Caribbean destinations that rely heavily on tourism as their primary industry are missing out on a huge opportunity to attract wealth by not actively and aggressively trying to pursue Black consumers in the Diaspora and the region, says Virgin Islanders United founding president, Kevin Hughes.
“In my opinion, every single Caribbean nation should be actively targeting this group because they are educated, affluent and will travel,” he told delegates at the recently concluded Caribbean Media Exchange (CMEX) conference in St. Thomas. “We are talking about a billion-dollar industry.”
Hughes addressed the role the Diaspora plays in this industry and the power that exists within the Caribbean and African Diaspora to increase business and profitability in the region.
“In the competitive age we live in today, the tourism models of yesteryear, on their own, are simply not enough to maintain a competitive edge,” said Hughes. “New revenue streams must be planned, developed and implemented, not to take the place of, but to augment more traditional tourism models and techniques.
“As such, progressive tourism departments are constantly evolving and looking at new and diverse ways to maintain the stream of new visitors coming on cruise ships and airlines because those are the vehicles that put the coveted heads in beds. However, a progressive tourism department must look, not only at tapping into international markets, but also under-tapped markets such as the African-American, African-Canadian and Caribbean communities, seeking to increase business and also encouraging business from Caribbean nationals from other nations as well as those nationals living abroad.
“Now, imagine that…actively pitching to our own people in the Diaspora and getting them to return home to visit the destination for the first time or getting them to stay in your hotels, getting them to spend money in your stores and getting them to help circulate money within our community and stimulate our economy. That sounds a lot like self-determination to me.”
Hughes said it’s unfortunate that some Caribbean countries still subscribe to a tourist fitting the profile of being American, Caucasian and over 40 years old.
“The perception is that this is still the template of the primary and most lucrative tourist market,” he said. “There is absolutely nothing wrong with that tourist profile. However, if this is the only type of tourist that a destination is targeting, then you may be selling yourself a little short.”
Commissioner of the United States Virgin Islands (USVI) Department of Tourism, Beverly Nicholson-Doty, agreed with Hughes, adding that the territory is expanding its marketing tools to target this niche group.
“One of the things we do is look at the African-American, African-Canadian and Caribbean Diaspora as a very specific target market and we collaborate and create linkages, not just in advertising, but in sponsorship events so that we can integrate our overall strategy into targeting this market,” she said.
“In the last two years, we have seen more Black tourists all over the islands. We see them as an incredible resource to our current and future marketing activities. We definitely are reaching out to this diversified market.”
Tourism is the main source of revenue in the USVI, accounting for more than 70 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product.