Tourism experts are calling for a reappraisal of intra-Caribbean and Diaspora travel, a market they say is at present untapped.
Traditionally, Cayman’s overwhelming majority of stayover arrivals is drawn from the North American region.
The United States provided 81 per cent and Canada 6.3 per cent of arrivals during 2010. Europe was the other significant market with 6.4 per cent. In total, the figure for what the Department of Tourism considered ‘other arrivals’ was 6.2 per cent.
But with 40 million potential travellers in the Caribbean, experts are advising adding an inward focus to boost travel numbers across the board.
“If we are talking about a Caribbean staycation [and business travel] then that makes some sense,” said Harry Lalli of the Cayman Islands Tourism Association.
“One problem for Cayman is the relative lack of direct flights; we go to Jamaica and Cuba but not east. Sometimes it is easier to go to London than the Eastern Caribbean. That would be the biggest challenge unless the Caribbean could sustain a profitable airline.”
Chairman of the Caribbean Tourism Organization, Ricky Skerritt, said that intra-regional travel would be moved to the top of the body’s advocacy list immediately. He vowed that all attention would be put on the issues involved, including the impact of costs, airlines, tickets, hotels, travel packages and taxes.
Other matters on the table include looking at easing visa and issues and border restrictions to make movement easier and focus on consumer needs without compromising safety. Route planning and timing and quality customer service were also important.
“[We need to] make sure that Caribbean people get a minimum standard of service from the industry both on the airline and ferry side of it and the land side. [We also need] to make sure that we do a better job of making non-Caribbean people resident in the Caribbean and Caribbean people resident abroad better aware of why the Caribbean is an attractive place for all types of travel.
“That type of market becomes a serious market that we want to market to as tourism stakeholders,” said Mr. Skerritt.
One of the ways that this may be achieved is through the reactivation of the Caribbean Tourism Development Company, which has been mooted for many years but is also a priority for the organization, which has set a deadline of June 30, 2012 by when all marketing activities of the Caribbean brand will be handled by the new body.
Although it does not have funding, said Mr. Skerritt, there are ways to make things happen and the intention is to take things step by step. A website will be self-funding and resources will be folded into the development company from the organisation’s marketing activities.
The recession had allowed the region the opportunity to be a little more introspective and identify where the Caribbean now stood and where it would like to go. Accepting these truths and recognising the value of tourism would assist in bringing the industry back to being globally competitive, he said.
“We need to get all people to value what we have and who we are at a higher level than we do right now… to understand the gems and the jewels of the Caribbean. Secondly, we need to spread the wealth, spread the international benefits of tourism. The[re are] 20-odd million people who come to the Caribbean every year, with large proportions of those going to certain countries rather than others. What better way to spread that wealth than to get the beneficiaries of Caribbean tourism, the Caribbean people, spending that money around the region?
“We talk of staycations and other offers as part of economic strategy to get people to spend more money at home. Caribbean people spend a lot of money abroad; 80 cents in every dollar that comes in from tourism goes back out and we want it to go back out as slowly as possible. Ultimately it is going to go out in jet fuel and other areas as we travel around the Caribbean but we want to keep it in the Caribbean as much as we can. If you are in any business at all and you don’t have a home market you are struggling because the cost of export is way higher than the cost of local distribution,” said Mr. Skerritt.
However, Mr. Lalli of the Cayman Islands Tourism Association asked whether Caribbean travellers would actually be interested in weekend island-hopping for leisure purposes.
“Do people really want to go to a different island to lie on essentially the same beach, under the same sun and the same ocean?”