Caribbean tourism must reflect changing demands
After years of idling in the
doldrums, visitor arrivals to some parts of the region are increasing rapidly, travellers are spending more, and the yield for hoteliers is increasing. Moreover,
as demand soars in Cuba, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic and some smaller Caribbean destinations like Aruba, it is getting much harder for visitors to find a quality hotel room at short notice.
Cuba apart, which is a special case following the virtual freeing of US travel restrictions late last year, this rapid increase in demand for a Caribbean vacation largely reflects the fact that disposable income in the main feeder markets in North America and parts of Europe is increasing as economic recovery occurs and travellers begin to feel more financially secure. It is also the case that some Caribbean destinations such as Jamaica have again become hot in the eyes of those who establish on social media and in print the image of an aspirational destination.
But for the most successful Caribbean markets, there are also other factors at work.
The recent surge in visitor demand and indications that even the lower-cost coming summer season is building well reflect better marketing, product improvements, and new airlift that has resulted in improved access, for instance, from the countries of Latin America and from Scandinavia. It also in part, reflects the ability of lower-cost air carriers to pass on to the growing numbers of visitors using their services, the
savings they are making as the price of aviation fuel falls.
What this means is that the industry in many Caribbean tourism destinations is not only making a significant contribution to national economic recovery, but again demonstrating its often-ignored significance to the wider Caribbean economy.
At its most basic, this is good news, but it also raises interesting questions as to where the region's product is headed now that
sustainable growth again seems possible.
For some, renewed demand is simply about a return to business as usual, the end to heavy discounting of room rates, and the Caribbean again taking its 'rightful place' as the world's paramount warm-water destination.
However, for those who are more thoughtful, it is about recognising that during the years of stagnation, the global marketplace for tourism has changed, becoming intensely competitive, and that the future will require adapting the product and the tourism offering so that present
success is sustainable.
For those willing to look over the horizon, the issue now is about reorienting and developing the Caribbean tourism offering to reflect changing international demand for the authentic, quality service and cuisine; and even when the price is high, value for money. It reflects, too, an understanding that a significant part of the higher spending end of the market is looking for much more than just a luxury hotel and a beach in the tropics.
This will mean a sea change in the way that some in the industry and government in the region think. It is about more than the normal default position of rebranding. It requires a new approach involving both the industry and government reconceptualising tourism, hotels and the tourism product in ways that make it globally competitive and ensures that a visitor feels that the region and a destination is special and wants to return.
This will not be easy as it requires properties, restaurants, attractions, and if they are able to become better corporate citizens, the internationally branded chain hotels, to think in a vernacular way and come together to renew and develop the product in a manner that promotes the uniqueness of the Caribbean nations in which they are located.