Caribbean States hoping for huge tourism season in 2014Listen /
"Tourism as Key Sector for Development in Island States" was the theme of a recent conference facilitated by the UN World Tourism Organization that looked at wide-ranging issues for island destinations from competitiveness and sustainability perspectives to regional integration, air connectivity to identifying specific challenges and vulnerabilities.
Caribbean States are hoping that 2014 will be a great one for tourist arrivals in the region. Donn Bobb sat down with Chairman of the Caribbean Tourism Organisation Beverley Nicolson-Doty and asked her what was the year 2013 like, looking back for Caribbean tourism.
Nicholson-Doty: Well we saw some small growth. Some countries saw more significant growth that others but I think overall, we ended with some slight growth. Looking forward though, we really are positive about 2014. Our numbers and our reports from our members are indicating that they are seeing an up tick. In terms of both actual bookings, so December and January, we heard really good reports and then in terms of people who are inquiring about future rates, we are seeing a very strong forecast so we are extremely positive.
Donn: You've spoken of the need to promote the region as one destination: why and what are the benefits?
Nicholson-Doty: First of all I think when you look at the competitive landscape, I think the why is we cannot afford not to. When you look at other regions of the world and what they've done with their tourism product, I think that places that never would have been considered competition for the region, because we have such natural god-given beauty are now in our competitive set. So the region now has to come together; none of our individual countries have the resources to go up against some of the big tourism destinations that we've seen emerge so it's important for our survival, for us to have a collective brand that is the Caribbean. We know that we have the product but it's getting it out to market that is important and so the why is working together we can increase our interest and bookings to the region and we feel like we have more than 30 reasons for people to keep coming back to the Caribbean over and over again.
Donn: What has been the reaction of member States to that suggestion?
Nicholson-Doty: We've been extremely pleased. More and more people are recognizing that even if they have a strong brand individually that it only helps marketing the region and so we feel optimistic about it; we've begun to see some results from our launch of the website and the social media platform and that whole portal as the corner stone of the programme but we are not stopping there, we have an advertising campaign that we are looking at, we just did some demo adds that we will be vetting amongst our members and we have a strategic planning session online within the first two weeks of March so that we are looking at what is the entire blue print for marketing the Caribbean.
Donn: According to the UN World Tourism Organization, they're complaining that visa facilitation and air connectivity are some of the problems hampering tourism in a number of regions – including the Caribbean, what can be done to ease this problem.
Nicolson-Doty: Well I think that you know, we are looking in the region about what are the other options. We have seen smaller airlines like Seaborne that have emerged that are offering alternatives for connectivity in the eastern Caribbean, strengthening of Liat and becoming a more integral player in terms of marketing – Liat and its connectivity throughout the region, I think that we are looking at our aviation task force, how do we make it easier for the consumer; how can we make it more cost-effective and certainly looking at the issues that we have in common like the entry forms – how can we make it just simpler for people that are going on multiple destination trips.
Donn: I've got friends from all over the world and my friends from China in particular always want to go to the Caribbean, but the first they ask me is: "Do we have to get a visa?"
Nicolson-Doty: I think in most instances the answer is yes. I know certainly if we were talking about the US Virgin Islands that would be the case. I think that one of the things that we are looking at as a region that the whole facilitation of the ease of travel is critical and visas, aviation are all a component of making travel easier.
Donn: As you mention the US Virgin-Islands, how is tourism shaping up there and how does it look for this year?
Nicolson-Doty: Am extremely optimistic about overall, our travel, our airlift is strong especially into the island of St. Thomas with in excess of 20,000 seats a week; we have about 4,000 rooms in St. Thomas and St. John so this is a good showing of air support. That certainly is helpful. In terms of the visa requirements, we are very happy to join with Puerto Rico in the opening of the passport office in Puerto Rico… and that's important for us because up until now, everyone in our destination had to go to Miami to get anything done in terms of getting passports to getting visas to other countries so that's extremely positive for us. We are seeing the weather certainly in some of our core markets in the US – the impetus from increased travel – you don't need a passport – the airlift is good and then to the Island of St. Croix, you have some value added options that we are promoting with "Find your bliss". Your bliss may be diving; may be romance, it may be spa, it may be history or culture but there's some value added elements that really help in terms of people looking for that last minute get away.
Donn: What new is the Caribbean offering to the visitor, in particular the tourist who is a repeat visitor.
Nicolson-Doty: You know what am finding is that the Caribbean as a whole is known for our incredible landscape, our beaches. Those are the things that we are branded for and I think that we are very special and blessed that we have those attributes. I think throughout the Caribbean though, we are finding more and more that people are really celebrating the history, the culture, the authentic attributes of their individual destinations and we are finding that's gaining traction with people. People want to come to a destination and feel like they've been a part – they've experienced the food, they've experienced the music; they've experienced the culture, so those are the things that I think we are seeing ore of us in the tourism industry – that we are putting those elements out as a part of our overall marketing strategy where we may have relied heavily on our beaches and certainly our beauty, we are also now really looking at our people, our culture and our history and integrating that into the marketing strategy.