03 JUL 2013: It was hot, hot hot last week. And it wasn't just the weather. The chatter was all about the Caribbean. The annual Caribbean Week (June 23-28) had plenty of events including a media marketplace at the Boulevard Club that proved to be an invaluable treasure trove of great finds.


But before the opening of the media marketplace, Hugh Riley, secretary general and CEO of the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) and Turks and Caicos (TCI) premier and tourism minister Dr. Rufus Ewing delivered some remarks.

Oneness is a huge undertaking from the CTO organization which has 30 plus members representing various sovereigns and jurisdictions.

The Big Sell

But it’s that cohesiveness that Riley believes will set the Caribbean destinations in strong standing as it tries to reach a huge goal by 2017.

The ambitious gonzo goal is to set the Caribbean as the most desirable year-round warm weather destination in the next five years. Yes, year-round and in the next five years.

Riley says the organization has been conducting various studies and reviews by polling visitors in six test pilot countries to see what the visitor feedback and satisfaction levels are.

“(Visitor satisfaction) is to be constantly watching how that works, constantly surveying our visitors’ feedback. Not only do we want them to return we want them to recommend it to others.”

“We are not taking visitor satisfaction lightly,” he reiterated.

Visitor arrivals


Canadians continue to outshine all other visitor arrivals flocking to the sandy sun-kissed southern tropical shores. Last year three million of us visited. “When we say three million Canadians are coming to the Caribbean among the 25 million people from the total visitors, this is the largest number of visitors ever coming to the Caribbean,” notes Riley.

Compared to visitor arrivals from five years ago, the CTO reports it’s seen a 6.8 percent increase. While it is positive, Riley paused to explain this year’s first quarter has seen a lag.

This doesn’t spell disaster he says but it does cause concern. “It tells us we really need to pay attention to Canada. We recognize the fact that Canada’s economy continues to grow, the Conference Board of Canada says it will not grow robustly this year but it is growth,” he said.

Stats

Riley explained that out of the three million visitors 75 percent of them “come from this part of Canada.” 64 percent from Ontario and 11 percent from Quebec “but that number will shift as more of our destinations are shifting west to pull more of that traffic.”

The spend


“A very important metric is the spend. In tight economic circumstances revenue becomes a challenge. It’s such a badge of consumer confidence to negotiate cleverly... It gets to the point where whatever figure you put out there a consumer expects to negotiate it downwards.”

Tourism is the biggest GDP in the Caribbean. Riley notes the overall annual revenue is pegged at around $27-billion. “There is no correlation with visitor arrival numbers but length of stay also needs to be considered. Canadians stay seven days sometimes 14 days...but we might see the revenues reduced,” offered Dr. Ewing.

Island hopping was noted. Wouldn’t it be nice to wed in one island and fly to another for the honeymoon? Right now the connectivity of flights is on the weak side. “We need to have better inter-regional airline service,” says Ewing and Riley added, “it’s a choreography that requires intense arrangements, get the schedules right, get the fares right.”

The CTO’s Aviation taskforce says Riley, is tackling this one.

The Big Reality


Newly elected president and minister of tourism for the Turks and Caicos, Dr. Ewing sees this collaboration of One Caribbean as hard work.

“I’m a newcomer to this area politically and from a tourism perspective. My view is that it may not happen (One Caribbean) just overnight in one shot and all of a sudden you have this One Caribbean because you have to realize you are dealing with individual sovereign nations, nations where you have still some restrictions of movements within member states of the Caribbean,” he said and outlined some of the present challenges with different flight carrier arrangements and, “we still don’t have open skies as of yet.”

But Ewing was ready to offer some suggestions especially to those sovereign nations in close proximity to one another, “by creating bilateral agreements with each other and marketing themselves in terms of a package and what they can offer themselves. There’s no reason why you can’t for instance fly into the DR or fly into Turks and Caicos. Get married in the Turks and Caicos and fly to the DR for the honeymoon and enjoy it and fly back to Canada. There’s no reason why you can’t build in your schedule a stop in the Bahamas as part of a one vacation package.”

Ewing explains these scenarios require a huge complex collaboration. “For us to work with various tourism boards, various islands, it requires us working with various travel agencies, wholesalers to help us conceptualize and package and resell it, and it requires us working with the various airlines to ensure the cost of travel is not prohibitive that you can actually get an incentive to do so. That in itself can happen but it requires all of us working together to make it happen. I’m committed to doing that,” he concluded as he mentioned his government is currently in talks with a couple of airlines and nearby island nations.

This is certainly a hot, steamy topic that will require future updates.

Banner Image: Hugh Riley and Rufus Ewing

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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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