Devise strategies to enhance Caribbean tourism – CHTA president
Prohibitive inter-regional travel, connectivity issues, climate change and investment concerns are among the main factors threatening to derail the Caribbean’s record as the fastest recovering tourism region in the world post the COVID-19 pandemic, causing unease among industry leaders.
International traffic is still down 31 per cent, and while the Caribbean is almost fully back to 2019, the best year ever for the tourism sector, growth is uneven throughout the region and some countries face being left behind, noted Nicola Madden-Greig, president of the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA).
Madden-Greig’s observation is based on research by one of the most respected travel statistics organisations, Forward Keys, which looked at the trajectory of some 300 hoteliers and leaders in over 30 Caribbean countries who make up the CHTA membership.
“Some destinations have been doing better than others. And we see that many destinations are already in double digit growth, so that is really fantastic, but some haven’t quite gotten there and as Caribbean people, we don’t want to leave our brothers and sisters behind,” the CHTA head told delegates attending the just-concluded 41st Caribbean Travel Marketplace (CTM) in Bridgetown, Barbados.
According to her, the CTM this year was about ensuring growth for all.
Madden-Greig has reason to be cautiously optimistic, with the forecast showing that once the region continues its growth, by 2032 it could bring in $96.6 billion annually in revenue and 1.34 million new jobs.
“This is a fantastic forecast, but there are some issues. We have connectivity issues; we have high cost of travel. We have some issues with investment crisis management, we have issues around the environment as well as ongoing collaboration. So these are some of our challenges. But I think based on how we came out of the pandemic we are more than capable of overcoming,” she pointed out.
HIGH TRAVEL COST
It is costing an average of US$2,400 for return fare from Miami, Florida, to places such as Barbados, during peak season and that price takes travellers to the back of the plane; while some passengers are being asked to fork out as much as US$5,000 to fly to other countries in the region. The research has shown that economy class tickets are up nine per cent.
In an era being dubbed the largest demand supply differential in modern aviation history, this has created a spike in air fares, impacting several destinations.
“We are watching this very closely, as well as the labour market constraints which have been impacting not only the accommodation sector, but also the airline,” stated Madden-Greig.
There is hope, however, coming out of the buoyant Latin American (LATAM) market, which continues to push double-digit receipts out of Colombia, Peru and Argentina. But Madden-Greig admitted that the region was nowhere near the amount of business it can get from LATAM. “We are just scratching the service,” she argued.
Some of the original markets that are really pushing for LATAM include the Dominican Republic, Jamaica and Curacao, and they, too, are seeing growth in double digit.
The United States remains the biggest source market for the region, and continues to grow, so, too, are Europe and the Netherlands; however, Madden-Greig pointed out that there are marked differences in destination preferences among Canadian and US tourists.
For example, the destinations that are experiencing solid business from the Canadian market are Aruba, Turks and Caicos and Barbados. While the destinations that are seeing strong results from the US are Jamaica, Turks and Caicos and the Dominican Republic.
Aruba, one of the ABC islands whose tourism sector struggled years ago after a female visitor went missing, has been a success story, the CHTA president pointed out.
“Aruba has seen their seat capacity return to 79 per cent of their 2019 levels, and their seat capacity from the US increased by 103 per cent and 111 per cent from Europe,” noted Madden-Greig.
Their arrival figures are up, with a recovery rate of 98.4 per cent, while the cruise ship industry is expected this year to get back to 90 per cent of 2019.
JAMAICA’S GROWTH PROJECTIONS
Jamaica’s Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett is also optimistic.
Projecting ahead for 2023 through to 2025, he told journalists during a press briefing at the Lloyd Sandiford Erskine Centre in Barbados that Jamaica will attract more than 3.8 million visitors this year, and grow to more than five million in 2025.
According to Bartlett, there can be no visitors without flights, so the island continues to attract investment from airline partners for new gateways.
Frontier Airlines is one of the carriers that has helped Jamaica with a number of new routes. In February of this year, they opened up three new gateways into Montego Bay – Denver, Chicago Midway and St Louis – and later this month will begin serving Jamaica from Dallas.
In October, Southwest will begin new service from Kansas City to Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay.
An area not focused on much in Jamaica these days is the luxury market, owing to the influx of all-inclusive; however, upper class travellers are showing tremendous interest in the Caribbean, said Madden-Greig.
“There is demand to travel at the upper luxury end and we are seeing more products being developed in the Caribbean region for this market in particular,” she revealed, adding that the Average Daily Rate (ADR) and revenue were quite astonishing. ADR is actually the key to recovery, noted the majority of stakeholders in the industry.
“We are seeing that occupancy continues to show an upward trend. Cayman is booming. We see The Bahamas, Aruba, Barbados and the wider Caribbean doing well at 73 per cent, moving closer to surpassing 2019 numbers,” she said.
FAST GROWTH OF HOME-SHARING INDUSTRY
While the traditional accommodation sector continues to grow, the home-sharing industry is growing even faster, but the CHTA president said she is not concerned. In fact, she considers it a good thing, owing to the fact that countries such as Barbados have a large industry based on home rentals.
In the beginning, home-sharing was a worrying trend for the traditional accommodation sector, but now it is accepted as complementary.
“Home rentals open up more diversity across the destination, in terms of the ability for restaurants and bars to earn, as well as attractions, transportation and other growth areas. So it’s really a win-win. I always say as an hotelier, it’s not one or the other. We can have a parallel strategy to continue to grow our hotel accommodation sector. There is a market for all-inclusives and European plan hotels, and there is one for short-term rentals,” Madden-Greig stated.
From a global perspective, the revenue forecast for 2023 by sector shows hotels earning $338 billion; airlines, $583 billion; and short-term rentals, $145 billion. The recovery forecast by sector versus 2019 shows short-term rentals enjoying a 41 per cent growth; online travel agents, 13 per cent; however, hotels will be down slightly and airlines will be down eight per cent.
INTER-REGIONAL TRAVEL STILL A BIG PROBLEM
Inter-regional travel continues to be a major headache, said the CHTA president, who is calling on the brains and heads in the region to devise a strategy for a feasible solution.
“We have a lot of regional carriers and partnering with international players, we will be able to reverse this trend and ensure that inter-regional travel becomes something that we can be proud of in terms of our numbers,” she said.
Noting that the Caribbean is not a preferred destination for multi-destination visits, unlike Europe, Madden-Greig is suggesting a joint approach to increase airlift and implement an aggressive strategy for multi-destination packaging.
She believes working with international partners and carriers and engaging destinations with special events – such as carnivals; jazz, rum and food festivals; conferences; sporting; and health tourism – will go a far way in enhancing regional tourism.