26 AUG 2019: Last week The Caribbean Tourism Organization showcased their sun partners in advance of the upcoming winter bookings by hosting travel media at its annual Caribbean Media Day held this year at the Boulevard Club. In his opening remarks CTO Chair and Saint Lucia’s Tourism Minister, Dominic Fedee, said that for all its strengths and potential, the Caribbean brand “is perhaps the most neglected tourism brand in the world.” But there’s an upside, said Fedee, real change is on the way.  

A new Secretary General is expected to be announced by the end of this year and that will bring fresh leadership, said Fedee at yesterday’s CTO press conference in Toronto.

“We need to measure our success beyond visitor arrival numbers,” said Fedee. “Times are changing and it’s clear we need to go in a different direction. We can do a much better job in terms of how we manage and collect data. The CTO needs to be the hub of tourism research in the Caribbean and Latin America. To do that, we’ve got to make sure we combine our resources.”

Still, the Canadian market remains a strong performer for the Caribbean - Q1 stats for 2019 included 1.4 million Canadian visits to the Caribbean.

This was also an occasion to distribute awards to Canadian media in various categories. However, chief among the awards distributed, was a Lifetime Achievement Award to Trinidad born Canadian, Dr Rita Cox who chronicles the Caribbean legacy, and was greeted with a standing ovation.

A librarian by profession, Cox is a renowned storyteller and admired leader in the community. She joined the Toronto public library as a children’s librarian in 1960 becoming head of the Parkdale branch where she launched literacy programmes and other initiatives that promoted multiculturalism throughout Toronto. During her tenure, Cox pioneered what became known as the “Black and Caribbean Heritage Collection,” one of the most comprehensive collections of its kind in Canada and today, continues to be a source of pride for the community.

Cox’s passion for promoting Caribbean heritage through the collection she developed for the Toronto public library as well as her storytelling events that pass our history on to the next generation,” said Sylma Brown, director of CTO-USA. “Her commitment to preserving Caribbean culture and dedication to keeping the region at the forefront of Canadian society over decades is the reason we are honouring her with the lifetime achievement award.”

After her retirement from the Toronto public library in 1995, Cox was appointed a citizenship court judge by the government of Canada.

She has won numerous awards and in 1997, Dr. Cox was appointed a Member of the Order of Canada for her outstanding work in storytelling and literacy. Both Wilfrid Laurier University and York University have awarded her honorary doctorate degrees.

Earlier, a Trade Show highlighted the latest on offer from the Caribbean.

Travellers’ sun needs have turned a corner. They want new, exciting with a dose of sun fun that goes beyond the regular all-inclusive resorts. Then there are the other clients interested in those new resorts that haven't reached its due date yet.

Here are four destination highlights:

Turks and Caicos

This sun nation is a Canadian favourite for good reason – among other fine powder white beaches, is Grace Bay Beach - the number one beach in the world as rated by TripAdvisor - and that's only part of the allure to this cluster of 40 islands where only eight are inhabited.

Expect more sizzle to the hotel room inventory with a slate of new hotels to be entering the marketplace by 2021.

Watch for the anticipated future openings of:

• Andaz Turks and Caicos at Grace Bay, a 59 hotel rooms with 74 residential units.

• The Ritz Carlton Residences, a mixed development of luxury hotel, condos and private residences.

• The Turks Cay Resort and Marina, 143 rooms including 11 luxury penthouses

• Royal Reef North Caicos, a 219 room property of residences and hotel rooms

• South Bank by Grace Bay Resorts, a luxury beachfront and marina resort

• The Bight Hotel, a 66 room boutique hotel

• Rock House by Grace Bay Resorts, a vacation development of 39 cottages and four hillside homes.

Insider tip: For a day trip take a 20-minute shuttle boat ride from Grand Turk and head to Salt Cay. No hotels here but you will find the “Salt of the Earth.” The tiny isle of under 200 residents is the smallest inhabited island that once was the stomping ground for the destination's salt industry. Today, folks can visit Salt Cay for an Old Caribbean local experience, something hard to find on Providenciales. (www.saltcay.org).

Layton Lewis, marketing officer in Canada with the Turks and Caicos Islands Tourist Board, who originally hails from Grand Turk says this island is one of his favourites.

