The Caribbean Goes Beyond The Beach

Although many Canadians may flock to the Caribbean to escape the cold and soak up some sun, sand, and sea, the president of the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association believes the time has come to change the narrative.

“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. 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,” notes Patricia Affonso-Dass. “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, that they recognize that if they are coming to a destination and there happens to be sargassum on the beach, well guess what, there are a million other amazing, exciting, interesting experiences that they can have.”

Speaking to PressToday at the 37th annual Caribbean Travel Marketplace, the Caribbean’s largest tourism marketing event currently underway in Montego Bay, Jamaica, Affonso-Dass highlighted the importance of the Canadian market to the region.

“We have a strong repeat Canadian visitor base and long-stay visitors as well, so it is a hugely important market for us,” she told PressToday. “I think the importance of travel advisors is seeing a real resurgence. I think people are looking for that more personalized and specific view. I think they are extremely important to providing information that compels people to book.”

After surveying its stakeholders, the association found some of the leading concerns hoteliers in the Caribbean foresee for the year ahead are global economic uncertainty, Brexit, a potential recession, high airfares and the lingering effects of hurricanes Irma and Maria. But for Barbados-based Affonso-Dass, the group general manager of Ocean Hotels, that challenge also presents an opportunity.

“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,” she told PressToday. “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.”

With sixty new buyers on location, this year marks the first time there are Chinese travel buyers taking part in the show. In total, there are buyers from 18 different countries participating, including representatives from Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, India, Mexico, Panama, Peru, Poland, Puerto Rico, St. Vincent & The Grenadines, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Caribbean Travel Marketplace 2019 is produced by the CHTA in collaboration with the Jamaica Tourist Board, the Jamaica Hotel & Tourist Association, and the Jamaica Ministry of Tourism.

Host country Jamaica is coming off a “phenomenal” year and there’s lots of development underway with the Jamaica Tourist Board’s director of tourism Donovan White announcing there are 7,500 hotel rooms slated to open in the next two years, including an expansion at the new Excellence Oyster Bay, which will see the addition of 20 overwater bungalows. The property opened in June.

As for who is replacing Philip Rose to head up the Canadian office, White says they hope to have someone in place before the end of March, while district sales manager Dan Hamilton currently assumes the role as acting regional director, Canada.

On hand to meet with Canadian tour operators and airline reps, Jeanette Faria, director of marketing Canada for the Saint Lucia Tourism Authority, says her destination will host a unique wedding with a Canadian twist this year. 

“A Canadian travel agent went down on our FAM last year, fell in love with the destination and so she’s decided to do her wedding and get married underwater during our Dive Fest in September,” she says.

Stay tuned for more coverage fromCaribbean Travel Marketplace in upcoming editions of Canadian Travel Press and Travel Courier.

Pictured (top) at the conferences are the CHTA’s director general and CEO Frank Comito, and president Patricia Affonso-Dass. Middle: the Jamaica Tourist Board’s director of tourism Donovan White.