Encouraged by the nearly 1.3 million Canadians who visited the Caribbean in the first quarter of this year, the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) is exploring strategies to increase arrivals and revenues from Canada.
Arrivals are slightly ahead of the United States and 15 of the CTO member countries are experiencing significant growth.
Belize, the Dominican Republic and the British Virgin Islands lead the way.
“This growth tells you how important Canada is to our region as a whole,” outgoing CTO chairman Beverly Nicholson-Doty told Share while in Toronto last week for Caribbean Week activities in the city.
She said the ease with which Canadians, particularly Torontonians, can travel to the Caribbean makes it an attractive vacation destination.
“You can be in Toronto in the morning and on the beach, in the rainforest, at a market or experiencing the culinary delights of our region later that day,” said Nicholson-Doty, who is also the United States Virgin Islands tourism commissioner. “I also think the power of the Diaspora, not just in terms of ambassadors but as travellers, comes into play here as there are Caribbean nationals here who have not returned to the region in years and their children, who were born here, have never been to our part of the world. They are potential visitors to the region. In addition to the existing opportunities, I think there are openings that are yet to be explored for visitors to the Caribbean.”
With many Caribbean countries facing serious economic challenges, Nicholson-Doty challenged the leaders to step up and promote the sector.
“It’s extremely important for the leaders – the Prime Ministers, Premiers and Governors – to understand and appreciate the economic impact of tourism,” she said. “I understand just how critical health and education are and I certainly respect the investment to be made in those areas because I am a mother and I have older family members. However, I think tourism has to be looked at as a revenue generator for our countries. If you look throughout many of our economies, tourism dollars are the main revenue earners of foreign exchange. Therefore, it’s crucial for us to look at tourism marketing as an investment and not as expenditure and prioritize it in terms of the dollars that are dedicated to this investment.”
Meeting with tourism leaders in the member countries and listening to and addressing some of their concerns has been rewarding during Nicholson-Doty’s two-year term as CTO chair that ends shortly.
“It’s well and good for me to have events in various countries or in the North American market once or twice a year,” she said. “But that doesn’t provide that intelligence that the organization really needs on each specific member’s needs. So, visiting the members in the countries and speaking to their people that are leading their tourism efforts and finding out how we can be more valuable to them and bring value to the organization is something I have relished doing.
“Regional marketing is also near and dear to my heart because I think it’s extremely important for us to recognize that we are not each other’s competition. The world is our competition. The Caribbean has so many flavours of what one is looking for in a vacation experience. A tourist may come to my destination this year and next year they may go to another. Our goal at the CTO is to make sure that those vacation experiences in the Caribbean are at the top of the list every time a vacationer is thinking about taking a holiday.”
Nicholson-Doty singled out the launch of the new CaribbeanTravel.com website and the movement of the CTO Aviation Task Force as highlights of her tenure.
A unique public and private sector initiative for regional marketing, the CaribbeanTravel.com is a state-of-the-art site complete with destinations, hotels, attractions and services.
“For me, it’s more than a website,” she said. “It’s a partnership between the private and public sector because so often we hear people talking about tourism in two different silos.”
Established to facilitate air transportation through the region and enhance airlift, the Aviation Task Force has – among other things – recommended a review of visa regimes in member countries in order to improve the visitor experience.
Earlier this year, British Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne announced that the controversial Air Passenger Duty (APD) tax imposed on travelers from Britain to the Caribbean will be reduced.
The departure tax charged on geographical tiers has had a severe impact on Caribbean nations with service-based economies that are largely tourism-centred. Travel for British tourists to the region has been very costly since the tax inception.
“This has been something that several CTO chairs have worked on,” said Nicholson-Doty. “We need to remember that is a small success in a journey of having our key markets understand the impact they can have on small countries in the region that are tourism-dependent.”
APD was introduced in 1994 by then Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown as a “green tax”, but there has never been any coherent accounting of how the revenue generated has been used by the Treasury to offset the effects of carbon emissions.