MIAMI -- The winds of change shaping the face of Caribbean business -- the Internet revolution, social values, demography and competition -- came under scrutiny at the keynote session of the annual Caribbean Hotel Industry Conference, sponsored by the Caribbean Hotel Association held here from June 25 to 28.

During the session, moderator Peter Yesawich, chairman and CEO of Yesawich, Pepperdine, Brown & Russell, noted the rise in Internet usage of U.S. travelers, up from 10% 10 years ago to 85% in 2006 and a lively round of debate followed.

The rise of the Internet is the single most important event since the jet airplane, said Vincent Vanderpool-Wallace, secretary general of the Caribbean Tourism Organization. We, in the Caribbean tourism industry, need to mirror what is happening in the marketplace.

Hudson Husbands, chairman of the Barbados Tourism Authority partner in Tourism Global, a professional services firm specializing in the hospitality and tourism industry throughout the Caribbean, acknowledged that the Caribbean is losing ground in this area and is slipping in relation to the natural competition in the marketplace.

Agreeing with tourism leaders was Ewart Brown, Bermudas minister of tourism and transport. Were going to be late if we dont hurry up. We cant be observers to changes; we have to play.

Brown advocated closing tourism offices, stop paying rent and go virtual.

Frank van der Post, senior vice president, the Americas, Jumierah hotels, added "People today are impatient. Any Website has to be easy to manage and navigate with a maximum of three clicks."

Passing the baton

In other CHIC news, Berthia Parle stepped down as CHA president, a post she held for the past two years, and passed the baton to Peter Odle, general manager of Mango Bay Hotel in Barbados.

Parles legacy as the first female head in the organizations history is that I have built a solid foundation and I feel that the partnerships formed with the CTO, the Florida Caribbean Cruise Association and the European Union have helped bridge the great tourism divide.

Parle said she regrets that she does not see another woman in CHAs rank and file ascending to the CHA top post anytime soon.

To contact reporter Gay Nagle Myers, send e-mail to [email protected].

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