Raising the Bar 2-2-2007

The Caribbean tourism industry looks for ways to boost market share

By: Kevin Brass

Amid the announcements about new resorts and aggressive marketing campaigns during this year’s Caribbean Marketplace, there was evidence that not everything is palm tress and sunny skies for the Caribbean tourism industry.

Host country Aruba, still hurting from coverage of the Natalee Holloway disappearance case, posted a 6 percent decrease in arrivals in 2006 and several other islands reported that arrivals were either flat or up only slightly from 2005. Overall, the number of visitors to the region was up 5 to 6 percent for the year, according to new Caribbean Tourism Organization president Allen Chastanet, but he was among the industry officials sounding a cautionary note.

In the last 15 years, Caribbean tourism has seen its share of world tourism drop from about 4 percent to less than one percent, said Chastanet, minister of tourism for St. Lucia. While land-based Caribbean tourism grew 91 percent during that period, almost 50 percent of the growth came from the Dominican Republic and Cuba, he said.

“It really means we had a dismal time compared to the potential in the world growth,” Chastanet said. “In many ways the Caribbean has been resting on its laurels.”

The CTO and Caribbean Hotel Association used the Marketplace for the first board meeting of the Caribbean Tourism Development Corp., the long-awaited public-private partnership to market the region. The result of an agreement signed in September 2005, the new nonprofit group will focus on promoting the Caribbean brand, including increased advertising and special events in the United States.

In other Marketplace news:

St. Maarten and St. Martin announced the first-ever joint marketing campaign between the French and Dutch sides of the island. Budgeted for $1.2 million, the marketing push will focus on the slogan, “Bring Your Appetite for Life.” Tourism officials were also touting the November completion of a $90 million expansion of the St. Maarten airport and the December opening of the 311-room Westin Dawn Beach Resort in St. Maarten.

Aruba will open the island’s first private jet terminal in the first part of 2007, as part of a $35 million expansion of Queen Beatrix International Airport. The government is also launching a massive reconstruction of the Oranjested waterfront, including relocation of cargo and loading docks to make way for new cruise facilities and a $10 million linear park to stretch from the airport to Eagle Beach. In the hotel market, the Spanish chain Sol Melia was reportedly finalizing a deal to purchase the shuttered Bushiri Beach Resort near downtown Oranjestad, with plans to renovate and expand it to 450 rooms.

Tour operator Travel Impressions has added 10 properties to its portfolio, plus Barcelo’s all-inclusive resorts in Cancun and Riviera Maya. The fast-growing company is also tweaking its Web site to allow agents to add a surcharge and arrange for customized travel documents. And the one percent commission bonus for online bookings will likely be extended in 2007, according to chief marketing officer John Hanratty. Although Travel Impressions was primarily known as an East Coast company, today 50 percent of its business is coming from west of the Mississippi, Hanratty said.

SuperClubs is extending its Passport Included offer to travel agents and groups. Under the policy, SuperClubs will reimburse customers for the fee to acquire a new passport to meet new U.S. travel guidelines for the Caribbean.

“We don’t want groups of 200 to 300 people not coming because of passports,” said executive vice president Tom Trotta.

SuperClubs also said it is set to reopen Breezes Runaway Bay on the north shore of Jamaica, after a $20 million expansion.

Divi Resorts is planning to open the first new resort on Bonaire since 1996. The company has leased the land once occupied by the Sunset Beach Resort and plans a 300-room all-inclusive, with construction set to begin later this year. Divi managing director Alex Nieuwmeyer said the company believes the tiny island will be able to expand its airlift by 2009.

Puerto Rico is launching a new “one-stop” Web site for information and booking rooms. Accessible through the Puerto Rico Tourism Company’s official site, GoToPuertoRico.com, the site will offers rates and hotel information, as well as the ability to book small inns. Meanwhile, San Juan’s Normandie Hotel is finishing an extensive renovation and is set to reopen in 2007 as a W Hotel.

As part of the creation of the Caribbean Tourism Development Corporation, the Caribbean Gold Book, which was widely used by travel agents, will be renovated and reborn as CaribbeanTravel.com. The new magazine and Web combo will offer more information and a broader scope, as well as 1,300 detailed hotel listings.

“CaribbeanTravel.com will be the place where travel agents and travel trade will go for information on what is happening that is important to them,” said CTO secretary general Vincent Vanderpool-Wallace.