Small hoteliers ‘optimistic’

Improvement forecast for next year

The 2009 Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association Small Hotels Retreat kicked off in the US Virgin Islands last Wednesday with delegation of small hoteliers optimistic about their prospects in an improved 2010 economy.

‘The small hotels of the Caribbean are the salt and spice, and yes – the heart and soul of our region. They are as diversified as our people and we truly believe this is where we stand out,’ said Commissioner of Tourism for the USVI Beverly Nicholson-Doty in her keynote address at the opening ceremony.

‘At the end of the day, this is the group that is vested in our community,’ said Ms Nicholson-Doty, speaking about the historic charm, intimate appeal and the fact that many small hotels are found in historic districts.

‘This creates a unique experience that cannot be duplicated at any large brand hotel,’ said the Commissioner.

Ms Nicholson-Doty unveiled a massive programme of interdepartmental support for the small hotels of the USVI, 58 of which are participating in the Small Hotels Retreat.

She noted that small hotels are an integral part of the islands’ marketing as many are owned or managed by Virgin Islanders who are very knowledgeable about the destination and are vested in the success of the territory as a whole. Components of this latest campaign include the “INNtimate Treasures” promotion, as well as an online media plan, public relations and advertising efforts and a greater push for small hotels on the USVI Department of Tourism website.

The results have been promising. According to Nicholson-Doty, online support from the Google Ad Network, TripAdviser and Kayak resulted in a combined 6.1 million impressions. Media coverage of the USVI small hotels story resulted in 19.5 million impressions to-date, a figure that received a standing ovation from the delegates gathered at this year’s retreat.

Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association President Enrique De Marchena Kaluche delivered remarks on the state of the economy and its projected impact on the Caribbean tourism industry.

‘The good news is that the pent up demand for warm weather vacations is at its highest point in well over a decade,’ he said. ‘Several of the world’s largest economies, such as Germany and France, have already pulled themselves out of recession, and consumer confidence in the US is beginning to return to normal levels.

‘While speculation on the speed of the recovery varies depending on who you ask, the important thing is that 2010 is sure to see an improvement,’ noted Mr. De Marchena Kaluche.

‘We have survived a most difficult year. Now we must work together to rebuild our tourism industry and update the Caribbean’s image in the eyes of travellers with modern, state-of-the art facilities and impeccable service,’ explained the CHTA president.

‘As the recovery continues and consumer travel spending increases, the Caribbean will see some much needed relief, [but] the question remains: to what extent will the Caribbean hospitality industry expand in comparison to other emerging markets?’

He said that coming into 2010, the Caribbean is competing on a global level with destinations that are just as hungry for tourism. In some cases, these emerging destinations have newer infrastructure and less reliance on expensive imports.

‘Now more than ever before we must work together to improve our tourism product. We must double our efforts to come together as a united region in order to clearly demonstrate why there is no substitute for a Caribbean vacation.

‘As small hoteliers, it is essential that we identify that which makes us unique and implement strategies to differentiate each individual property, but it is important that this be done within the overall context of a unified Caribbean,’ he said.

He noted that small boutique hotels and guest houses are what the Caribbean is all about.

‘The unique flavour of our individual properties should complement one another, not set us apart. Our hospitality business is inherently competitive, but if we pool our resources, we can exponentially increase the impact of our marketing and we will all profit together.’