02 NOV 2010: Who needs to sit in front of a computer when the sun, sea and sand are sending sweet subliminals? You’ve been eying the recent TV commercials from WestJet’s Bermuda and the Turks and Caicos winter campaign in between watching the steamy series, The Tudors. Clients are poking you with questions on their tried and true sun destinations.

So let’s say it was the perfect time for the balmy breezes of the Caribbean to blow into Toronto last week as the Caribbean Tourism Organization, a group representing 33 island nations, feted some of the latest developments in these parts, all part of the 4th annual Caribbean Week.

Hugh Riley, secretary general, acknowledged at the media marketplace that our stable economy and strong dollar is working nicely for 2011 winter bookings. Still, despite the famous sights and sounds, Riley admits service excellence needs to be better addressed.

“We have to do a better job. Not only are we a tourism-dependent region but we care the most.”

How does the CTO care the most? Be prepared for a Total Visitor Satisfaction Programme which Riley reports will be the “first region in the world with this TVSP.” Details at press time were sketchy but he says the programme will be announced at a later date. You heard it here first.

Now here’s what’s hot’n’spicy Caribbean-style:

US Virgin Islands
Brent Carnegie says because you have three different islands to choose from, the samplings are pretty amazing.

For starters, Saint Thomas is famous for shopping, and great restaurants; while Saint John is a wilderness paradise.

“Two-thirds of the island (Saint John) is national park which makes it perfect for snorkeling,” says Brent adds his favourite past-time there is snorkeling around Trunk Bay where the underwater gawkers actually get to view submerged signage pointing to things like coral and sea turtle activities.

Saint Croix, while it’s further away (clients need to take a 20 minute sea plane ride from St. Thomas), the largest of the Virgin Islands has great beaches that combine historical landmarks and is ideal for those wishing a bit of sand and history.

St. Lucia
An easy-going laidback island, St. Lucia, they tell me, is pure heaven on earth. To boot, Saint Lucia is lauded as the “Caribbean’s Leading Honeymoon Destination,” an award it has received eight times consecutively since 2002 at the World Travel Awards Americas Gala Ceremony.

Now picture 19,000 acres of rainforest (it’s considered the largest jungle in the Eastern Caribbean) and you get unequivocal isolation.

Eco-adventurers are finding this chunk of the Caribbean bliss. Thankfully, Alison Theodore, St. Lucia’s regional marketing manager in Canada, says there are plenty of lifts and she notes St. Lucia’s fastest growing market is undoubtedly Canada.

Cosmopolitan Grand Cayman
Mark Johnston was unruffled by the other island developments seeing that the islands he reps are The Cayman Islands where a direct flight from Toronto “gate to gate” gets you to his chunk of paradise in under 4 hours. Also watch for WestJet’s inaugural direct non-stop service from Toronto starting November 4.

So, how did his island fare overall with the rumpled economy?

“We didn’t drop off hugely. In fact flat is the new good,” he says noting the Cayman Islands still resonates as the the fifth largest banking centre in the world.

Autentica Cuba

Nieves Ricardo, our gracious rep from Cuba, has smiles when it comes to promoting her country.

Who wouldn’t? A long-time favourite sun destination among Canadians, there is so much more to explore when it comes time to booking Cuba with clients. It’s time to go beyond the beach and for new properties, consider resorts in Havana, Holguin, Varadero and others.

With flights from coast-to-coast thanks to companies like WestJet, Transat, Sunwing, Thomas Cook and Air Canada (to name a few), Canadian arrivals, notes Trell Huether, account manager for Jamaica Tourist Board’s agency of record Marshall Fenn, has increased with an estimated 300,000 marked for 2010. “This is the first time Jamaica has seen this,” he says.

Why the surge? Try “more attractions than anywhere else in the Caribbean,” says Trell and adds Canadians want to get off the resort. On average, according to Trell, we like to take three to four trips a week for sightseeing while Americans prefer on average two trips during the same week. “Canadians book more.”

What’s new? Watch for Mystic Mountain which opened in 2009 and the Enchanted Forest, a lovely garden in Ocho Rios.

Also be prepared for the new Dolphin Cove Negril which opened in September 2010, ideal for clients who wish to touch and swim with the dolphins.

Don’t confuse this destination with the Dominican Republic. It’s not. For first-timers to the verdant volcanic island or for those active types who really wish to venture outdoors, Dominica has just launched the 115-mile-long Waitukubuli National Trail which the Guardian News claims has the potential to be one of the world's great long-distance footpaths. Lace up the hiking boots and get ready to roam the trail which reportedly takes two-weeks to hike.

This airline with the fun friendly service is smiling big as the winter schedule to the Caribbean has grown with the addition of non-stop service from Toronto to Grand Cayman and Santa Clara. West Jetters no doubt are tickled about the inaugural flight to Grand Cayman which debuts on November 4.

The airline also flies to Barbados, Bermuda, Holguin, Montego Bay and more hot spots. One-way fares for Mexico, Bahamas and other Caribbean destinations are also available.

Happy Caribbean Tourism Day!

For more information on the Caribbean Tourism Organization visit www.onecaribbean.org

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Ilona Kauremszky

A regular contributor to Travel Industry Today, Ilona is a prize winning journalist whose writing pursuits have taken her around the globe.

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