An agent seminar during Caribbean Week.NEW YORK -- Online reputation management in the digital age. The phrase is a mouthful, but the rapt audience at a recent tourism marketing forum devoured every morsel.

"How many businesses are at the mercy of travelers' opinions?" asked Daniel Edward Craig, founder of Reknown, a company that develops strategy, content and training programs to help hoteliers and travel marketers understand trends, tools and best practices in online marketing, social media and reputation management.

Craig, one of many speakers at the Caribbean Tourism Organization's (CTO) Caribbean Week events, held here June 1 to 8, is a former hotel manager and marketing executive turned mystery author and consultant.

He likened today's travelers to private detectives.

"Travelers take notes, photos and videos and publish them to review sites," Craig said. "Social media has taken over for search results. In the travel industry, reviews are huge. We have all lost some control, but we still have influence."

He advised his audience to accept that times have changed, that bait-and-switch tactics are out and transparency is in.

"One person not taking care of your customers can ruin the reputation of a hotel or destination," he said. "You have to manage and monitor your online content, track reviews and commentary and act on feedback, whether it is negative or positive."

He plugged TripAdvisor as "your friend, but if you are on that site, you need to take control of your presence. Welcome criticism, share comments with staff, listen, learn and fix the problems."

Websites must be "living entities to be relevant. Travelers want the truth."

At another of the event's forums, East met West as representatives of the Chinese government and private sector courted Caribbean tourism ministers, private-sector partners and policy makers.

A CTO workshop introduced travel agents who sell the Caribbean to another means of keeping their heads above water.

"Water sports is a multibillion-dollar industry that represents an opportunity for agents to increase profits in the Caribbean, an ideal playground for this niche market," said Anne Brobyn, founder and president of Hibiscus International, a tourism sales and marketing company.

The recent launch of the consumer-oriented website by the Caribbean Tourism Development Co., a joint marketing initiative of CTO and the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA), "already is benefiting the smaller hotels and destinations of the region by giving them exposure they've not been able to afford in the past," said CHTA President Richard Doumeng.

The CTO did show its fun side during the week with a fashion show, a vacation and romance marketplace, a gospel sing, culinary creations from celebrity chefs and a final "Rum and Rhythm" event that rocked the Tribeca event space.

Even the Empire State Building got into the act. The skyscraper was lit with the colors of the Caribbean one evening from dusk to midnight.

Next on the CTO's event calendar is its annual State of the Industry Conference from Oct. 15 to 18 in Martinique, with a focus on visitor experience and authenticity.

"We will deal with issues such as customs and immigration, airport and seaport facilities, taxis, attraction, service standards and visitor satisfaction," said CTO Chairwoman Beverly Nicholson-Doty.

"The vacation experience doesn't begin and end at accommodations," Doty said. "We have to deliver on the promise of the authentic Caribbean to generate referrals and repeat visits."

Follow Gay Nagle Myers on Twitter @gnmtravelweekly.
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