This week called for a full immersion into the world of tourism, and it all started with a trip to Florida to cover the annual International Shared Ownership Investment Conference put on by Interval International. Just as soon as I’d boarded my flight and claimed my seat, I was face to face with a euphoric Caribbean traveller en route to her home in Las Vegas.
As we spoke she dusted flower petals from her hair – souvenirs from her memorable stay at Sugar Beach. She likened Saint Lucia to Kauai in Hawaii, for its “feminine energy” and told me how much her beloved, who was now on his way back to Toronto, had enjoyed it. As she faded off into her own space, I turned my attention to the next spontaneous meeting of the day – my seating companion for the almost four-hour trip to Miami, Tourism Minister Dominic Fedee. He was headed to the Florida Caribbean Cruise Association (FCCA) conference and tradeshow in Merida, Mexico. Also on our flight were Prime Minister Allen Chastanet, External Affairs Minister Sarah Flood-Beaubrun, Agricultural Minister Ezechiel Joseph, and Education Minister Gale Rigobert, all headed to various engagements. Prime Minister Chastanet would also be attending the FCCA conference.
As told by the tourism minister, the central focus and messaging expected to come out of that conference was that the Caribbean was open for business, contrary to perceptions that suggested otherwise. Arrivals to the Caribbean, even to islands not affected by recent super storms, had decreased in recent weeks and there was a grim outlook for the next few months. Fedee spoke about campaigns and promotions currently underway, aimed at countering what others in the industry felt was largely due to a lack of awareness of Caribbean geography, even on the part of the most experienced travel partners. Barbuda was Bermuda, and Barbados . . . and so on.
By Monday afternoon, I was touring the Marriott Vacation Club Pulse, South Beach, and the day after, listening in as conference facilitators and participants delved into global trends of travelling, and the evolution of timeshare. As part of the event, hosted October 23-25 at the Eden Rock Miami Beach Resort, there were also sessions with particular focus on Latin American and Caribbean markets, particularly for investors interested in learning about related opportunities and challenges associated with the shared ownership industry.
Countless times during the conference, representatives, including key figures from Interval and the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA), spoke of the resilience of the Caribbean despite the storms. The reality was that 70 percent of the islands were unaffected, and life was progressing as usual. Representatives from CHTA revealed that a more intensive promotional campaign would soon be launched to drive home the message that the Caribbean was, in fact, open for business.
Alejandra Padin, Director of Sales, Dawn Beach Club at Westin Resort and Spa St Maarten, during a panel discussion on day three, urged all not to underestimate the ability of small islands.
“They recuperate quickly, and people love them,” she said. “They will come back . . . If one side is not well, we can recover in the other. It’s our brand, and we will keep growing because of that.”
Her sentiments were echoed by many but Frank Comito, Chief Executive Officer and Director General of the CHTA, also noted that there needed to be a balance between amplifying promotion for islands that had not been affected – for the sake of business – and continuing to request aid for those most in need.
As the Caribbean continues to find that balance, presenters also noted that the resilience of timeshare had shone through in the face of disaster – the industry had rebounded quickly after the hurricanes in many islands, and there were lessons to be learnt from that experience.
Other high-level tourism meetings to be convened soon include the UNWTO, Government of Jamaica and World Bank Group Global Conference on Jobs and Inclusive Growth: Partnerships for Sustainable Tourism to be held this November in Jamaica, and Caribbean Marketplace in Puerto Rico, late January 2018.
Ahead of these events, the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association hopes to continue raising funds for the upcoming campaign which will be rolled out in collaboration with governments and tourism authorities of the various islands. The goal: to bring visitors back to sunny Caribbean shores, and leave them with memories of unforgettable experiences they, too, can share with others.