BTN takes a look back at The Caribbean Marketplace 2006 which closed its doors on a note of optimism and solidarity last week.
Buyers and Suppliers at the 26th annual Caribbean Marketplace, held Jan. 15 to 17 at the new Puerto Rico Convention Center in San Juan, agreed on the importance of “working together towards a common goal”.
Despite the significant challenges that 2005 has brought to the Caribbean region, including hurricanes and high fuel prices, companies are buoyed by strong bookings for the current season, increased airlift into the region, numerous hotel projects, and a “new spirit of cooperation” between CHA and the Caribbean Tourism Organization.
The number of booths at the marketplace were up to 398 from 389 in 2005, and there was an increase of 480 appointments (to 11,440), which represents more concrete business for participating companies.
One Chief Minister and over fourteen ministers and directors of tourism were in attendance this year, marking the biggest turnout of the government sector ever to attend Caribbean Marketplace.
According to Alec Sanguinetti, Director General & CEO, Caribbean Hotel Association, the key theme to have emerged from this year’s marketplace was the public and private sector coming closer together.
Since signing a memorandum of co-operation, The CHA and CTO launched a new united Caribbean logo in a bid to maximize opportunities for the brand.
Alec commented: “If there is any one initiative coming out of this conference it is the fact that it is bringing the private and public sector closer together and they are bonding”. He added: “We are determined to make the Caribbean competitive - in doing that you have to look at your product and your human resources. How do we train our people to deliver that quality product that we want to deliver?”
Hospitality training schemes have been launched by many of the islands, including Nevis and Antigua and Barbuda in a bid to adequately prepare youths for jobs in the hotel sector.
St Martin and St Maarteen utilized the CHA as a platform to announce their united marketing strategy, which they believe will help their expansion plans into North America.
Delegates found the new Puerto Rico convention centre, offering 75, 000 square feet selling area, to be “very user friendly and conducive to doing business” however it was rumoured that the CHA may be looking to host next year’s event in a more intimate venue.
John Lynch, Sandals’ executive vice president, sales worldide, commented: “We found the show to be very productive - the new facilities here are exceptional”. He added: “The Caribbean is going through a very buoyant time and the major economies are doing very well.”
Sandals have expansion plans in Turks and Caicos as well as developments in the pipeline for Sandals Antiqua.
Reflecting on last year’s event, Richard Ricky, Minister of State for Tourism, Sports and culture commented: “In Jamaica there was a tremendous enthusiasm as the Caribbean was taking on an upsurge in interest. The whole industry was in a boom and was re-emerging since 9/11” He added: “People are not jumping around this year, but they are still very optimistic. The cost of fuel and the impact of airlift is obviously something that bothers all of us and is an ongoing threat but there is a lot of enthusiasm in the industry and I sense that it still has a bright future.”
St Kitts is planning to add new accommodations in 2006 and is currently in talks with Marriott Vacations and Ritz Carlton as well as another unnamed European operator
Sporting tourism has been a major buzzword at this year’s CHA with many destinations gearing up for the Cricket World Cup in 2007.
Antigua, Jamaica and Barbados are amongst destinations investing in sports infrastructure in preparation to host the matches.
Looking ahead, Alec Singuinetti revealed that a major priority for the Caribbean would to reduce taxes on land-based tourism, which according to Alec, could be harming regional economies.
Alec believes an increase in airport and passenger fees by a number of Caribbean countries would be counter-productive to the survival of the region’s revenue flow.
“We have just completed a tax research study on land-based tax increases and it confirms what we already knew - that is going to be one of our main priorities in 2006” He added: “You can’t kill the goose that lays the golden egg and perhaps if there was a relaxation of taxes we could be more competitive price-wise. We would get more business coming in and the revenue flow to the government would increase”.
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