The Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Association (CHTA) will launch a “Certified Caribbean Travel Advisor Program” next year as part of a strategy to position the Caribbean as a multi-destination experience that goes beyond sun, sea and sand.
“We have travel advisors that have been selling some destinations in the Caribbean, but don't know the other destinations,” said Nicola Madden-Greig, president of the CHTA, addressing delegates at the Caribbean Travel Forum at the Caribe Hilton hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico on Monday (Oct. 3).
“They are not aware of the diversity and differences between each island.”
Madden-Greig was participating in a panel discussion ahead of the 40th Caribbean Travel Marketplace, which PAX is covering on location at the Puerto Rico Convention Centre in San Juan until Oct. 5.
Yesterday, the CHTA president was responding to the suggestion that resorts and amenities are, arguably, overshadowing actual destinations.
While the Caribbean is known for its all-inclusive and romance products, “We have a lot of opportunity to do more in terms of nature, culture and gastronomy,” Madden-Greig said.
“There's so much lack of knowledge of what a Caribbean product is.”
Speaking to a room full of travel leaders, from resort CEOs to Ministers of Tourism, Madden-Greig admitted “we’re kind of stuck, maybe in our own heads, on sun, sea and sand.”
However: “We are so far beyond that,” Madden-Greig said. “And the consumer is way beyond that. They want to hike, they want cycling tours…we have to understand that the market is changing.”
“Sun, sea and sand is obviously fantastic…but there's an EP segment [that] needs to be built out.”
The certification program the CHTA is developing for the trade will take already-existing specialist courses offered by major hotel brands and tourism boards “to the next level,” Madden-Greig explained.
“We'll be working with the Ministers of Tourism, tourism boards, as well as the hotel associations to get this done,” she said.
The underlying goal is to promote the Caribbean as a multi-destination experience.
“If we’re going to Europe, do we go to one country? No. We tend to visit two or three. The Caribbean has to be seen in the same light,” Madden-Greig said.
This concept was also discussed at a separate conference in September hosted by the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) and International Air Transport Association (IATA) in the Cayman Islands.
As PAX reported last month, Peter Cerda, IATA’s regional vice-president, the Americas said “selling the Caribbean as a multi-destination location is key” to the region’s recovery, and “being able to offer a variety of experiences.”
But in order to make this work, inter-regional air connectivity within the Caribbean must be restored and enhanced, Madden-Greig said.
“Travel within the Caribbean has been very slow to rebound,” she said, noting how international lift from source markets in North and South America and Europe is what’s driving the recovery.
“We are still looking at a major loss in terms of travel within the region,” she said. “The only way to [achieve multi-destination tourism] is to have good inter-regional airlift. That's something we have to solve.”
As for ongoing concerns about the high cost of air travel within and to and from the Caribbean, Madden-Greig is suggesting a tiered “dynamic taxation system” as a potential solution.
One of the major constraints facing Caribbean travel is the heavy burden of taxation, and governments could very well consider successful revenue management tactics employed within the tourism and aviation sector.
Madden-Greig says governments could affix a higher airline ticket tax in the peak winter season and lower taxes in the summer when demand is weak.
This would give consumers better prices to drive visitation during the slow season could boost tourism, commerce and intra-island VFR (Visiting Friends and Relatives) travel, she said.
“We are in growth mode”
This year’s Caribbean Travel Marketplace marks a return to in-person programming – the last face-to-face event was held in Nassau in late January 2020, two months before COVID-19 shuttered borders and travel,
The event, which brings together regional tourism suppliers, wholesalers and media, was held virtually in 2021.
Yesterday, Madden-Greig shared encouraging stats about the Caribbean’s COVID-19 recovery, noting how the demand for summer and fall 2022 is surpassing 2018 figures.
While international inbound travel is still at minus 30 per cent compared to pre-pandemic times: “We are no longer in recovery. We are in growth mode,” said Madden-Greig. “And this is something that is really phenomenal.”
The Caribbean isn’t borrowing visitors from other markets either, Madden-Greig said.
“The Caribbean is still very hot in demand. We have not only managed to attract visitors but sustain that growth,” she said, speaking to journalists on Tuesday (Oct. 4).
The Caribbean is averaging around three passengers per booking, showing an average annual stay of 10 days and an average lead time of 77 days, which is “very similar to pre-pandemic levels.”
What's driving growth?
The top three destinations accelerating growth in the Caribbean are the Dominican Republic, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Bonaire, says the CHTA, which obtains its information from flight and travel data tracker company ForwardKeys.
What drove growth in these destinations in Q4 was targeted marketing, to groups like honeymooners, and new routes, according to ForwardKeys.
While Canada, which recently just lifted all of its last-remaining travel restrictions, is lagging behind in overseas arrivals, Canadian numbers are improving.
According to the CHTA, the best-performing Caribbean destinations for travellers from Canada in Q4 of this year are Guadeloupe, Martinique and Curaçao.
“All double-digit growth,” Madden-Greig said. “We are seeing very interesting shifts in terms of the markets that are coming to the Caribbean.”
As for which Caribbean destinations Canadians are searching for, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, the Bahamas, Cuba and Puerto Rico currently rank in the top five, according to the CHTA.
Premium arrivals driving growth
Premium cabin arrivals are also leading the Caribbean’s recovery, Madden-Greig said.
Premium arrivals in the Caribbean are up 27 per cent compared to pre-pandemic figures, the CHTA says, with Curaçao, Bonaire, Guadeloupe, Martinique and the Dominican Republic ranking as the fastest-growing destinations for premium-class travellers.
Canada is among the source markets leading this trend with Jamaica, specifically, showing significant growth.
In Q3 of this year, premium class arrivals from Canada to Jamaica rose 41 per cent and capacity increased 25 per cent compared to 2019, according to the CHTA.
“We're seeing that trend continue,” Madden-Greig said.
Stay tuned as PAX brings you more coverage Caribbean Travel Marketplace in San Juan, Puerto Rico.