A New Commitment is Necessary for Caribbean Tourism to Grow
Karolin Troubetzkoy, President, CHTA
For many of us, 2016 will be a year to remember. During this time last year we had high hopes that 2016 would continue a five-year regional tourism growth trend. Hotel occupancy rates and average daily rate (ADR) would continue to increase; stopover visitor arrivals would break a record 30 million barrier; and the wedding and honeymoon business would be rekindled in the ‘Year of Romance’.
With 2016 behind us, we can look back and see that, on average, both Caribbean occupancy rates and ADR failed to meet budget targets. A number of factors contributed to this, including the threat of Zika, a warm winter in our primary markets, the depreciation of the Canadian dollar and British pound, and political and economic uncertainty in many parts of the world.
Despite these challenges, the lure and popularity of the Caribbean continued to attract travelers and the Caribbean Tourism Organization’s (CTO) Secretary General High Riley announced that the region will most certainly have passed the 30 million stopover visitors milestone in 2016. Yet, the increased visitor arrivals were not evenly spread across the region and therefore not all Caribbean destinations could register arrival increases. An added concern for many hoteliers was (and continues to be) that a growing number of travelers opted to stay in alternative accommodations, like those offered by Airbnb and Vacation Rentals By Owner (VRBO).
All good reason to look forward and strategize how we can ensure that 2017 will be everything, and more, that 2016 was not.
Perhaps the most important question we must address is: What resolutions can we make to help shape our own destiny? How will we determine our own future to prevent external factors from shaping our fortunes…or misfortunes?
While the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA) and others worked aggressively to counter the impact of Zika and the sharing economy on hotel business, it has become abundantly clear that nothing short of a major shift in focus and commitment is necessary for Caribbean tourism to grow in 2017 and beyond. In 2016 we laid the foundation for this shift; now we must aggressively and collectively resolve to build on that foundation.
Hence, CHTA’s resolutions for 2017…
1. Take the Bite Out of Zika. Despite strong public-private sector regional efforts which we initiated early last year to counter the impact of Zika with a number of mitigation, training, and awareness initiatives, it was difficult to change public perception and dispel a barrage of misinformation. We’ve already initiated several measures to counter this. There are strong indications that Zika will diminish as a threat. Hoteliers must remain diligent with vector control measures. Early in the new year you will see pronouncements to the public and the travel trade which we hope will minimize Zika’s impact on travel to the region in 2017.
2. Put the ‘Share’ in the Sharing Economy. In 2016 we called for a level playing field, regularizing vacation home rentals with some measure of standards, regulation and taxation. Our policy paper provided national hotel and tourism associations and Governments with support information and guidelines for doing this. Several destinations in the region are putting measures in place. Likewise, we’ve challenged hotels to rethink their business models to see how they can capitalize on new consumer choices, capturing new business through the sharing economy. These ideas were advanced during our Caribbean Hospitality Industry Exchange Forum (CHIEF) event and we commit to further advance them in the new year.
3. Advance a Regional Tourism Strategy. Despite the fact that tourism is the Caribbean’s economic engine, insufficient attention is given to a regional approach to market and develop the industry. We need to continue to put forth the message to Government leaders and the Caribbean public that tourism is not only our ‘bread and butter’, but that it is the means to the Caribbean achieving great things. With many of the region’s jurisdictions facing high unemployment, excessive debt, and dwindling financial resources to address their socio-economic needs, tourism presents the greatest opportunity for turning the region’s economies around. Later in 2016, CHTA, working with CTO, commenced a collaborative public-private sector effort to develop and market the Caribbean brand while more systemically addressing key barriers to its marketability. In 2017 we will accelerate a regional movement to advance a tourism strategy which focuses on marketing the region while addressing priority areas impacting our competitiveness, primarily transportation, human resource development, cost of business issues, sustainability, and the development of small to mid-sized tourism enterprises.
4. Market Brand ‘Caribbean’. This has been on past wish lists and has not gone far simply because of a lack of commitment by both the region’s public and private sectors to collaboratively pull their resources together to fund and manage a sustained marketing campaign capitalizing on the untapped popularity of the Caribbean brand. CHTA commits to aggressively advance this in 2017, putting in place both an interim and long-term comprehensive marketing plan, with public and private sector commitments, which is sustainable.
