Marketing, Recycling Are Top Issues at Small-Hotels Confab

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ANSE MARCEL, St. Martin -- Issues as diverse as waste management, Web sites, winter season bookings, marketing tools and El Nino dominated the Caribbean Hotel Association's annual Small Hotels Retreat, held this month at Le Meridien on St. Martin. More than 130 hoteliers representing properties of 100 rooms or less from Abaco to Trinidad wrestled with the problems and pitfalls of small hotels' operations.

CHA officials floated a trial balloon to hoteliers in the form of a proposed initiative to develop a Caribbean hotel brand based on a multitiered system using icons to classify hotels. Bill Moore, CHA's director of product development, said that modern management practices "must be used to establish standards to assist and support small properties to compete in the world marketplace." Moore cautioned that the initiative was purely conceptual at this point. "This project evolved from brainstorming sessions. It requires feedback from hoteliers and identification of outside funding sources before any further developments can take place," according to Moore. Hoteliers were in general agreement that a classification system is needed and pointed out that such programs in the Bahamas and Jamaica, already in place, might serve as region-wide models.

Miami-based Festa Holidays became the tour operator in April for CHA's Small Hotels tour program, cosponsored by American Airlines and American Express. Jacques Abitan, Festa's president, assured hoteliers at the retreat that the firm's Real Caribbean packages use "the lowest bulk fares available on American and pay a 12% commission."

More than 250 small hotels on 21 islands are featured in the programs; 50 more will be added by December. Abitan explained that hotels must be CHA members, pass an inspection, accept the American Express card and pay an entry fee of $10 per room per year to join the Small Hotels program. In addition, the government tourist board must pay $800 per year per hotel to participate in the program.

Roundtable discussions centered on sustainable tourism, the Internet, brochure design, staff training and marketing.

Hoteliers cited examples of ecotourism measures already in place within the Caribbean, such as the installation of 200 solar street lights in Nassau, light sensors in guest rooms and a $2-per-person-per-day energy surcharge at certain hotels in the Bahamas. Footprints Eco Resort, a new nine-room inn on Tobago, includes a property tour with lunch so that guests can see its ecotourism measures first-hand .

Carol Kaufman, owner of the 14-room Olde Yard Inn on Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands, prints her property's environmental practices on brochures and placards in the rooms "so our guests can support what we're doing." Barry Benjamin, vice president of the 16-room Peace & Plenty Beach Inn on Exuma, said, "If we as hoteliers don't control pollution, soon we will have nothing to sell." Louise John, manager of the 20-room, five-cottage Long Bay Hotel on Antigua, said that the Caribbean needs a regional recycling center. "We have no place except landfills for our garbage. We are wrecking our islands by not addressing this problem," John said.

CHA's new Caribbean Action for Sustainable Tourism program bolsters hotels' eco-efforts through cost-savings programs, marketing, training seminars and collateral materials.

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