The Caribbean region's tourism growth potential in 2017 and beyond is enormous but can't be realized without continued collaborative partnerships between the region's public and private sectors.
Karolin Troubetzkoy, president of the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA), sounded the warning at the organization's annual Marketplace event held at Atlantis Paradise Island in Nassau last week.
"The year 2016 was one of mixed blessings for the Caribbean hotel industry but was not without its challenges from Zika, a warm winter season in U.S. markets, a weakened Canadian dollar, Brexit, the U.S. elections and political uncertainty around the globe and a visit from our most unwanted visitor, Hurricane Matthew," Troubetzkoy said in her opening address.
"CHTA is resolved to continue greater collaboration across the region's key partners," she said, in reference to Bahamas' prime minister Perry Christie who challenged the region last year to bolster cooperation between public and private sectors.
Troubetzkoy reported that both the CHTA and the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) are developing initiatives to "fully recognize the potential that tourism holds for our economies."
A recent example of a public-private partnership is a joint fundraising initiative between the CHTA and the Haiti and Bahamas hotel and tourism associations to bring relief to Haiti and Grand Bahama, which were impacted by Hurricane Matthew.
An auction sponsored by several island hotel associations as well as the CHTA and the CTO raised $70,000 in relief aid, which was split between Haiti and Grand Bahama.
Another example: Caribbeantravel.com, the consumer website for Caribbean destinations, is an on online collaboration between the CHTA, the CTO and hotel associations and attractions that aims to drive visitors to the region.
The issue of the sharing economy came up in discussions at Marketplace, with Troubetzkoy calling for a level playing field in the area of taxation.
"Hotels want to find a way to work with the shared accommodations sector," she said.
She said that while Caribbean visitors numbers were up in 2016, hotel occupancy was down 2%.
"This signals a travelers' shift to alternative accommodations. We are working with Airbnb to develop a means to regularize this shift locally so that hoteliers can tap into this shift, which we view as an opportunity rather than a threat, to generate revenue."
The CHTA held an educational session during Marketplace to help hoteliers come up with ways to create a revenue stream from travelers booking Airbnb and other shared accommodations. One suggestion was to have hotels offer day passes so that visitors can experience hotel and resort facilities not otherwise accessible to them.
Uber came up in a related discussion. Troubetzkoy reported that the CHTA is studying the issue, but she pointed out that taxi services in the islands are local. "There is great sensitivity as to how Uber services can exist in the same environment," she said.
There was also concern regarding the escalating fees and taxes on airline tickets. "Demand is reduced when these taxes and fees are increased," said Hugh Riley, secretary-general of the CTO. He pointed out that taxes and fees account for 50% of the cost of an airline ticket. "Travelers will stay home if airfares put too much of a strain on their travel budgets," he said.