As the world looks to recover from the economic downturn, the tourism industry is in a state of self-reflection.
Islands across the Caribbean are looking to consolidate or strengthen arrivals numbers. Competition is fierce, according to analysts.
Paul Ludington is head of the Department of Tourism’s United States office and he said that regionally, key players included Aruba, St. Lucia, St Maarten, Barbados, Turks & Caicos and the British Virgin Islands.
“Some of the all inclusive destinations like the Dominican Republic and Jamaica are continuing to improve their hotel product and attracting somewhat of a higher demographic. Families flock to the all-inclusive product and now they can find a variety of 4- and 5-star resorts in these destinations that used to appeal to a mass market audience.
“Mexico as they continue to upgrade their product, and have plenty of hoteliers with large war chests of promotional dollars in addition to what their government spends is starting to creep into the competitive set (Those 4 and 5 star properties.”
He added that there was ‘new exciting product’ coming online in the Bahamas and Puerto Rico, of which Cayman had to be aware.
“For instance, Baha Mar complex in Nassau is sure to attract a tremendous amount of attention as a destination within a destination and the expectation is that they will be spending a small fortune to attract a consumer that is part of our target demographic.”
Paul Minich, country manager for Canada for the tourism department, said that competition was constantly in flux.
“Cayman’s key competitors moves around in cycles depending on the advertising and focus of other more affluent destinations,” he noted.
If competition is fierce within the Caribbean, from a wider perspective there is now a plethora of options for the warm-weather seeking traveller.
Don McDougall, UK and European manager for the Department of Tourism, says that from the European perspective, competition is the rest of the world.
“Specifically, Indian Ocean resorts (Maldives, Mauritius, Seychelles), Middle East and South Africa.
“Directly within the Caribbean region, most probably the other schedules air service destinations as oppose to the mass market charter operated destinations, so St Lucia, Bahamas, Barbados and also Bermuda.” The Caribbean Tourism Organization, a public sector lobbying body, which serves the region’s tourism industry, is well aware of the need to promote the area as a whole.
The organisation has recently elected a new chairman, Beverly Nicholson-Doty, with a brief to fulfil the vision: ‘To position the Caribbean as the most desirable, year round, warm weather destination by 2017.’ Ms. Nicholson-Doty told the Compass that it was crucial for Caribbean islands and countries to work together to face this challenge.
The establishment of the Caribbean Tourism Development Company in conjunction with the private sector Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association enables a central social, commercial and marketing hub to promote the region to the world.
“There is a level playing field. We recognise we have strategic partners that come to the table that benefit from Caribbean tourism so how do we take all of our resources in bringing the brand identity of the region [to the world?],” she said.
The new site is ‘an interactive digital platform, which represents the Caribbean.’
“People do not buy destinations only, they buy experiences. This is a platform to showcase the diversity of those experiences. This also incorporates the social platform. But we are also looking at traditional partners such as print. How do we incorporate that into our overall strategy?
“Public relations and a sales force are other components. At this point we are looking at how to present the region with all of its diversity in one place. The truth of the matter is that the world is our competition and that is why it is so important that we do not compete with each other,” said the chairman.
Some regions that have become competitors include Turkey and the Middle East, she added. “Anyone with a passport now has the ability to travel anywhere in the world,” noted Ms Nicholson-Doty.
However, there are difficulties such as the continued high Air Passenger Duty from the UK and potential carbon taxes to overcome. Lobbying efforts continue by private and public sector Caribbean tourism officials in these fields, with airlift, capacity, cost, regulation and connectivity seen as key to bringing people to the Caribbean rather than other, cheaper warm-weather destinations, concluded the chairman.