Caribbean product must up its game, says tourism minister

Port of Spain, Trinidad – The warm weather markets worldwide are in competition with the Caribbean for tourism. Therefore, the region must find ways of increasing its global position and profitability, according to Stephen Cadiz, minister for tourism for Trinidad and Tobago. 

Mr. Cadiz was speaking during a special press conference in advance of the 14th Sustainable Tourism Conference. 

He added that while China now had the world’s top spending outbound tourists, it was important for his own destination to concentrate on traditional market sources such as the US, the UK, Canada and Europe. He said that re-engaging these primary markets was first priority and though the travellers from China, Japan and other places could be high yield, the issue remained of travel times. A traveller from Beijing seeking a warm weather destination, he said, had the option of travelling south to the Philippines, which would be around an eight-hour journey, or taking two days to get to the Caribbean. 

“The Caribbean has to rebuild itself [and we could] get traffic from the BRIC countries [Brazil, Russia, India and China, all with growing economies],” he said. “But it will take time. Economies are under stress, so where spend is limited we may have to look after traditional markets as we do not have the huge budgets to make [marketing elsewhere] successful. You need deep pockets.” 

As an aside, he noted that the marketing budget the Sandals Group had was “10 times” that of Trinidad and Tobago as a country. Therefore, it was necessary to show how valuable tourism could be to the country and raise awareness within the country. 

“Budget equals the perception of government as to how valuable your sector is,” he said. 

The destination is to embark on a branding exercise with an international partner to “brand more aggressively for winter season 2013” as well as launching a local awareness programme of how important service standards are. 

In terms of airlift, the minister noted that this continued to be crucial for his and all destinations. Trinidad and Tobago, he said, had fairly good lift from the US, Canada, UK and Frankfurt. But he added that the country was looking at ways to get into the Midwest region and also target Scandinavia, which would avoid the effects of the Air Passenger Duty levied on all flights to and from the United Kingdom. However, he did sound a warning note regarding costs. 

“Marketing support is getting very expensive and if you do not offer it for leisure airlift to the islands, [the carriers] will not talk to you,” Mr. Cadiz said. 

He added that this could be in the tens of millions of dollars and one of the problems was that different countries did not share information about costs. Due in part to this, airlines could easily take advantage of the situation. 

Another large market for Trinidad and Tobago, and by extension the rest of the Caribbean, was the Diaspora. 

“The main migration off the islands was in the 1950s and 1960s … the original settlers had travelled back and forth many times,” he said. “Maybe their children and grandchildren have never seen the islands. We are designating 2014 homecoming year to introduce them to their heritage. But we also have to create the product to bring them home to understand where they came from.” 

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