The highly anticipated 2009 Caribbean Hotel and TourismAssociation (CHTA) Small Hotels Retreat kicked off in the U.S. Virgin Islands last night with a larger than expected delegation of small hoteliers optimistic about their prospects in an improved 2010 economy.
“The small hotels of the Caribbean are the salt and spice, and yes - the heart and soul of our region. They are as diversified as our people and we truly believe this is where we stand out,” said The Hon. Beverly Nicholson-Doty, Commissioner of Tourism for the U.S.V.I. (pictured right) in her keynote address at the Opening Ceremony.
Lisa Hamilton, President of the U.S. Virgin Islands Hotel & Tourism Association, graciously performed the role of Master Of Ceremonies at the Opening Ceremony, following an enthusiastic welcome address by Richard Doumeng, Chairman of the U.S. Virgin Islands Hotel & Tourism Association, First Vice President of CHTA, and Managing Director of Bolongo Bay Beach Resort in St. Thomas.
“At the end of the day, this is the group that is vested in our community,” said Nicholson-Doty, speaking about “the historic charm, intimate appeal and the fact that many of our small hotels are found in our historic districts. This creates a unique experience that cannot be duplicated at any large brand hotel,” said the Commissioner.
“Our strength is in our numbers, and I applaud the Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Association for keeping this conference alive,” Nicholson-Doty added.
During her keynote address, Nicholson-Doty unveiled a massive program of interdepartmental support for the small hotels of the U.S.V.I., 58 of which are participating in the Small Hotels Retreat.
Nicholson-Doty noted that small hotels are an integral part of the islands’ marketing as many are owned or managed by Virgin Islanders who are very knowledgeable about the destination and are vested in the success of the territory as a whole. Components of this latest campaign include the “INNtimate Treasures” promotion, as well as an online media plan, public relations and advertising efforts and a greater push for small hotels on the U.S.V.I. Department of Tourism website.
The results have been promising. According to Nicholson-Doty, online support from the Google Ad Network, TripAdviser and Kayak resulted in a combined 6.1 million impressions. Media coverage of the U.S.V.I. small hotels story resulted in 19.5 million impressions to-date, a figure that received a standing ovation from the delegates gathered at this year’s retreat, which included U.S.V.I. Senate President The Hon. Louis Patrick Hill, Sen. The Hon. Craig W. Barshinger, Sen. The Hon. Shawn Michael Malone, Sen. The Hon. Alvin L. Williams, Jr. and Sen. The Hon. Patrick Simeon Sprauve.
CHTA President Enrique De Marchena Kaluche (pictured right) delivered inspirational remarks on the state of the economy and its projected impact on the Caribbean tourism industry.
“The good news is that the pent up demand for warm weather vacations is at its highest point in well over a decade,” said De Marchena Kaluche. “Several of the world’s largest economies, such as Germany and France, have already pulled themselves out of recession, and consumer confidence in the U.S. is beginning to return to normal levels.
“While speculation on the speed of the recovery varies depending on who you ask, the important thing is that 2010 is sure to see an improvement,” noted De Marchena Kaluche.
“We have survived a most difficult year. Now we must work together to rebuild our tourism industry and update the Caribbean’s image in the eyes of travelers with modern, state-of-the art facilities and impeccable service,” explained the CHTA president.
“As the recovery continues and consumer travel spending increases, the Caribbean will see some much needed relief, [but] the question remains: to what extent will the Caribbean hospitality industry expand in comparison to other emerging markets?
“Coming into 2010, the Caribbean is competing on a global level with destinations that are just as hungry for tourism. In some cases, these emerging destinations have newer infrastructure and less reliance on expensive imports,” said De Marchena Kaluche.
“Now more than ever before we must work together to improve our tourism product. We must double our efforts to come together as a united region in order to clearly demonstrate why there is no substitute for a Caribbean vacation.
“As small hoteliers, it is essential that we identify that which makes us unique and implement strategies to differentiate each individual property, but it is important that this be done within the overall context of a unified Caribbean,” noted De Marchena Kaluche.
“Small boutique hotels and guest houses are what the Caribbean is all about. The unique flavor of our individual properties should complement one another, not set us apart. Our hospitality business is inherently competitive, but if we pool our resources, we can exponentially increase the impact of our marketing and we will all profit together.
“There’s much hard work to be done, but we can potentially begin to see the benefits of our hard work as early as this winter season,” De Marchena Kaluche added.
De Marchena Kaluche commended the U.S. Virgin Islands Hotel & Tourism Association for getting so many of its small hotels involved in this retreat. “These efforts, along with the Department of Tourism’s contributions of providing registrations for local hotels 50 rooms or less, are a clear example of the collaborative spirit we need in the Caribbean, and affirmation of everything we’ve been working toward at CHTA,” said De Marchena Kaluche.
De Marchena Kaluche also recognized the invaluable contributions of the Small Hotels Retreat sponsors -American Hotel Register, Choice Hotels International, DNS Management Services, Group RCI, Interval International, MasterCard, Virgin Holidays, U.S. Virgin Islands Hotel and Tourism Association and U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Tourism.
A cocktail hour followed the Opening Ceremony featuring fresh seafood, hors d’oeuvres, refreshments and cultural entertainment provided by the Caribbean Ritual Dancers (pictured below), Cruzan Rum, Innovative Communications, Premier Wines & Spirits, U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Tourism and West Indies Corporation.
Frenchman’s Reef & Morning Star Marriott Beach Resort received recognition as the host property for the 2009 CHTA Small Hotels Retreat.