Travel expert Doug Lansky told hospitality and tourism professionals from the Caribbean and the Americas attending last month’s Caribbean Hospitality Industry Exchange Forum (CHIEF) in Miami that “if it doesn’t work for locals, tourism doesn’t work.”
Encouraging destinations to embrace a responsible approach to tourism growth, the travel author said it was important the industry had a positive impact on local communities, including the protection of a destination’s cultural heritage and assets. “There is a quality on the soul of your culture and your community and you gotta put value on that,” he said.
Warning of the perils of mass tourism, he cited Iceland as an example of overtourism, when a destination records massive growth, but suffers diminishing returns due to the high investment in infrastructure to support more visitors.
Lansky told an attentive audience during the conference’s opening that a proactive approach to tourism development was important, for example, understanding what travelers really want and responding to their needs in a creative manner.
This year’s Forum, which focused on the theme “Vision 2024: Embracing Change, Diversity and Growth”, attracted some 250 delegates, who embraced the dynamic presentations and out-of-the-box thinking, which inspired them to invest the many lessons learned into their various businesses.
This year’s lively and informative agenda focused on tourism’s trending topics, including adapting to new booking solutions, maintaining a productive environment in a multigenerational and diverse cultural workplace; what’s hot and trending in food and beverage; what guests are seeking in a Caribbean vacation today; trends, opportunities and challenges facing businesses and the region over the next five years; and understanding guest diversity to more effectively market and maximize return on investment.
Chis Sheppardson, Founder of EP Business in Hospitality and Chess Partnership, lamented the general lack of trust in the workforce, saying “employee engagement isn’t working” with millennials. He cited reports which indicate that employee productivity was on the decline, trust in leadership was low, and young professionals were frequently switching jobs.
Ryan Matthew, Director of Human Resources at Sandals Resorts International, called on delegates, especially small hoteliers, to work together and take advantage of subsidized training opportunities at the national level. “In all of the different islands there are educational institutions, there are national training agencies (that we should) take advantage of.”
An authentic local experience is what visitors are after, opined U.S. Virgin Islands Commissioner of Tourism Joseph Boschulte, a notion that was also supported by Belizean Chef Sean Kuylen, who said it was important that the region serve up its own brand of culinary flavors to Caribbean visitors.
Gabrielle Ribeiro-Truman, Chief Exploration Officer at Explorateur Journeys and Owner of Tru Marketing, called on delegates to take the guest experience more seriously. She said one can never go wrong with over-delivering for guests. “Do more,” she emphasized, explaining that “I am certainly the girl that brings the lasagne when I say I am coming for coffee.” She also suggested creating brand ambassadors who can share stories to wide audiences.
A lively, interactive discussion on cannabis and crypto currencies brought the conference to a close. The discussion featured Carmen Portela, Co-Founder of Local Guest, who presented data on the potential as well as the pitfalls of the multibillion dollar industries, and Mark Robert Swainbank, Owner of Zimbali Retreats in Negril, Jamaica, who noted several destinations had decriminalized cannabis and were examining the viability of blockchain and cryptocurrencies.
Big international companies were already moving into the region and he urged Caribbean concerns to move quickly to ensure they could benefit from the production of cannabis and associated products, like CBD oils, which would generate billions of dollars. Moderator Lelei LeLaulu of Marketplace Excellence reported the Eastern Caribbean Development Bank was seriously moving into crypto.
A new intimate trade show format fostered an environment for deal making, as was a ‘Food For Thought” Meet Up lunch where business relationships were forged. A Shark Tank-type session featured entrepreneurs pitching their business ideas to a panel of experienced business professionals.
At the opening of the conference, tourism hospitality legend John Bell received the Icon of Hospitality award, for being the guiding force of CHTA (formerly CHA) for 29 years. Bell was recognized for his framing of the key role of tourism in the economies of the Caribbean. He elevated the organization from its status as a traditional trade association to being the premier tourism organization for the Caribbean’s private sector.
A highlight of the conference was a Young Leaders Forum, which included a group of 21 promising hospitality professionals from the region. The forum provided them with an opportunity to learn from their peers and mentors.
CHIEF was one of three CHTA events held in Miami last month. Taste of the Caribbean also took place at Hyatt Regency Miami, featuring top culinary teams from more than a dozen Caribbean nations and territories as they competed for recognition and awards. In addition, CHTA shared the teams’ talent through its signature cultural celebration, entitled Caribbean305, at Mana Wynwood.