Talk of hotel development, student tourism initiatives, romance locales and celebrity chef demonstrations highlighted several events during the Caribbean Tourism Organization's (CTO) 42nd annual Caribbean Week held in New York earlier this month.
Some deep-pocketed investors have spiked a building boom in Antigua and Barbuda, hinted at a similar trend in St. Vincent and the Grenadines and paved the way for a multimillion-dollar villa complex in the Turks and Caicos.
"The Caribbean is in a good place right now," said Nikheel Advani, COO and principal of Grace Bay Resorts in Turks and Caicos. "Demand is up, supply is down, so we are seeing a revival in hotel development. It's slow, but it is happening across the board, and there is a balance between select-service properties and luxury properties. Both segments are doing well."
Asot Michael, Antigua and Barbuda's minister of tourism, economic development, investment and energy, and Glen Beache, CEO of the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Tourism Authority, made similar comments. For St. Vincent, however, the airlift picture will be clearer once the new $240 million international airport opens in January. Beache held talks with several U.S. carriers to discuss the possible launch of flights from key gateways.
"It would be easier if we had had an international airport before this, so we're starting from the ground up with the airlift issue," Beache said.
Among the other Caribbean Week highlights:
• At the Caribbean Students Colloquium, students from the College of the Bahamas, Monroe College in New York, Jamaica's University of Technology and the Turks and Caicos Islands Community College debated each other and presented solutions on sustainable tourism issues. Monroe College was the defending champion from 2014's colloquium, but the torch was passed this year to the Turks and Caicos team.
"They are the future bright tourism stars for the Caribbean," said a Monroe College representative.
• To inject a bit of romance into Caribbean Week, the CTO retained Wedding Salon, the planners of U.S. bridal trade shows, to organize the Romance Pavilion as a forum for engaged couples seeking honeymoon or destination wedding information. More than 300 couples met with local vendors from the Caribbean to talk romance and plan nuptials.
• At a seminar for travel agents, Arnie Weissmann, editor in chief of Travel Weekly, focused on the opportunities presented by the evolution of consumers' desires for new and authentic experiences in the areas of Caribbean food, culture and nature. Back in the day, the goal for most visitors was to stay in as nice a resort as they could afford, and in aggregate, the islands had properties that could accommodate people at any price point, according to Weissmann.
"People were satisfied with local color rather than authenticity; a limbo show seemed to do the trick," Weissmann said. Now, differentiating what each island brings to the table beyond sun and sand is vital. "The travel industry at every level must at least offer the opportunity for authentic experiences to travelers," Weissmann said. When helping clients plan Caribbean travel, agents should focus on what makes each island destination unique, according to Weissmann.