NEW YORK — At a marketing forum during the Caribbean Tourism Organization's recent Caribbean Week events, keynoter Henry Harteveldt, co-founder of the Atmosphere Research Group, predicted more airline mergers "among smaller U.S. airlines."

The four "super carriers — Delta, United, American and Southwest — represent 87% of U.S. capacity, and we may see a couple of new hubs," he said.

PeoplExpress, launching June 30 with charters to three U.S. destinations, "offers the potential to serve the Caribbean," according to Harteveldt.

He said that to attract more airlift, destinations "have to put together a strong pitch involving all entities from the economic development commission on the island to local businesses, hotel owners, consultants and tourism officials, backed up by strong research.

"Of course, incentives are usually expected," he added.

"If an airline considers the destination to be a risk, or if the destination is a secondary one, the airlines expect incentive, for at least one to three years," Harteveldt said.

Social media's importance

At the same forum, Susan Black, senior partner/co-founder of the Black & Wright Group, focused on the strength and reach of social media.

Felicia Persaud presents Butch Stewart with an award."This cannot be ignored. The social media engagement with affluent travelers is no longer an option," Black said, citing a 2013 Google study that found the primary sources for "inspiring personal travel" include the Internet, 76%; friends and family, 75%; and travel agents, 72%.

"Facebook is a venue for grown-ups: 70% of vacationers update their status while on vacation. You want your resort or island to be part of that update via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, selfies, videos and Pinterest. Rethink your brochure investments and know that visuals and videos have 90% more impact than text."

Black advised the hoteliers in the audience to "give your brand an upscale identity. Encourage guests to post photos of your hotel; make it possible for them to check via WiFi while they are still in the air, and do all you can via social media to make your guests feel special."

Complimentary, resortwide WiFi is a must, according to Black. "This is the most important element you can offer at a hotel or on an island. At the recent Affluent Travel Symposium in Boca Raton, Fla., 97% of the agents there reported that some of their wealthier clients refuse to go to a resort where they will be charged for WiFi. It offends them. It is the pet peeve of affluent travelers, and resorts need to know the sensitivity of their guests," she said.

In her address to attendees last week, Beverly Nicholson-Doty, CTO chairwoman and tourism commissioner of the U.S. Virgin Islands, reported that overall Caribbean growth "is modestly higher in 2014 with visitor arrivals up by 2% year over year. As a hotelier myself, I know how important RevPAR [revenue per available room] is, and that is increasing, as well. We are positive about the forecast going forward," she said.

The CTO is working to strengthen its regionwide marketing effort, Nicholson-Doty said.

"We will be putting out [a request for proposal] in the next 30 days for a company to be a consultant to the Caribbean Tourism Development Co. [CTDC], the joint marketing effort of CTO and the Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Association, to move the CTDC to the next level," she said.

The short-term goal is to hire the consultant to develop a business plan. The next step is to ensure that every tourist-related business in the region is listed on the website to take advantage of the portal that is part of the Caribbean's regional marketing plan.

Several destinations reported arrival growth of more than 5% year over year for Q1 2014, including Turks and Caicos (up 30%), Belize (9.7%), the Cayman Islands (9%), the Dominican Republic (6.1%) and Antigua and Barbuda (5.8%).

Cruise arrivals increased 4.8% in the Bahamas in January and February, to more than 905,000; Belize reported a jump of 22% between January and March, to 322,218 arrivals; and the D.R. was up 18.7%, to 256,079 arrivals.

Follow Gay Nagle Myers on Twitter @gnmtravelweekly. 


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