Gay Nagle Myers
Gay Nagle Myers

The curtain rises this week on the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association's (CHTA) annual Caribbean Marketplace, which this year is hosted by Jamaica at its conference center in Montego Bay.

The atmosphere promises to be rosier and more optimistic than just a year ago, when hurricane recovery remained a priority on several islands, especially Puerto Rico, whose convention center in San Juan served as the venue for the event that year.

This year's gathering, the 37th annual edition, comes as the region's tourism prospects for 2019 are looking very strong, according to Frank Comito, CEO of the CHTA.

"With new routes and increased airlift announcements in recent months, market-savvy hoteliers are positioned to increase occupancy and generate additional business," Comito said.

Attendance numbers, which are poised to set records, attest to high interest on the part of buyers. This year's count includes more than 1,000 delegates, including 60 new global buyer companies joining 80 returning buyer companies from 19 countries, including large contingents from China and India.

Representatives from more than 200 supplier companies in 26 Caribbean countries will huddle and negotiate with tour operators, wholesalers and online travel agencies during thousands of meetings and pre-arranged appointments.

What accounts for this year's record turnout?

For one, the CHTA's president, Patricia Affonso-Dass, pointed to rising consumer demand, the diversity of the Caribbean tourism product and more authentic experiences on offer, and the increase in the range of unique island accommodations.

"Technology has connected more travelers to the region, and our people and businesses in the region are using the experiences to link them to potential customers," Affonso-Dass said.

The CHTA views Marketplace as the opportunity to kickstart the region's marketing efforts for 2019 and beyond.
While buying and selling on the conference center's trade floor are the main focus for delegates this week, Jamaica intends to tout its attractions as a destination, offering attendees options to tour a boutique inn and a culinary village in Negril; visit Jamaica's new branch of the National Gallery at the Montego Bay Cultural Centre; inspect the just-opened S Hotel on the Hip Strip in Montego Bay; and sample the products at the Hampden Estate, a working rum distillery.

"Much has changed since Jamaica last hosted Marketplace in 2014 -- locally, regionally and globally -- all boding well for the future of Jamaican and Caribbean tourism," Affonso-Dass said.

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