By Melanie Reffes
Special To News Americas
News Americas, FORTE-DE-FRANCE, Martinique, Fri. Oct. 25, 2013: The Caribbean Tourism Organization’s annual state of the conference on tourism was held this year at the Madiana Convention Center in Schoelcher, a suburb of Fort de France on the French island of Martinique by the CTO and the Martinique Tourism Authority.
Under the banner “Perfecting the Experience, Delivering Authenticity,” Caribbean government officials, tourism ministers, directors and commissioners , academics and experts tackled topics that addressed improving the vacation experience for visitors to the region.
“It is the quality of the experience that will determine if our guests develop such an emotional attachment that they become influencers and repeat visitors,” said Hugh Riley, secretary general, CTO. “The more the Caribbean pays attention to visitor experience, the more it will enhance its competitive position.”
With a resounding call to order, CTO chairman, Beverly Nicholson-Doty, opened the conference with strong words described as both ‘wisdom and a ‘warning.’
“The slogan ‘One Sea, One Voice, One Caribbean’ cannot be just a feel good tagline that we embrace when we meet a few times a year, it must be the strategic marketing reality of our region if we are to survive the aggressive marketing efforts of major destinations around the world,” she said, while noting that actions speak louder than words.
‘As a region we are great debaters and we’re big on lyrics but we’re slow on implementation,” Nicholson-Doty added.
Describing Brand USA as a strategy that markets the entire country as one tourist destination, Nicholson-Doty said that the concept behind the brand was initiated in the Caribbean more than a decade ago.
“Brand USA has the data that shows travel increased to the US since the program’s implementation and when we’ve implemented a cohesive marketing program, our visitor arrivals also have increased,” she said.
Emphasizing that marketing the Caribbean as one region makes fiscal sense, USVI Governor John P. de Jongh, Jr. said this strategy offers a competitive advantage for all Caribbean countries.
“We may be perceived as competitors going after the same guest, but the fact is that we are ‘economic co-conspirators’ trying to attract visitors to the region and then keeping them as long as possible,” said Governor de Jongh, Jr.
Do the Math
According to figures released at the conference, the number of travelers visiting the Caribbean from January through July totaled 15.6 million, with tourism officials adding there has been no “incremental difference” compared to the same period last year.
“The U.S. market had a marginal growth of 0.8%, which totaled 7.8 million visitors and represented a market share of 50.4%, up from 49.6% in 2012,” said Nicholson-Doty.
Of the twenty-six countries reporting arrivals, Anguilla, Aruba, Belize, Cayman Islands, Curacao, Guyana, Haiti, Montserrat, St. Kitts-Nevis and Suriname were the fastest growing. The Dominican Republic, with 3.31 million arrivals was the top performer in overnight arrivals followed by Cuba (1.99 million), Jamaica (1.26 million), Puerto Rico (731,959) and the Bahamas (730,988).
Some 13.4 million visitors arrived via cruise ships to 22 countries between January and August. The Bahamas (2.78 million) led the pack of arrivals followed by Cozumel, Mexico (1.84 million), U.S. Virgin Islands (1.32 million), St. Maarten (1.01 million) and the Cayman Islands (859,850).
American Airlines offers direct nonstop service on Saturdays from Miami to Martinique with a Wednesday flight starting November 27th and continuing through March 26, 2014.
Seaborne flies 4 times weekly from San Juan while Air France makes the trip three times a week from Paris and connections via Air Caraibes, LIAT and Air Antilles Express are available from several other islands to Fort de France.
Daily ferries make the trip to Martinique from St. Lucia (20 minutes), Guadeloupe (45 minutes) and Dominica (two hours .
Make it a date
The next Caribbean State of the Industry Conference will be held next October in St. Thomas, USVI.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Melanie Reffes is a travel journalist based in Montreal and specializing in sunnier climes. Her Caribbean coverage has appeared in newspapers and magazines including Dreamscapes, Miami Herald, Caribbean Connection and Canadian Traveller . She is a contributing writer for many island-based magazines including Experience St. Maarten, Experience Bermuda, Nights St. Maarten, Nights Aruba, Nights Curacao, Destination St. Maarten and Destination St. Kitts/Nevis. She is the humble recipient of several Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) writer awards including ‘best feature’2011 and JTB Writer of the Year award 2008. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.