The advent of the Internet has revolutionised communication systems globally, bringing together the world travel trade community in a way that conventional media could not. Today we look at some changing attitudes towards technology and the role which we can expect the internet to play within regions which, until now, have been considered underdeveloped in terms of internet technologies.
The Internet is an international phenomenon and remains one of the most powerful engines for economic growth, with Internet commerce expected to soar from $78 billion in 2002 to $149 billion in 2005. Yet computer penetration in many of the Caribbean Islands still lags far behind the West.
Internet Travel News attended this year’s Caribbean Hotel Association (CHA) Marketplace, where Alec Sanguinetti, Director and CEO of CHA, revealed that the Caribbean has now been established as a long haul alternative for travellers from the UK and Europe, enjoying more tourism business from the UK, Europe and North America than ever before.
As an established long-haul destination from UK and Europe, it seems that this should be a crucial time for the Caribbean to embrace internet technologies. Internet options enhance the modern traveling experience. Utilising this tool to its full potential could therefore encourage more European, internet-savvy travelers.
Simon Suarez, President of the CHA told ITN: “Over the last few years, the Caribbean as a whole and some destinations in particular, have invested significant resources in order to be at the cutting edge of technology. These services are now being offered to the hotels at attractive costs so we will expect that as hoteliers become more involved in the marketing of the product, the meeting the incentives will also be introducing the latest technology for all their rooms.
Commenting on the fact that many hotel web sites are not included on search engines around the world, Simon disclosed: “The CHA are trying to train hoteliers on the intricacies of getting involved and managing their inventories and search engines. GoCaribbean.com, for example, the booking engine that was developed by CHA and CTO, is one way that they can take advantage of the technology”.
p>I spoke to several tourist boards at the CHA Marketplace to find out their latest internet developments.
Bahamas Tourism Ministry has recently partnered with Indusa LLC to establish a Caribbean Advanced Technology Centre (CATC), designed to improve visitor satisfaction enabling visitors to log in complaints. The online form will allow specific information on incidents to be recorded. Hotels will also be able to use the system to view the registered complaints and make informed marketing decisions.
Barbados is moving full speed ahead with several new projects on the go. 2003 saw the launch of an innovative new concept, broadband-travel.co.uk
. A unique travel website which brings a chosen destination to life with streaming videos and 360% virtual tours. Broadband-Travel focuses on the holiday-planners’ emotional and aspirational experiences rather than simply following a functional process.
A spokesman for the Barbados Tourism Authority commented: “We are currently developing booking engines for the sites”. He added “The internet is particularly important for the smaller hotels who are not traditionally part of the tour operator program”.
“There is a discussion going on right now in terms of wireless and hotels. I think we are just waiting on confirmation from the government, but we do want to be seen as the leaders in that area. We have a definite interest there and you will probably see the wireless Barbados project develop this year”.
Bermuda is another technological leader in the Caribbean according to Shanae Robinson, Manager of Sales, Marketing and Research for the Bermuda Hotel Association. The Bermuda Hotel Association has recently announced a partnership with Synaxis that will enable users to book all hotel accommodation online.
Bermuda was recently found to be top of the league table amongst Latin American and Caribbean nations in personal computer penetration and internet use according to the World Economic Forum.
TIDCO (Tourism and Industrial Development Company of Trinidad and Tobago) admitted that that they have a lot of work to do on their website with a technology budget that is still not enough. Warren Solomon, Vice President Tourism commented: “The website is a ‘cultural portal’ but in terms of a booking tool, we are not there yet. Having launched www.visittnt.com
in 1995, we haven’t made many changes to it yet, but we are poised to do a lot in 2004”. He added “I think many people still see print and television as prominent forms of media, but we do want customers to have a seamless entry into Trinidad & Tobago with the ability to research and book air, hotel and tours online”.
St Martin are planning to make a few changes in 2004. Martin Brink, President of the St Martin Tourism Authority, commented: “Although we are a few years behind Europe and the US, the infrastructure in the Caribbean is improving. We are hoping to invest in new technology in 2004 and use the internet to promote the Island. One of our goals is to set up and really start exploiting a website. The tourism office has been slow, but 2004 is a very interesting year for us because we are getting ADSL and new computers.
“Some hotels in St Martin have implemented wireless, however many are of the opinion that If you want to sit on your lap-top, then the Caribbean is not the place for it - get off the beach and go back to the office. In certain areas people are frowned upon if they walk around with a cell-phone”.
Whilst the Caribbean, with its warm climate and beautiful beaches appeals mainly to leisure travellers, there is a growing realisation among Caribbean hoteliers and travel professionals that the internet is a powerful and effective tool. The region is seeing a continuing trend of new system implementations, technological training and a general improvement of website efficiency and capabilities, which although a timely and costly process, will help economic growth and bring together the world travel trade community.