As Turks & Caicos gears up to play host to the World Travel Awards for the third time, Breaking Travel News catches up with Ralph Higgs, director of tourism, to find out what new developments are taking place on island.
Breaking Travel News: Can you discuss some of the tourism developments that are taking place in Turks & Caicos?
Ralph Higgs: Recently the Government announced expansion to our International Airport.
The expansion will see the current terminal doubled in size, which would allow us to more comfortably handle the projected growth in arrivals to our islands.
Several major hotel brands have demonstrated strong interest in our islands and very imminently, there will be formal announcements of their projects here in TCI.
BTN: How are visitor figures in 2012?
RH: Last year saw record visitor arrivals to the Turks & Caicos Islands.
In fact our islands happily welcomed over one million tourists (cruise and stay-over) to our shores.
This year is showing as much promise as 2011 and by year’s end 2012 we expect to see increases over last year.
BTN: How has tourism to Turks been faring during the economic uncertainty of the past few years?
RH: The Turks and Caicos Islands has fared very well during the past few years of economic uncertainty. In fact, since 2009, TCI seen double digit growth annually.
This growth trend can be traced to two main factors: the success of the cruise port in Grand Turk and recently added airlift from the United States and Canada over the last two years.
These flights include JetBlue from New York, Continental from Newark, New Jersey and in season flights by American Airlines from Dallas, Fort Worth and Air Canada from Halifax, Nova Scotia.
BTN: Has the rise of Air Passenger Duty (APD) in April impacted on tourism from the UK to Turks?
RH: Yes. While we have not experience any decline in arrivals from the UK, we have not realised the projected growth that we have forecasted before the advent of APD.
We believe however, that in the long-term, it will have serious adverse effects on our region and on our islands.
BTN: What is your message for the UK Government on this taxation?
RH: Simple: repeal it. Not only is the new tax hurting the Caribbean, it is discouraging outbound travel from the UK thereby generating less revenue for the UK Government.
BTN: What is the vision for the TCI brand?
RH: The TCI brand represents quality, peace of mind, service and casual elegance. We pride ourselves on being accessible to all, embracing to all; providing memorable experiences in a beautiful, authentic Caribbean setting.
BTN: Which new and emerging markets will you be targeting in coming months?
RH: We will continue our push in the major South American markets, especially in Brazil.
In Europe, the Italian market continues to show a lot of promise for TCI. Italians just seem to love Turks and Caicos.
BTN: How will you be doing this?
RH: We recently secured representation in Italy to promote TCI and to work with airlines interested in flying to the TCI to make this a reality.
We are also working with representatives in Brazil who will act as our main point of contact for promotional opportunities.
BTN: What are the challenges of marketing Turks the brand to new destinations?
RH: These are primarily budgetary in nature, which prohibits sustained campaigns that enlighten and inform would be travellers in a systematic way of Brand TCI.
BTN: To what extent are the internet, social media and mobile technologies a priority for the tourist board?
RH: We all know how social media has transformed communications not just in tourism but across all mediums.
So we have had to embrace social media and do our best make it work for us. It is probably the most cost effective and efficient way of keeping our publics, travel and otherwise, aware of the exciting new trends and opportunities in Turks and Caicos; be it in diving, weddings, honeymoons, fishing, etc.
BTN: Do you have any new technological innovations that you will be unveiling in coming months?
RH: We will be strengthening our Twitter and FaceBook presence and have more of our staff engaging in the world of social media as part of their duties.
In the coming months, we will launcg a new Turks &Caicos Application (App) on iTunes for travellers to enjoy.
BTN: How have you managed to maintain such a strong brand presence?
RH: I believe we have done so because of the quality of the work we have put in to our marketing campaigns, the relationships we have forged and the overall outstanding tourism product the islands have to offer.
BTN: What differentiates Turks from other Caribbean destinations?
RH: It’s casual elegance, it accessibility yet no crowds. No crime and the way we have protected our environment.
BTN: What do you consider the main challenges for Turks for 2012/13?
RH: A continued sluggish economic recovery in many of our source markets and the ever decreasing amount of disposable funds that visitors to our region have for purchase of big ticket items including real estate.
BTN: What are your key priorities at present?
RH: To increase awareness of Brand TCI, while preserving all that it stands for.
BTN: Can you comment on the significance of hosting the World Travel Awards?
RH: This is our third non-consecutive time hosting this prestigious event.
This is a significant event for us, as it opens up the islands to travellers who may have not have heard of us before.
But more importantly, it shows to the world that the TCI has a tourism product second to none and that the delivery of services here are on par with any place on the planet.
We are delighted to once again host the World Travel Awards; we believe it is a natural home for the event.
The World Travel Awards Caribbean & The Americas Awards Ceremony will take place at Beaches Turks & Caicos on September 14th
BTN: Can you comment on any new trends you have been noticing among international travellers?
RH: One of the trends we have noticed among international travellers is that they want to see more and do more; they are more informed and savvy.
They want to see things and do things that are special and unique and this has placed our sister islands squarely in front of them an alternative to the mundane and usual.
BTN: What are your predictions for travel & tourism to the Caribbean in 2013?
RH: I foresee 2013 and beyond as being very promising for the Caribbean region as whole but especially for TCI.
There will undoubtedly be new properties and new experiences that will come on stream and increase our destination’s product offerings and we can hardly wait to share them with our guests. I would like to invite you all the come on down and enjoy it with us also.