Letter: Caribbean tourism industry needs to re-invent itself

POSTED: 09/7/11 1:42 PM

With economic and financial crises hitting the world at large, the Caribbean is faced with an unprecedented challenge to remain attractive to tourists with limited budgets and a wide range of options available to them for travel.
In order for the Caribbean to remain competitive, the industry needs to literally re-invent itself. That means that the Caribbean has to target existing and new markets with new tourism products and services.
For years the Caribbean destinations in general have catered to mass tourism with a sprinkling of exotic destinations, such as St. Barths, added to the recipe and a dash of eco-tourism (Dominica) thrown in for good measure. One new and exciting tourism product the Caribbean is now marketing is ‘space travel’ out of Curacao.
However, more worldly problems are challenging the aviation and airlines industries that have an earthly source to these challenges. Airlines are faced with rising fuel costs while the call for more airlifts does not come with equally adequate revenue guarantees from Caribbean governments or tourism entities.

The aviation sector is characterized by the desire and intention to have ‘open skies’ as a general policy for civil aviation territories in the Caribbean while the result remains the same as far as Caribbean governments and their civil aviation policies are concerned: protectionism! Just look at the REDjet situation and you will see what I mean.
The CTO has decided to organize a State of the Industry Conference here on St. Maarten, hosted by the French Tourist Office. They are doing this in the month of September. Who does this? Who invites hundred of delegates and key tourism, travel and aviation speakers and journalists to a conference on an island in the Caribbean in the middle of the hurricane season? Yet this is exactly the kind of daring out-of-the-box thinking that is needed to revamp the Caribbean tourism industry.

The Caribbean needs to come up with a radical approach in the coming months geared towards tapping into new markets such as the BRIC zone: Brazil, Russia, India and China. We are reading news coming out of Jamaica with plans to tap into the Chinese travel market with direct flights between Beijing and Montego Bay. Curacao is tapping into the German market with airlift being provided by Air Berlin. Personally, I believe St. Maarten can do well to tap into the Brazilian market with its growing economy and robust travel demand.
The planned State of the Industry Conference to be held September 15-17 will feature brainstorming sessions on revitalizing tourism in the Caribbean. I believe, we who are active in the travel and tourism industry here on St. Maarten cannot afford to miss attending this conference in our own backyard. You can get more information at the CTO website at www.onecaribbean.org on this first ever tourism conference held in the middle of a hurricane season. I am certain it will be a unique and energizing conference.

Terrance Rey

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