Both the attendance and mood of delegates at Caribbean Marketplace 2010 held at the Puerto Rico Convention Center in San Juan this week were very upbeat indicating that 2010 will be the beginning of a recovery in tourism for the region. There were 1,311 delegates, just 210 or 13.8 percent off of the recent high of 1521 attendees in 2009. There were also a record number of 19 sponsors plus two additional supporters for the CHTA Board Meetings.
“The attendance at Caribbean Marketplace held better than most other tourism industry gatherings over the past year, many of which have been down by as much as 40 percent,” said Enrique De Marchena Kaluche, president of the Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Association (CHTA), host of Caribbean Marketplace 2010 along with co-hosts Puerto Rico Tourism Company, Puerto Rico Hotel and Tourism Association, Puerto Rico Convention Bureau, MasterCard and Virgin Holidays.
“The general mood of the hoteliers, tour operators, wholesalers and tourist office officials that I spoke with indicated that the economy is shifting back into a higher gear than experienced in the past 18 months,” added De Marchena.
At the same time, De Marchena announced that CHTA endorses and supports the renovated efforts of unity among Caribbean governments now being proposed by CTO tourism ministers. The ministers meeting took place in San Juan just prior to the beginning of Caribbean Marketplace 2010.
However, De Marchena added: “While CHTA supports this proposed unity, we strongly assert that it must be ‘unity for action’ in order to have any meaning whatsoever.
“The Caribbean region has been facing an economic crisis as are all other regions of the world and the tourism sector has been hit by this global economic downturn, in particular, because the Caribbean economies are the most dependent on tourism, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council, and there is a trickle-down effect on the rest of the economy, including agricultural, telecommunication, transportation, commerce and banking sectors, among others.
“As tourism generates the largest amount of revenue for the Caribbean nations, with visitor arrivals decreased the destinations’ coffers have been reduced.
“As a result of this loss of revenues from tourism related industries, Governments have reduced budgets which has put pressure on the provision of social services among others including reduced tourism budgets.
“For the development of the tourism sector within the Caribbean, and the preservation of the social and economic wellbeing of the people of the region, the most important thing right now is the development of a marketing fund for the region, as well as for each and every individual destination.
“The governments have so far not been able to agree on how the funds for a Caribbean marketing plan should be generated,” noted De Marchena.
His remarks allude to a CARICOM Heads of Government agreement at the July 2007 tourism summit in Antigua on the implementation of a regional marketing program and sustainable funding for the program. However, more than two years later, CARICOM has not yet agreed on a formula despite serious difficulties faced by the industry.
When CTO billed their members based on a formula of funding from internal resources agreed at a January 2009 meeting, only two countries submitted their payment, according to Alec Sanguinetti, director general and CEO of CHTA.
“All governments are seriously challenged for money to support their own destination marketing programs. In addition, this money is needed for airline guarantees for new and ongoing services which puts more demands on dwindling government resources,” said Sanguinetti.
“While the governments of the Caribbean may have recognized the importance of tourism, the need for action now is critical for their economies,” warned De Marchena, adding:
“CHTA strongly suggests that the CTO revisits the recommendation for a tax on airline and cruise passenger tickets to the Caribbean and additionally suggests that we use the precedent that has been set by the Travel Industry Association in the United States which recently instituted a $10 ticket tax to fund its U.S. marketing and promotion efforts worldwide.
“We further suggest that a $10 ticket tax on all airline tickets for incoming passengers could be effectively split to enable individual governments to use $5 of each tax for its own destination marketing while allocating the other $5 to a sustainable marketing fund for the region.
“Millions of dollars would result from such a ticket tax for each destination to supplement its marketing efforts as well as millions of dollars for a regional marketing campaign.”
The Jamaica model, with their Tourism Enhancement Fund based on $10 per airline ticket and a tax on cruise tickets to Jamaica, is evidence that such a plan could work. Jamaica’s Tourism Enhancement Fund has proven its value in providing the country with the resources and war chest to mount and maintain an aggressive marketing campaign as well as attract new airlift.
De Marchena’s remarks at Caribbean Marketplace were intended to emphasis that the time for action is now as well as spur an open dialogue among the region’s public and private sector organizations which may result in additional recommendations for a viable alternative sustainable formula. However, regardless of the approach, one thing remains certain – immediate measures must be taken.
“Our fear is that many of the Caribbean nations are alienating themselves because of the lack of action. As a result of this inaction, certain destinations will further alienate other destinations,” explained De Marchena.
“We are urging ‘unity for action’ to assure a sustainable tourism program which would help the economies of the Caribbean nations, including assisting in the alleviation of poverty throughout the region.”
Unity of the private sector is reflected in the current success of Caribbean Marketplace which had a total of 391 booths as compared to 410 in 2009 and 306 supplier companies versus 335 last year. The fact that the number of attendees and booths maintained at similar level to last year’s high levels is a reflection on the strong commitment to the market by CHTA members as well as the tour operators and wholesalers that promote and sell the Caribbean.
In addition, CHTA has already received tremendous interest in the upcoming 13th Annual Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Investment Conference taking place May 4-6 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. “This is expected to be a crucial meeting of developers, bankers, tourism officials and hoteliers which always results in expansion and enhancement projects for the Caribbean destinations,” said De Marchena.
In addition to CHTA and the strong support from Puerto Rico, sponsors of Caribbean Marketplace 2010 include: AM Resorts, Caribbean Travel + Life, Choice Hotels International, EventStar, Exposure 4, Forum Telcom, Green Globe, Interval International, InterContinental Hotels Group, St. Maarten Tourist Bureau, Starwood Caribbean Collection, Travelzoo, TripAdvisor, Tropical Shipping, Utell Hotels and Resorts – Pegasus, and World Group. Sponsors of the CHTA Board Meetings held earlier in the week included The New York Times and TravelScream.
“We are confident that by working together we can overcome the many challenges that face the global travel community and in doing so create new opportunities to ensure that the Caribbean remains the number one warm weather destination in the world,” concluded De Marchena.