SAN JUAN — The tourism outlook for 2010 in the Caribbean region anticipates an uphill struggle and continued challenges for hoteliers, operators and destinations as the economic effects of the global recession continue to erode demand.

The mood at the annual Caribbean Marketplace was sober and realistic. Yet, attendance figures, the third-largest in recent years, suggested that buyers and suppliers are hellbent on salvaging business lost in 2009 and bolstering what’s on the books thus far in 2010 and beyond with creative deals and incentives.

Alec Sanguinetti, director general and CEO of the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association, which hosted Marketplace, put it bluntly: "From the tourist industry point of view, we see no reason that 2010 will be any better than 2009."

Not everyone shared that view.

John Hanratty, Travel Impressions’ senior vice president and chief marketing officer, was optimistic that "we will emerge from the economic downturn as a nimble, faster and stronger organization within the Caribbean region."

Travel Impressions has added Paul Zar and Bob Lawrence, both former senior LibGo executives, to its Caribbean team. It also became the official global wholesaling arm for American Express worldwide on Jan. 1 and will launch a new global platform system late this year for its entire product line.

Discussions regarding the funding of a regional marketing plan once again were on the table. The plan, which "has had more reruns than South Pacific," in the view of one CHTA executive, has been advanced in one form or another since the late 1990s both by the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association and the Caribbean Tourism Organization.

CHTA threw down the gauntlet this time, proposing a $10 tax on all airline tickets to the Caribbean to finance marketing budgets for each island and to generate a marketing fund for the region.

Such a tax was first discussed in 2002 but never got beyond the talking stage. The specifics of the plan were raised in July 2007 at a one-day tourism summit called by Caricom (Caribbean Community) in Antigua. At that time, CTO was charged with coming up with a funding formula, which it did last July, proposing a $3 tax on airline tickets to finance the regional marketing program.

That plan was rejected by CTO member countries, and a new deadline for another plan was set for this March.

Fed up with the years of unresolved discussions on the subject, CHTA president Enrique de Marchena said, "CHTA supports unity for action. We strongly suggest that the CTO revisits the recommendation for a tax on airline passenger tickets to the Caribbean."

De Marchena said that the $10 tax on incoming passengers "could be effectively split to enable individual governments to use $5 of each tax for its own destination marketing programs while allocating the other $5 to a sustainable marketing fund for the region."

Millions of dollars would result from such a ticket tax for each destination to supplement its marketing efforts as well as millions of dollars for regional marketing, according to de Marchena.

A decrease in Caribbean visitors in 2009 (estimated at 7% overall by CHTA, including a 4% to 5% drop in the U.S source market) has resulted in reduced tourism budgets and a 19% drop in hotel revenue, de Marchena said.

"While the governments of the Caribbean may have recognized the importance of tourism, the need for action now is critical for their economies," de Marchena said. "The most important thing right now is the development of a marketing fund for the region, as well as for each and every individual destination."

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