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The Caribbean Tourism Organization unveils an ambitious agenda for Caribbean Tourism

NEW YORK – In keeping with the theme “Tourism: the Business of The Caribbean” from its annual Conference of last October, the Chairman of the Caribbean Tourism Organization, Hon Pamela Richards, indicated at a conference the week of February 9, that the CTO will continue to focus on a much more business like approach to tourism development over the course of the next several years and will be encouraging all of its members to proceed along the same lines.

She predicted that as a result of these efforts, increasing visitor expenditure should easily keep pace with the 3.4% per year rate predicted by the World Travel & Tourism Council for the next ten years to reach $32 billion by 2015. According to preliminary estimates of the Caribbean Tourism Organization, visitor expenditures reached $23 billion in 2005 with stayover visitors growing by 3.6 percent to reach 22.5 million and cruise passenger visits declining by 2% to 19.8 million.

Referring again to WTTC data, Commissioner Richards noted that the Caribbean is more dependent on tourism than any other region in the world and in order for the region to extract the maximum benefits from tourism on behalf of its citizens, it has no choice but to take a much more business like approach to its development compared to what has been done in the past. In addition, CTO, in conjunction with its private sector partner, the Caribbean Hotel Association, with whom it recently signed a Memorandum of Cooperation and Coordination, is in the final stages of establishing a Business Development Unit that is intended to raise funds to promote greater awareness of the Caribbean brand globally as well as deliver expanded services to the members of both organizations.

The Chairman explained that the Caribbean Tourism Organization in accordance with its new thrust will focus on seven areas, namely, improving data collection, mining and management, expanded training and development opportunities for all staff in the tourism sector, the development of a world class consumer site for the Caribbean, development of a world class membership site that will focus on best practices, an expansion of public relations activities, expanded promotion of its consumer web address and commitment to private-public sector sustainable development and cooperation. She noted that all 32 Members of CTO will are being encouraged to focus on these areas also.

Progress on all of these new initiatives will be reviewed during the Organization’s annual Caribbean Week which is scheduled for New York during the week of June 11-17. This year’s events are expected to be much more visible than any of previous years. Some of the activities now planned for the week include a Caribbean Gospelfest, an expanded Celebrity Chef program, a Caribbean Vacation Mart and Fair at the South Street Seaport, and two weddings.

The first of the seven areas of focus will come in the area of the development of data systems that will provide better intelligence for promotion and product improvement activities. Governments are finding that with better and more timely processing of Immigration card data from both incoming and departing visitors, patterns of opportunity and concern are highlighted much more easily and use of resources can be more targeted that ever before. CTO has already designed an Immigration card with a number of core questions. In those Caribbean destinations that do not require mandatory completion of an Immigration card, officials are exploring the use of a tourism card to capture data in the most efficient manner.

Training and development according to internationally recognized standards is the next area of focus. CTO recognizes that in a world that is increasingly going to the Internet to find information on destinations, hotels and attractions, it is most important that all tourism facilities throughout the Caribbean can be purchased with confidence and the adoption of internationally recognized standards provide that confidence. The Chairman pointed out that this applies both to the training of staff and to the standards for the physical plants.

Since more and more consumers are accessing information about the Caribbean from a web site, it is imperative that the Caribbean web site be of world class quality. The creation of the site will be a joint CHA-CTO effort and it has already begun with the identification of those world class destination sites that consumers indicate are among the world’s best. Once that has been achieved, the full development of the site will continue and is expected to be completed entirely by June of this year. In addition to the provision of information, the site will feature a booking engine for Caribbean vacations and provide additional ecommerce opportunities for consumers to purchase a variety of Caribbean products and services over the coming months and years.

The Chairman also pointed out that a key initiative of both CTO and CHA will be the completion this year of a membership site that will provide focus on the delivery of information on “best practices” garnered from both within and outside the Caribbean. She noted that this was clearly the best way to accelerate the rate of improvement of products and services across the Caribbean.

It is clear that CTO believes that good public relations will be its principal tool in its marketing arsenal. As explained, there is a growing belief that the fastest way to get the best of the Caribbean exposed to the traveling public is to enable those individuals and media with the greatest consumer credibility to tell the story of the Caribbean. This will also include a number of programs through which the Caribbean brand will be associated with other complementary brands and programs that are intended to enhance the awareness and brand image of the region.

In addition, all of these marketing initiatives will begin to expose the Caribbean’s new logo which has already been unveiled and its new web address which is to be unveiled at a later date.

As will be guessed, the final area of focus for the CTO will be private public sector cooperation and coordination in everything that is done with a constant eye on sustainability. With regard to the latter, the CTO’s conference on sustainable development which is scheduled to be held in Puerto Rico in April will focus on Sustainable Development and Economic Progress. The theme is intended to address the oft expressed myth that Sustainable Development and Economic Progress are sometimes mutually exclusive.

Both the Chairman of the Caribbean Tourism Organization and its Secretary General, Vincent Vanderpool-Wallace, acknowledge that this agenda is ambitious but they clearly believe that it is the only path to sustained growth and economic progress for the Caribbean. There is renewed interest in investing in the tourism plant in the Caribbean from regional and well as other global investors and this augurs quite well for the future. Capital investment in the tourism sector was estimated at $8.5 billion in 2005 and is expected to reach $15.3 billion by 2015 with the sector continuing to be the leader for capital investment in the region.

Much of this new investment is bringing a good mix of uniquely Caribbean as well as internationally recognized brands to the Caribbean which is perfectly in keeping with CTO’s long term vision for the region. High end brands, high end boutiques, condo hotels, spas, golf course developers, marina developers as well as niche market specialists such as dive operators, honeymoon and wedding specialists continue to emerge in the Caribbean as a part of these new investments.

Airline service is also growing in support of this new interest in the Caribbean such that air fares are much more attractive than in previous years from many key markets. In the cruise sector, 2005 saw a rebalancing of the deployment of cruise ships many of which entered the Caribbean after September 2001. The small decline in the cruise business in 2005 largely reflected this redeployment of vessels even though the Caribbean is expected to remain the world’s leading region for cruises for many years to come.

One of the aspects to which CTO and CHA will continue to pay special attention is sustaining productive partnerships with travel professionals who continue to support the Caribbean. Alliances with tour operators and travel agents are being strengthened and refocused to maintain partnerships that are mutually beneficial.

Overall, the Caribbean Tourism Organization sees a growing and sustained change in vacation patterns from simple sun and sand seeking to vacationers looking for life enriching experiences. In this regard it will be recalling and employing the theme “Life Needs The Caribbean” in conjunction with the Caribbean Hotel Association, its principal partner. This theme which was first developed by a joint private/public sector coalition for the Caribbean after September 11th 2001 clearly resonates with the new travelers and is expected to be the Caribbean’s new theme for many years to come.

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