core one for Caribbean buyers and
suppliers who stepped up to the plate at the Caribbean Hotel
Association's Marketplace in Cancun, Mexico, last month and got
down to the business of getting back to business.
That serious theme dominated the agenda of the annual three-day
hospitality marketing event, which this year loomed more important
Ralph Taylor, CHA president, sounded the call for action in his
opening address to delegates, who included more than 870 Caribbean
suppliers from 348 firms in 36 CHA-member nations and 373 buyers
from the U.S, Europe and South America.
Despite the falloff in business that began a year ago and the
events of Sept. 11, Taylor assured delegates the Caribbean "will
survive and ultimately prosper as the most important travel
destination in the world." (See related story.)
Although bookings are off, arrivals are down and the outlook
through March is "tough," Taylor said he was optimistic an "uptick
in the economy and in travel will be evident by the second or third
quarter of this year."
Abelardo Vara, president of the Hotel Association of Quintana
Roo, the Mexican state in which Cancun is located, expressed
concern that pressure from wholesalers and hoteliers to fill rooms
at any cost could work against the recovery of the Caribbean.
"Cheaper room rates will not take away people's fear of flying,"
Vara said. "Reducing rates to cut costs and entice customers
affects the quality of service at the properties."
Simon Suarez, head of the Dominican Republic Hotel Association,
executive vice president of development for Coral Hotels &
Resorts as well as incoming CHA president, said the need for joint
marketing efforts to promote the region's recovery led to an
emergency promotional fund put together by 32 CHA destinations.
"We received pledges from members for $8 million to promote the
Caribbean as one destination," Suarez said.
Sources of additional funding are being sought.
The regional marketing plan, which has been kicked around for
years, might actually be launched this year, Taylor said.
The events of Sept. 11 proved to be the catalyst. Caribbean
heads of state have met twice since last fall to develop a
strategic tourism program, the full details of which are expected
Meanwhile, a campaign on cable TV launches with four spots this
month under the theme, "Life Needs the Caribbean."
The ads will carry a toll-free number and a tag line for
consumers to call agents.
In other news from the conference:
• Bahamas' deputy director general of tourism, Vernice J.
Walkine, said the destination's new national ad campaign "promotes
several of our tour operators' packages on cable TV networks and in
print in markets that have shown strength since Sept. 11."
Walkine called the launch of the year-round campaign "very
"Despite the industry downturn after Sept. 11, our figures
demonstrate that the Bahamas held steady in terms of visitors
because of our proximity to the U.S. mainland, direct flight and
ship access and interchangeable currency," she said.
"This campaign increases our visibility and stimulates
In fact, initial visitor figures for 2001 show the Bahamas was
down only 0.5% compared with 2000, which was a record year,
according to Walkine.
Cruise passenger arrivals were up 5.2% last year compared with
• Jamaica's director of tourism, Faye Pickersgill, reported that
declines since Sept. 11 are leveling off.
"Jamaica was hit hard last fall, but we are climbing back," she
A six-week national TV campaign was launched Jan. 7 to build on
the destination's solidarity message begun immediately after Sept.
"We are going after niche markets, special events and spring
breakers," Pickersgill said. "We are confident the market will
rebound this year, and we want to reclaim our share of
With the meetings and incentives market in mind, Jamaica
announced construction of a 75,000-square-foot convention center in
the Rose Hall area of Montego Bay, planned to open in the fall of
Dunn's River Falls near Ocho Rios will get a $3 million upgrade
of facilities for visitors, such as dressing rooms, concessions and
Likewise, improvements are planned for the Rio Grande
The Port Antonio Marina will feature 32 new slips by June, when
Jamaica hosts the Tall Ships event.
Major road improvements are planned on the route linking
Kingston and Ocho Rios.
• Coral Hotels & Resorts, with four properties in the
Dominican Republic, will open the 217-room Crowne Plaza Malecon in
Santo Domingo in spring 2003.
Coral will operate the resort, which will be branded as a Crowne
Later this year, Coral Hotels & Resorts will launch a major
promotional campaign and revamp its Web site to be more
agent-friendly, according to Suarez.
More than 150 wholesalers are expected at this year's Dominican
Republic Travel Exchange in Punta Cana April 11 to 13, up from last
year's figure of 117.
• Wyndham Hotels & Resorts is seeing some resurgence in the
meetings business postponed from last fall.
Tim Rector, regional director of sales and marketing, said group
bookings at Wyndham El Conquistador Resort & Country Club in
Puerto Rico "showed some movement in February. Our call volumes and
conversions are up, but there still is a big hole to fill."
At Wyndham Rose Hall in Jamaica, which recently opened a new
golf course, "reservations are up for March. We are making a big
push for our road shows this spring and summer," Rector said.
• Beverly Nicholson, executive director of the St. Thomas/St.
John Hotel & Tourism Association, reported bookings "are last
minute, but we did end up doing better in December than we had
expected. March looks good, as well."
Many of the hotels that laid off employees last fall have
recalled most of them.
• Carla Noel, director of tourism for Trinidad and Tobago, said
the drop in visitors last year could mean "it will take two to
three years before we get back on an even keel."
Marketing and promotion are key elements in raising awareness of
the destination, according to Noel, who reported the marketing
budget had increased from $4 million to $7 million this year.
"We will follow the niche marketing approach and go after
markets such as ecotourism, honeymoon, golf and sports. We will be
careful where and how we spend our money," she said.
• Caribbean Star Airlines, based in Antigua, launched a Quality
Service Initiative last month that gives a free ticket to every
passenger on a flight that departs more than 30 minutes late.
Tom Scarlett, director of sales, said the initiative runs
through March 14 and the free ticket is valid for travel through
In addition, the regional carrier, which serves 11 Caribbean
destinations, has expanded several of its routes and is adding
Tobago, St. Maarten and Nevis to its network.
Caribbean Star, now listed in all CRSs under the 8B code, has
updated its Web site at www.flycaribbeanstar.com.
"We pay 10% commission with no cap and we offer discounted
travel agent rates," Scarlett said.
• St. Maarten launched a $1 million promotion Feb. 3 called
"Double the Value, Double the Fun," which offers value-added
packages at participating properties.
The packages can be booked through Travel Impressions.
Regina M. LaBega, director of tourism, said the program, valid
through June 30, is "traditionally a summer promotion, but we
launched it now as a direct result of a drop in business and the
state of the economy."
On St. Martin, Bernadette Davis, tourism director, listed a
number of new attractions for visitors, including a West Indies
waterfront mall in Marigot, with Creole houses; a new marina in
Marigot that will be completed in April; renovation of the Grand
Case airport so it can accept American Eagle flights, and upgrades
at a number of hotels.
The first St. Maarten/St. Martin Annual Regional Tradeshow is
set for April 25 to 27 and will include representatives from 13
northeastern Caribbean islands.
LaBega said the event is geared to "many smaller properties that
cannot afford to attend the larger Caribbean conferences."