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At Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Association’s (CHTA) annual Caribbean Travel Marketplace that took place from Jan. 31 to Feb. 2, 2017, delegates from roughly a dozen Caribbean destinations assembled on Atlantis Paradise Island in the Bahamas. Top topics included global events, hospitality trends, tech innovations, new revenue streams and plans for overall growth. While certain factors present an industry-wide challenge — for example, the plummeting British pound — profitability in the region was up in 2016 when compared to the year prior, and tourism officials are intent on maintaining this growth trajectory in 2017.
Below are the top takeaways from this year’s marketplace.
Caribbean’s “Year of Adventure” By encouraging visitors to explore their own personal version of adventure, Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) is playing up the Caribbean’s tremendous diversity. Potential adventures range from family-friendly and purpose-built experiences, such as Aquaventure Water Park at Atlantis Paradise Island in the Bahamas, to remote treks in the Belizean rainforest. Some luxury resorts have packages that perfectly cater to day-tripping adventurers: Resorts World Bimini has a new hammerhead shark encounter, while BodyHoliday Saint Lucia just launched a new sailing school with racing yachts.
Public and Private SectorsAdvocating for cooperation between public and private sectors was a prevailing sentiment of the conference, especially underscored by Perry G. Christie, prime minister of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas, who promised to be the champion of such an alliance. While CTO and CHTA have long been allies in theory, there is a need for increased government presence, as well as private business cooperation, in the individual Caribbean destinations.
Saint Lucia, Bermuda and the Bahamas seem to be leading the charge on this: Saint Lucia is restructuring its tourism board to focus on designing and packaging tourism products in addition to simply marketing them. Bermuda has prioritized the streamlining of government processes to lure in film crews, sporting events and other major tourism economy builders.
Advocating for Open Skies PolicyAir service to and around the Caribbean is a perennial concern, so tourism officials are pleased to see new carriers coming into the market and augmenting legacy carrier capacity.
Yesteryear’s general policy of a 180-day process to establish a new route, as well as training required for selling the route and necessary marketing, is gone. This has a downside for governments trying to set policy and for marketers hoping to bring new offerings to the public. But increased choice both appeals to travelers and opens new destinations, so CTO’s official position remains against increasing tax and fees.
Collaboration Between Hotels and Airbnb It’s impossible to discredit the impact of Airbnb. As a result, CHTA and destination hotel associations are working with Airbnb to regulate the peer-to-peer, short-term rental giant and create new revenue streams for hotels. Examples include encouraging hotels to partner with Airbnb hosts by offering, for a fee, access to hotel facilities or dining deals at restaurants.
Partnering With the Mexican CaribbeanFive distinct tourism districts within Quintana Roo, the top Mexican state for tourism, are consolidating to one region, branded as the Mexican Caribbean. This new destination will encompass Cancun and the Riviera Maya, and CHTA is energized to re-engage and work much more proactively with partners there, with the intention of creating opportunities that do not hinge on the United States.
An Emphasis on Sustainable TourismIn returning to the theme of sustainability efforts from a few years prior, CHTA is complementing CTO’s adventurous focus. Sustainable tourism encompasses eco-resorts, spa and agritourism — three niches that many Caribbean islands offer in abundance.
At the marketplace, Grenada and Belize partners showcased their eco-resorts, while Saint Lucia announced that agritourism would be part of its new “heritage culture” tourism offerings.
Giving Back to Local Communities Island hoteliers are focusing on long-term commitments to philanthropy within their communities. On Saint Lucia, The Landings Resort and Spa allies with youth centers, while on Barbados, local hotel owner and management company Sun Group Hotels works with international Packs for a Purpose to encourage guests to donate needed supplies for local schools. Also in Barbados, boutique property Yellow Bird Hotel has sent staffers to paint a local school.
Spotlight on Saint LuciaSaint Lucia is the 2017 destination that exemplifies public-private sector partnership and innovative business cross-promotions. Dominic Fedee, minister of tourism for Saint Lucia, is restructuring the ministry’s role to expand beyond marketing and into product development — specifically, harnessing the island’s cultural assets, agricultural product and marine wealth to provide additional tourism opportunities.