Behind the Scenes

Once again, the CHTA Caribbean Marketplace is a must for regional players

By: By Mark Edward Harris

Where to stay and play in St. Lucia

Many of this year’s Caribbean Hotel & Tourism (CHTA) Caribbean Marketplace attendees took advantage of their proximity to paradise by taking a cruise down the west coast of the 27-mile St. Lucia island to the port of Soufriere, where the symbolic natural landmarks of the island nation, the pitons, rise from the sea. These volcanic plugs have been classified as an UNESCO World Heritage Site, making it into the top five of Oprah Winfrey’s must-see locations. Also in the southwestern area of the island are natural mud baths accessed by a drive-in caldera. 

Hotels on St. Lucia should be chosen by the type of vacation desired. Few locations have hotels that fit as seamlessly into their natural environments as the ones in this area of dramatic landscapes.

Architect Nick Troubetzkoy’s Jade Mountain has private suites with infinity pools and perhaps the best panoramic views of the Pitons. More intimate to the volcanic spires is the Ladera Resort, a thousand feet above the sea nestled between the two Pitons. The award-winning cuisine and proximity to the Pitons make the Ladera Resort a visually pleasing and mouthwatering option. The new Tides, a complete renovation of the Jelousie Plantation property, is creating stand alone luxury suites and boasts a magnificent private beach with Gros Piton towering nearby. The Fond Doux Holiday Plantation has also created stand alone suites for guests at their 19th century colonial estate and can arrange tours of its coffee growing facilities.

A variety of other properties dot the island from the all-inclusive Sandals beachfront properties to The Ritz-Carlton, St. Lucia.

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Scroll down to find out more on what to see and where to stay in St. Lucia

During the annual Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Association (CHTA) Caribbean Marketplace, SuperClubs president Paul Pennicook pointed out that the Caribbean gets the highest percentage of Americans traveling out of their country for the first time. This is much more than interesting travel trivia — tourism is the lifeblood of this diverse group of islands.

The CHTA Caribbean Marketplace was held in the Eastern Caribbean for the first time. // (c) Mark Edward Harris
The CHTA Caribbean Marketplace was held in the Eastern Caribbean for the first time.

The CHTA was founded in 1962 with the goal of developing this region to its full potential as a tourist destination. The organization brings together the resources of its members to devise solutions for mutual problems and represents all facets of the hospitality industry with more than 800 member hotels and 750 allied members.

In cooperation with the St. Lucia Hotel & Tourism Association and the St. Lucia Tourist Board, the CHTA hosted the Caribbean Marketplace for the first time in the Eastern Caribbean on Jan. 18-20. Other sponsors of this year’s marketplace included American Express, Caribbean Travel & Life, Foster’s Group, Interval International, Pegasus Solutions, Starwood Caribbean Collection and Virgin Holidays.

Networking (and rum consumption) got off to a quick start at the opening night party in Rodney Bay presided over by Alec Sanguinetti, the CHTA’s CEO and director general. Among the evening’s highlights were a speech from St. Lucia’s Prime Minister, the Honorable Stephenson King, and awards given to some of the Caribbean’s hardest-working employees. Albert Gurley, head houseman of Spice Island Beach Resort in Grenada was named Caribbean Hotel Employee of the Year for his "exemplary service with an island flavor," and Phyllis Johnson-Smith, manager of housekeeping at Sheraton Nassau Beach Resort in the Bahamas, took home the Supervisor of the Year title.

Meetings for the 2009 marketplace took place in an air-conditioned, 63,000-square-foot, temporary structure erected on the shores of St. Lucia’s Gros Islet. The 1,366 delegates and 406 booths filled the business floor with thousands of meetings between buyers and suppliers.

The CHTA issued a statement based on these numbers compared to past marketplaces, and the results were encouraging. In spite of the worldwide recession, an interest in Caribbean tourism remains strong. In fact, the 2009 Marketplace is the first time in a decade that the number of booths exceeded 400.

Still, Enrique De Marchena, president of the CHTA, acknowledged that the Caribbean is far from immune from a turbulent economy.

"Our countries national economies will suffer as the tourism industry represents between 22 and 75 percent of the GDP to the various countries of the Caribbean," said De Marchena. "And the tourism industry has an impact on the construction industry, food supply, agricultural and cattle business and retail businesses, among others. All of them will suffer during this economic crisis."

De Marchena reported on the growing trend of multigenerational travel — which also means that there is more of a demand for contiguous rooms — and that the European market is remaining relatively stable compared to last year. This, De Marchena warns, could change if the British government imposes an air passenger duty, which is proposed for November 2009, whereby Caribbean-bound passengers pay a minimum of about $70 per passenger for economy travel and double for any higher class of travel.

In response, De Marchena issued a statement urging the CHTA, Caribbean Tourist Organization and U.K.-based tour wholesalers to come together in an effort to reverse the proposed policy.

"This should bring us to the conclusion that we need to facilitate travel to and within the Caribbean region," De Marchena said in the statement. "Other regions are removing barriers to travel while the Caribbean is going in the other direction."

With all the important issues that were addressed, there was still plenty of opportunity for relaxation and celebration. One of these opportunities was the grand finale party at Pigeon Island National Landmark, featuring Trinidad-born entertainer Machel Montano, the internationally renowned king of soca music.

But it was the words of Valerie Vulcain, of the Martinique Promotion Bureau, that gave the raison d’etre for all attendees.

"For us, this is the biggest show we must attend … to be in the picture in the Caribbean you don’t want to miss the CHTA," she said.