The Bahamas

“Fly Away” is the inspiration for the Bahamas' new slogan giving clients 700 reasons to fly to one of the islands in the archipelago that lays claim to 700 of them not including the over 2000 rocks and cays.

The cruise market is another popular choice. In June, MSC Cruises started a new year-round program inspired by local experiences called, “the Martha Stewart & MSC Cruises Exclusive Bush Medicine Gardens and Tea Tour.” Tour the Retreat Gardens, an 11-acred green patch that spreads through a coppice forest to see local herbal plants and learn about bush medicine. Afterward you have tea at a historic landmark hotel, the Graycliffe Hotel and Restaurant once the stomping ground of pirates and privateers and lords and ladies.

Insider tip: In Nassau, you steer away from the casino crowds when you walk inside The Graycliffe Hotel. This island gem rich on character with its elegant Old Caribbean ambiance – there's a grand piano, wooden floors, thick fabrics, fine antiques, and other special family heirlooms that emit you are a house guest, and not a hotel guest.

“Nothing really compares. We are like no other. We are unique and you are part of the family once you arrive,” says Roberta Garzaroli, president of the Atrebor Group, a boutique PR firm and hotel rep which is owned by her family. Here's a list of hefty Graycliffe superlatives. “We have the Caribbean's first 5-star restaurant. We have the third largest wine cellar in the world; the only chocolate factory in the Bahamas and the only cigar company in the Bahamas.”

Belize

This is a hot, up and coming destination itching for growth in the Canadian market. Rich on eco-outdoor it's where, “Jacques Cousteau meets Indiana Jones” as Deborah Gilharry-Arana, Senior Travel Trade Officer with the Belize Tourism Board describes.

In this unscripted adventure fantasy find the best of both worlds: reef and rainforest. For agents who have clients who don't know what to do in the rainforest, she suggests combining the reef and rainforest in one package. “It is one of the easiest ways to sell our destination.”

On accommodations, room inventory ranges from rustic to mid-tier to very high end. Watch for new luxury hotel brands that are gaining traction in this jungle destination:

• The new Wyndham Grand Belize on Ambergris Caye called Venezia del Caribe Resort and Spa has opened.

• The new Mahogany Bay Resort and Beach Club, a Curio Collection by Hilton on Ambergris Caye is now open.

• Next year Marriott is entering Belize with the opening of two properties: Alaia, a boutique hotel on Ambergris Caye; and a 203-unit hotel including 70 private residences under the exclusive luxury brand.

• The Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts is set to open in 2021 on a private island, the Caye Chapel, home to a championship golf course.

Insider tip: Head to this holiday sweet spot – Ambergris Caye. Considered one of the country's most beautiful islands it's on the doorstep to the longest barrier reef in the western hemisphere, the Belize Barrier Reef, dive sites and the hotly anticipated backpacker paradise, Blackadore Caye Resort. The new green eco-resort which is set on a private island owned by the “Wolf of Wall Street” Oscar award-winning star Leonardo diCaprio is set to open in 2020.

Martinique

Discover a French flare, savoir-faire attitude where barefoot luxury has met its match. In 2016 the Caribbean Tourism Quality Index, an independent organization, rated this natural island which is part of the Lesser Antilles as the Caribbean's safest destination.

Ingrid Labeau, Marketing and Promotion Coordinator at La Martinique Tourisme says the diversity of this tourism product remains relatively unknown to Canada's English-speaking holiday market but the variety is endless. There's the culinary scene with its melange of French, African, and Indian spices to the local experiences like the famous rum distillery tours to list two.

Labeau compared the local rum scene which is home to 12 distilleries to the winery-rich Bordeaux region in France. “Each distillery has its own secret. It's like doing a Bordeaux wines tour,” she says and notes Martinique rums are distinct due to the aging process. “We don't have dark rum -- only old rum. We believe in time. The rum doesn't take its colour from molasses, it takes its colour from staying in old oak barrels for years and years.”

Insider tip: Rent a car and drive from tip to tip and immerse in eco-adventures like hiking, diving, and soaking in the rich beauty of the French-speaking island where English is widely spoken.

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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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