Time is now for unity, says Caribbean tourism industry boss

Issues to be discussed at Bahamas conference

The Caribbean must come together to market itself as opportunities are out there. A region-wide marketing company could also assist greatly in placing the region as the first choice of warm weather destinations. 

Those are the views of Richard Doumeng, president of the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association, a private sector strategy and lobbying group. 

“We are all in the same boat; we are now all well into the second decade of the 21st Century, operating as 20th Century companies. It is not going to cut it anymore. It is the way of the world,” he said. 

“We are on the precipice of an exciting time. I am a true believer in the Caribbean Tourism Development Company, which is a jointly owned marketing company with [the public sector] Caribbean Tourism Organisation. It will be ahead of its time as we go forward to market the Caribbean,” he added. 

That company is intended to provide a social, commercial and marketing hub to promote the region to the world and compete with other long-haul markets rather than directly competing with each other. 

“The Cayman Islands, among everyone else, I believe and hope we are going to eventually convince all of the islands to allocate a small, miniscule part of their overall budget to bring people back to the Caribbean,” Mr. Doumeng said. 

“It is the largest unowned brand name in the world. We are not fighting with each other anymore. Every warm weather destination on the planet is our competition and we need to bring people back here. That is worth a few percentage points of a tourism authority’s budget to allocate toward a regional marketing campaign,” he added. 

He conceded, however, that to date the tourism development company had not given members “confidence” in what they have delivered as yet. 

“Those of us in the development company realise we have one last opportunity to do it right and to show people what we are talking about and how achievable it is. We have not really done the best job of it primarily because it was not sustainable,” he said. 

A previous Beach Boys campaign based on the song Kokomo “dominated the United States” for some months but it was not sustained. 

“This time we are going to start small with achievable goals and then we will have a product to show government and our private sector partners that we are on the right track and give them a reason to do business with us,” Mr. Doumeng said. 


Conference coming up 

Imminent also is Caribbean Travel Marketplace, the first major conference of the year for the region’s travel industry. Buyers, media, destinations and public sector bodies descend on Atlantis, Nassau from 20 to 22 January for meetings, deals, talks and seminars. 

“Three of the most popular letters in our business these days are ROI – return on investment. In the tourism business, it is not as easy to identify the fruits of your labour because we are not an assembly line. We do not create a product. It is easier to analyse a business where you produce, say, 100,000 cars and can see how many you sell for what profit margin,” Mr. Doumeng said. 

“We are so much about creating experiences and memories and these are not tangible or easy ROI categories. Conventions and trade shows are even falling by the wayside all around the world but Marketplace is still relevant because we are in a human business. Talking and meeting with your collaborators and partners is necessary. Ten years ago, we all used to show up with archive boxes full of contracts and would sit and negotiate rates. Nowadays, it is not like that with the Internet. Business has changed but there is still nothing that can replace human interaction and face to face contact,” he added. 

Issues of taxes including the perennial problem of the United Kingdom’s air passenger duty will also be discussed at the event, he confirmed, as will intra-regional air travel. There will also be plenty of talk about how to create and strengthen “Brand Caribbean”, he reiterated.