5. Make Travel to and Within the Caribbean Better. The cost and ease of travel continues to be one of the greatest deterrents to Caribbean growth – not just for tourism but overall. CHTA, CTO, the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), and the International Air Transport Association….have all worked on various strategies to address this. All parties must resolve to advance those measures to improve the travel experience while continuing to address the more difficult but essential matters of excessively high transportation-related taxes and fees.
6. Engage Members and Stakeholders. Our ability to have a far greater impact on the growth and development of tourism in the region is tied directly to the level of leadership, support and engagement from tourism industry stakeholders. Hopefully our industry is moving from a period of apathy to activism. Far too many of us are disengaged, yet complain about the state of the industry. In 2016, CHTA embarked upon a deliberate effort to broaden member engagement. We commit to continuing to challenge tourism industry businesses to become involved, helping to shape their own destiny.
7. Invest in our People. We have long stated that our industry’s greatest asset is its people. Increasingly, national hotel and tourism associations and the tourism industry are becoming involved in education and training initiatives aimed at developing our people. In 2016, CHTA conducted its second annual Caribbean Hospitality Industry Exchange Forum (CHIEF) where nearly 300 participants invested their time to hone their skills and broaden their awareness. In addition, Florida International University and STR (formerly SmithTravelResearch) conducted specialized training sessions at CHIEF. The Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association Education Foundation issued more than 40 scholarships to Caribbean nationals to further their tourism studies. More member support is needed for the Foundation. With the support of Johnson and Wales University, we expanded food and beverage training to more than 150 chefs at our annual Taste of the Caribbean event. Our newly created Caribbean Culinary Council will collaborate with CTO to showcase Caribbean Chefs and encourage careers in the culinary arts and highlight Caribbean cuisine as one of the many excellent reasons to visit the Caribbean. CHTA entered into a partnership with Springboard Caribbean to provide internationally-recognized training to member companies and their employees. To formalize, guide and expand our work in education and training, we established a People Development Initiative. In 2017, we will continue to increase our investments in our people.
8. Increase the Value of CHTA Membership. With our stepped up activities, CHTA is aiming to add greater value to membership. We have a new Membership Development Director in place. Our member database is being completely overhauled and will significantly improve and expand our communications to members early in 2017. Our website has been revamped and includes a range of data, reports and useful information for members. New benefits are being added. In 2017, members will see more differences. Early in the year we will launch a new travel insurance feature, tailored particularly towards small to mid-sized independent hotels. Allied members will see more opportunities for connecting with hotel members. CHIEF will expand significantly, as it relocates to Miami in June, flanked by an expanded Taste of the Caribbean event and trade show.
9. Help Member Firms to Reduce Costs, Increase Revenue. At CHIEF 2016 many of the sessions focused on helping members to make and save money. Attendee feedback was overwhelmingly positive in that regard. We will expand upon that this year. We also wrapped up the second phase of the (InterAmerican Development Bank) IDB-supported Caribbean Hotel Energy Efficiency Action (CHENACT) project, with many of the more than 150 participating hotels realizing energy savings between 10 and 40 percent. With the support of the United States Agency for International Development, through a project called Caribbean Clean Energy Program (CARCEP), we will be bringing additional training and support to more hotels throughout the region in 2017.
10. Sustainability: Safeguarding and Nurturing our Environment, Natural Resources, Creative Industries and Economic Linkages. The Caribbean Alliance for Sustainable Tourism (CAST) supported CHTA’s Zika and vector control initiatives. CAST also assisted with CHTA’s support for climate control at the Paris summit this past summer. In the broadest sense of the meaning of ‘sustainability’, there is so much more that CHTA and CAST can advance to protect and capitalize upon our natural resources, build economic linkages with tourism to reduce import costs and support local production, and better incorporate our diverse heritage and creative talents into our tourism offerings. There is much already being done in these areas and much that we can share and learn from one another. The CAST Governing Council has drafted Articles aimed at legally establishing CAST as a not-for-profit organization. This will allow CAST to tap into grants and funds available to support members’ sustainability efforts, especially in light of 2017 being designated by the United Nations World Tourism Organization as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development.
Despite a challenging 2016 for many of us, I remain optimistic about our industry’s future. There is no other place on earth which possesses the incredible natural beauty, rich cultural diversity, and warm hospitable people like ours. For that, we must all be grateful.
Together with CHTA’S CEO Frank Comito and his team, we want to thank our members for their support, especially the Executive Committee and Chairpersons, the volunteers for our committees and task forces, and the Executives and Presidents of the National Hotel and Tourism Associations for all the excellent work you do.
Wishing each of you a healthy, prosperous 2017.