NASSAU, Bahamas, CMC: The Director General of the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA), Alec Sanguenetti, says 2012 will be a challenging year for the tourism sector in the region. “While I consider myself an eternal optimist, we have to be realistic about this situation and 2012 will definitely be a challenging year for regional tourism, I don’t see any possible improvement,” he told the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC) after attending the just concluded three day Caribbean Marketplace 2012 here. “While the islands will get through the winter, the summer and fall will be extremely challenging, and there may be an upward trend starting in 2013, but this year could be the most difficult yet,” he added. In an effort to justify his prediction, the CHTA official pointed to the increase in price of oil globally and the decrease in visitor arrivals from the United Kingdom over the past three years. He said in addition, there has been a decrease in services out of the United Kingdom market by Virgin Airways and British Airways to Jamaica and Barbados. “This means we are going to have to work a lot harder to try and get the average daily rate of hotel up as they are still below what they were in 2007, so it’s not just about visitor numbers but visitor spending over the last three years has dropped by nearly US$95 million. So we do have a lot of work to do.” Sanguenetti said that the upside to this is the fact that the regional sector has the opportunity to re-tool the industry and address the issues within its control. He said rather than sit and wait for the situation to improve, the CHTA and the Barbados-based Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) that jointly owns the Caribbean Tourism Development Company (CTDC) had been putting much energy into getting the agency functioning. “We are well on the way to creating a new platform through Caribbeantravel.com the official platform of CTDC, and that will be launched no later than August this year, becoming the new portal for Caribbean Hotels and Tourist Boards and providing a direct link to the consumer,” he said. He expects the portal to create new excitement in terms of Caribbean awareness on a global basis adding that it will generate revenues which will allow CTDC to create a stronger regional marketing programme. PLEASED The CHTA director said that he was pleased with this year’s edition of Caribbean Marketplace which attracted over 1,200 delegates including 146 buyer companies. “It’s the buyers who drive the appointment making process at marketplace, the more qualified buyers you have, the more appointment you get on the floor and several delegates have reported that this was one of the most exciting marketplaces they have attended in recent years. “You can possibly put that down to being able to increase the number of qualified buyers, and may go along with the old saying that when business is bad serious players come out to do business,” he added.