Takeaways From SOTIC: It’s All About The Experience

“I see innovation playing a key role in the development of our tourism products, and in the ways in which we promote ourselves to travellers seeking unique, authentic and bespoke experiences,” Kenneth Bryan, chairman of the Caribbean Tourism Organization, noted during his opening remarks for the State of the Tourism Industry Conference. “Have you noticed the word experiences being used more and more as a synonym for tourism? Because that’s what tourism is. That’s what each of us involved in the tourism industry is selling — an experience of our islands, our cultures, our foods, and our people. Tourists don’t travel because they want to fly on a plane, or stay at a hotel. They leave their homes in search of an experience… they all seek that special thing that is impossible to describe.”

After a five year hiatus, the CTO’s flagship event was held last week at The Shore Club in Providenciales, Turks and Caicos Islands — and PressToday was on hand to get all the latest updates. The event brought together government and private sector tourism leaders from 23 member nations ranging from Anguilla to Tobago for business meetings, press briefings and an in-depth two-day session featuring keynote speakers and panel discussions under the theme “Invest. Innovate. Inspire – A New Model for Caribbean Tourism Growth.”

An aerial view of The Shore Club, the host venue of SOTIC 2023 in Turks and Caicos

Eco-tourism, sustainability and promoting a tourism industry that allows locals to become owners and not just property managers were some of the key topics addressed during the conference, which prompted Charles Washington Misick, the premier of Turks and Caicos, to remark, “Invest. Innovate. Inspire – A New Model for Caribbean Tourism Growth. What is the old model? Someone said it’s ‘Discover, Explore, and Exploit,’ which will ultimately lead to decline and the tourism poverty trap, as witnessed in many destinations across the world.”

In terms of recovery from the pandemic, Bryan highlighted that tourism arrivals in the Caribbean overall saw a significant increase this year.

“International tourists to the Caribbean rose by 19.2% or 2.1 million tourists in the first half of 2023 compared to the same period in 2022,” he said. “Cruise activity recorded among the destination was a historic high for the first half of the year. It is estimated that cruise passengers to the region reached 17.1 million between January and June of this year, double the number of the corresponding period of 2022.”

Racquel Brown, Change Manager/Interim CEO for Experience Turks and Caicos poses with the island’s mascots at the weekly island fish fry, where conference delegates went for dinner to experience some local culture and cuisine 

In the face of unprecedented global shifts, Josephine Connolly, Minister of Tourism for Turks and Caicos reiterated the importance that countries in the Caribbean work together “as a unified front. We must forge a path forward that revitalizes our Caribbean tourism industry and position it as a beacon of resilience, sustainability and innovation.”

As Turks and Caicos continues its transition from a tourist board to a new DMO entity, Racquel Brown, Change Manager/Interim CEO for Experience Turks and Caicos, said it was an achievement for the destination to host the first SOTIC since the pandemic.

“It’s a great opportunity because we get to showcase who we are. Many persons think of the Turks and Caicos Islands as Providenciales so it gives them a unique opportunity to learn in an environment of a conference that’s showcasing the destination that we’re so much more than Provo as it’s commonly called,” Brown told PressToday. “It gives us an opportunity to really solidify our role as a leader in not just leisure travel but luxury travel… We’ve been given an opportunity to show the vision overall of what the government has in store and what they have planned in this new era of how they plan to manage tourism.”

As a thank you for hosting SOTIC, Kenneth Bryan, chairman of the Caribbean Tourism Organization (centre) brought treats like rum cake from the Cayman Islands for Josephine Connolly, Minister of Tourism for Turks and Caicos (left). Also pictured is Naomi Onwufuju from the British Virgin Islands, the winner of the CTO’s Regional Tourism Youth Congress.

The conference also served as a way for Dona Regis-Prosper, the newly hired Secretary General and Chief Executive Officer of the CTO to meet with tourism professionals and provide insights into an “ambitious” 90-day plan going forward. Since the organization went through a restructuring process in 2019, Neil Walters, CTO’s Director of Finance and Resource Management, had been filling the position as Acting Secretary-General and CEO.

“The introduction of a new leadership marks an exciting chapter for our organization and is something that is long awaited and eagerly anticipated,” added Bryan. “The vision and strategies outlined in the Secretary-General’s 90-day-plan are ambitious to say the least and I’m confident that under her capable leadership, it will chart a new course towards a new prosperous and sustainable future for Caribbean tourism.”

Dona Regis-Prosper, the new  Secretary General and Chief Executive Officer of the CTO, at The Shore Club 

Looking back on the progress made since the CTO co-hosted the 4th Annual Caribbean Aviation Day last September in the Cayman Islands, Bryan said inter-island connectivity in the region is slowly increasing.

“The government of Antigua & Barbuda have announced plans to relaunch LIAT in a joint venture with the Nigerian carrier known as Air Peace,” he noted. “Initial reports were that the new airline would operate with six air crafts with plans to launch in November of this year. The revival of LIAT will undoubtedly enhance the frequency of inter Caribbean flights and could potentially lead to connectivity between other new destinations not currently being served in our region.”

In addition, this week, the first-ever nonstop service between the Cayman Islands and Barbados is launching as Cayman Airways kick offs new nonstop service on Oct. 18. Bryan also noted that Caribbean Airlines is expanding its fleet size in order to meet demand for more inter regional connectivity.