CTO Beckons the West

Tourism officials offer inducements to draw Western business

By: Eleanor M. Wilson

We NEED you!” That was the strong message island tourism officials delivered to 173 travel agents attending the recent 25th Caribbean Tourism Conference on Grand Bahama. And help is definitely on the way for West Coast agents whose clients seek the charms of the Caribbean.

On Jan. 1, 2003, Pleasant Holidays will begin its new Caribbean program to six destinations, paying 12% commission plus a booking bonus.

This entry engendered a much-needed increase in airlift. Delta direct Atlanta/St. Maarten service begins Dec. 1 with connections from West Coast gateways. The same applies to Delta’s new Saturday Atlanta/Aruba service. Better-timed Air Jamaica flights from Los Angeles through Montego Bay benefit Barbados and The Bahamas. US Airways will add several new Caribbean stops. When asked what St. Maarten is doing to attract West Coast business, Theo Heyliger, commissioner of tourism, said, “Not enough.”

That feeling was unanimous among island tourism heads, but the situation is changing. In January St. Maarten begins seminars in Sacramento, plus visits to CTO chapter meetings, trade shows, more fam trips and advertising. Other islands plan similar actions.

Director General Vincent Vanderpool-Wallace said The Bahamas would concentrate first on consumers, one area at a time.

“We’ll start with billboards,” he said. “Then when consumers are sufficiently aware that Nassau/Paradise Island can be reached in two flights from L.A., we’ll work with our travel agent partners on packages and incentives.”

Award Winners

CTO’s Pacific Northwest Chapter is already leading the way. They captured the regional Chapter of the Year Award for “... extraordinary and continuous effort to promote the Caribbean in a positive light by a U.S. chapter.”

Membership includes agents from Alaska, Idaho, Montana and Washington. Chapter agents book Caribbean clients through Happy Vacations, GoGo, Pacific Escapes and Pleasant Holidays, routing on American Airlines through Dallas and San Juan, or Air Jamaica through LAX.

Chapter President Lisa Griffith, of First Travel in Everett, Wash., sends most clients to Jamaica for two reasons: airlift and honeymooner preference for all-inclusives.

“Many request Jamaica due to culture and the special attractions in each area,” she said. “Alaska Airlines will now fly out of Seattle with nonstop service to Miami. We’re looking forward to that for cruise clients, plus continuing flights to The Bahamas and the Caribbean.”

Othree Youngblood-Burroughs, of Carlson Wagonlit Atlantic-Pacific Travel and president of CTO’s Silicon Valley Chapter, said: “Barbados and Jamaica are our most popular sales, but the Dominican Republic has become a new destination in our area due to heavy advertising. They want Punta Cana, Puerto Plata and La Romana for the golf. Young couples and singles like Jamaica’s Hedonism, and my upscale clients prefer Barbados.”