Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Association to launch aggressive initiatives
CASTRIES, St Lucia: The Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Association's (CHTA) Caribbean Marketplace 2009 served as a focal point for renewed and expanded efforts by hoteliers, tourist office officials and wholesalers from around the world to find ways in which to spur demand for vacations to the region.
Enrique De Marchena, CHTA president outlined several initiatives that will "hopefully take hold over the next few months to keep the Caribbean competitive during the economic downturn that is impacting world tourism. We have been working closely with the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) in order to see that the Caribbean Marketing Fund becomes a reality in a very short time.
"Also, we have engaged in conversations with many of our Caribbean Ministers to urge them to identify mechanisms for reducing hotel operation costs, in particular duties on essential items for the hospitality industry such as air conditioners, linens and china."
Caribbean Marketplace, which is normally the most important marketing event of the calendar year for the destinations, hoteliers and wholesalers from around the world, "has been elevated to an essential conference during these difficult economic times," said De Marchena.
Destination marketing executives, hoteliers and tour wholesalers came together in large numbers to deal with the economic downturn and its adverse impact on arrivals to the region.
"We are all looking to develop solutions together for moving forward during these difficult times in our global economy," De Marchena said, adding: "To paraphrase the famous quote: The only thing certain today is uncertainty and change. This world crisis that began with the increase of the oil prices has had an adverse effect on the airline industry that has trickled down to our hotel and tourism industry."
It was estimated that "from October to December this year, the number of available airline seats will have been reduced by 60 million compared with the same period in 2007," according to Travel + Leisure (December 2008).
"The economic crisis that resulted in what we are all experiencing - a global recession -- came at a time when the Caribbean region was already underperforming with tourism increasing by less than 2% each year for the past two years," De Marchena said adding:
"Growth projects under construction have been affected by the financial crisis which has resulted in some canceled projects and others being suspended. And even more crucial, each week we are hearing about our most valuable asset, our human resource personnel that are being laid off because of lack of visitors to our destinations.
"Our countries national economies will suffer as the tourism industry represents between 22% of the GDP to 75% of the GDP to the various countries of the Caribbean. In addition, it is the tourism industry that has an impact on the construction industry, food supply, agricultural and cattle business, and retail businesses among others. All of them will suffer during this economic crisis."
He explained that while advance bookings for the winter are definitely down, there is also an additional "change in the booking pattern which has become last minute and adversely impacts planning for all companies involved including our wholesale tour operator partners."
There are some bright spots, De Marchena reported. "Fortunately, multigenerational travel is up, meaning people will be traveling with their family, which also means demand for resorts villas and contiguous rooms," he said. "The European market is remaining relatively stable compared to last year but there is no guarantee that it will stay in this way," he added.
De Marchena went on to report "Of urgent importance is the just announced proposed increases by the UK government on air passenger duty starting in November 2009 where Caribbean bound passengers will pay a minimum of 50 Pounds Sterling per passenger for economy travel and double for any higher class of travel. Worst, these fees will increase in November 2010.
"I urge a common effort by CTO, CHTA and U.K.-based tour wholesalers to come together in an effort to reverse this policy that constitute a detriment factor for U.K. travel to the Caribbean, which will ultimately affect the most important Caribbean industry - tourism. This should bring us to the conclusion that we need to facilitate travel to and within the Caribbean region. Other regions are removing barriers to travel while the Caribbean is going in the other direction. As an example, and with my excuses, I paid US$100 for a visa to Nassau, Bahamas recently. I also paid US$50 to get into St Lucia, while Curacao has taken a more open and proactive course of action in this juncture as it has removed any entry barrier once you have a US visa or a Schangen visa. This is the right approach in our opinion. We need to shorten the gap between CARICOM decision making and implementation as there are so many areas requiring regional co-operation. The public and private sectors need to integrate our efforts in the Caribbean and we need to closely work together. We need to develop a trust factor among us for intra-Caribbean cooperation."
The CHTA Executive Committee is discussing initiatives with CTO needed to react to the current crisis facing the industry including:
1. Fast-tracking the implementation of the Caribbean Sustainable Regional Marketing Fund.
2. Proposed UK Air Passenger Duty and the Caribbean response.
3. Jointly identifying mechanisms for reducing hotel operating costs with a view to minimizing continued staff layoffs.
4. Development of an action plan to implement agreed objectives.