Karine Roy-Camille, commissioner of tourism for Martinique, has her work cut out for her when it comes to attracting a greater number of U.S. visitors.
Martinique welcomed 614,000 visitors in 2012, a 6.3% rise over 2011. But close to 85% of those visitors were from France, with the U.S. accounting for only 4%.
Roy-Camille admitted that air connectivity between the U.S. and Martinique, wedged between Dominica to the north and St. Lucia to the south, “is a huge issue” in increasing U.S. arrivals.
U.S. visitors to the French island connect through Miami on American twice a week (the second weekly flight is seasonal and begins Nov. 27); otherwise they must come via San Juan on Seaborne Airlines or on Liat via Barbados or St. Maarten.
A bright spot is cruise traffic, which jumped 123% in 2012 over 2011, bringing 92,000 passengers on 120 cruise calls. Much dredging work has been done at the cruise port to enable larger ships to call, according to Roy-Camille.
Royal Caribbean’s Quantum of the Seas announced that it would call in Martinique four times during the 2014-15 cruise season.
“We are doing all we can do to enter the U.S. market, to work against the seasonality of arrivals,” Roy-Camille said.
The Martinique Tourism Authority signed a Tourism Development Plan three years ago setting a target of 1 million foreign visitors by 2020, Roy-Camille said.
The plan focuses on new hotels, the promotion of the island’s history, culture and natural attractions and tapping into niche markets such as nature lovers and foodies.
Sustainable tourism growth is also part of the island’s plan, she added.
Martinique currently has 3,700 guestrooms, with the majority located in or near the capital of Fort-de-France and in the southern part of the island.
One improvement is set to launch in Q1 2014, when Martinique unveils its updated, user-friendly website with details on accommodations, activities, sports, attractions and restaurants.
Visitors will find much to do on the island; there’s hiking in the rain forest in the north near the slopes of Mount Pelee, shopping in the handicraft markets, sampling the goods in the rum distilleries or serving as a crew member aboard a yole, a traditional wooden sailboat, on the south coast, to name just a few popular activities.