the tourist board hopes to have someone in place to take on Philip Rose’s former post in the Canadian office before the end of March.
This year’s Caribbean Travel Marketplace, the largest annual business-to-business tourism show in the region for delegates from Caribbean countries to meet with international buyers, saw representatives from countries like Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, India, Mexico, Panama, Peru, Poland, Puerto Rico, St. Vincent & The Grenadines, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, the United States and, for the first time, China, taking part in the show.
One of the Canadians in attendance was Cindy Gerhardt, product manager at WestJet Vacations, who told CTP attending is a must because it provides the opportunity to meet a wide range of partners from all over the Caribbean under one roof.
“It’s a hectic and crazy few days, but wildly necessary to work on strengthening our sales in these key islands,” she said. “We have great relationships all over the Caribbean and it gives us one-on-one face time to work together on strategies and keep Canada top of mind. The strength of the USA market of late has threatened our business opportunities so we from Canada need to be kept notable and our base of business strong to ensure great rates for our Canadian consumers.”
In his new role as manager of product for Hosted Villas, Wayne Noseworthy, said participating gave him the chance to meet contacts, suppliers, and owners, and renew contact with past suppliers and friends, as the company features multiple Caribbean destinations and high-end luxury villas for sale through the travel agency community.
“I try and attend CHTA every year as it is one of the most important events for anyone contracting product in the Caribbean,” he said. “The speed dating meetings are so important to kick-start all negotiations… and you know, it’s a treat to be in Jamaica in late January when it was -30°C at home.”
Meanwhile Christopher Stubbs, president of Caribbean Castles Resort & Villa Collection, Canadian representatives for The Pure Salt Orguidea, which is scheduled to open in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic in September 2020, took part to introduce the new build to buyers along with owner Miguel Amengual.
“We met with Canadian partners such as WestJet Vacations, Air Canada Vacations, Hosted Villas as well as companies worldwide,” he says. “The response was very positive and we will build several partnerships.”
Stay tuned for the next edition, as CTP’s coverage of Caribbean Travel Marketplace continues with destination news and updates rang-ing from Saint Lucia Tourism Authority’s new interactive website and the latest on Jamaica’s hotel room growth to how St. Martin/Maarten is bouncing back in the wake of Hurricane Irma.