Caribbean Marketplace 2008

After another lackluster year, Caribbean tourism executives were talking aggressive marketing campaigns and the need for change at this year’s Caribbean Marketplace.

By: By Kevin Brass

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Travel Impressions has added new properties
including Iberostar resorts in the Caribbean.
After another lackluster year, Caribbean tourism executives were talking aggressive marketing campaigns and the need for change at this year’s Caribbean Marketplace.

“Something is wrong folks,” said Alec Sanguinetti, chief executive officer of the Caribbean Hotel Association, during the annual business meeting, staged Jan. 13-15 at the Atlantis in Nassau, Bahamas.

For the second year in a row, tourist arrivals in the region were flat, compared to a seven percent increase in tourism around the world, industry officials said.

“Obviously the Caribbean is being marginalized,” Sanguinetti said.

While the 2008 Marketplace saw growth in attendees and booths, the number of buyers shrank, the result of consolidation and attrition in the wholesaler industry. A few weeks before the Marketplace, the CHA announced plans to lay off several staffers and outsource functions like communications, in order to save money.

“The CHA is trying to be leaner and meaner,” said Berthia Parle, chairperson of the CHA.

During the Marketplace, industry officials focused on efforts to attract airlift and the competition for increasingly budget-minded travelers, especially U.S. travelers who are finding better deals in Mexico and Central America. Oft-repeated was the need to develop more value deals and attractively priced options.

“The Caribbean of the Seventies is over,” said Caroline Racine, director of Caribbean franchise development for Choice Hotels International. “We must be more focused on reality and how to stay competitive.”

More than one executive expressed concern about the growing rivalry between land-based tourism and what Bahamas Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham called the “near unbeatable all-inclusive” deals offered by the cruise industry. The industry must develop “new and imaginative ways” to “convert cruise vacationers to return land-based guests, Ingraham said in his keynote address. In other news from the Marketplace:

- Travel Impressions continues to expand in the region with the addition of 31 new properties, including, for the first time, resorts owned by Iberostar. The new selections include Iberostar resorts in Dominican Republic, Jamaica and Cancun, as well as the Ritz-Carlton-managed Abaco Club at Winding Bay on Grand Abaco Island in the Bahamas and Carlisle Bay on Antigua.

- On Puerto Rico, plans are moving forward for the island’s first five-star development, the Bahia Beach Resort & Golf Club. Scheduled for completion in 2010, the project includes a St. Regis hotel and Robert Trent Jones, Jr.-designed oceanfront golf course. Also, the Holiday Inn San Juan and the Rincon Beach Resort are offering a 25 percent commission on Town and Country packages, designed to encourage visitors to explore Puerto Rico outside San Juan.

- Despite the problems in overall traffic, the Bahamas has seen healthy growth in visitors from the western United States, said Vernice Walkine, director general of the Ministry of Tourism.

“A lot of that is driven by Atlantis,” she said.

In addition to moving forward with the long expected reconstruction of the Cable Beach area, Walker said the government has approved plans for a massive mixed-use redevelopment of south west Nassau, including hotel, golf and residential projects.

- Trinidad & Tobago expects to increase its hotel inventory by 75 percent in the next 18 months, according to tourism officials. New developments include a renovated Hyatt Regency and a new Carlton Savannah.

- The popular Le Source on Grenada, closed since 2004, officially reopened on Feb. 1, after a couple of false starts. New all-inclusive packages are available that include one dive or spa treatment per day.

- With a new government in place, St. Maarten is finally ready to launch its long-delayed marketing program, built around the slogan, “Bring your appetite for life.” The island also has a new Web site, On Jan. 17, budget airline Jet Blue launched daily direct service from New York, prompting a dramatic drop in air fares from competitors, said new tourism commissioner Roy Marlin.

- “We are exploding with growth” in the Caribbean, said Starwood v.p. Graeme Davis.

The hotel chain has five projects under construction, all expected to open in the next 12 to 24 months. New projects include the first W in the Caribbean, on Viegues in Puerto Rico, and the Westin Roco Ki in the Dominican Republic, north of Punta Cana. Starwood also offers a special site for agents,, highlighting the Calypso reward program.

- Spanish hotelier Sandos reopened the Sandos Playacar on Mexico’s Riviera Maya in December, and expects to open an upscale Sandos Playacar Riviera next door this spring. Sandos is also offering a special travel agent rate50 percent off the best available rate.

- The 2009 Caribbean Marketplace will be hosted by St. Luica, the first time the island nation will host the event, the CHA announced.