Caribbean Tourism: Deep-rooted problems – searching for new solutions

CTO SOTIC. Deep-rooted Problems. Searching for New Solutions

Hundreds of executives interested in the Caribbean hotel, travel and tourism industry could be found discussing the state of the region and the industry at the Hilton Hotel in Barbados during the week of September 14, 2016. The Hilton was built in 1966 and renovated 11 years ago (2005). With 350 rooms, it is perhaps the largest property in Barbados and offers business clients the convention and meeting space essential for large groups.

Pockets of Growth

Historically the Caribbean region has been a magnet for tourism. The call of white sandy beaches, blue green water and palm trees is seductive for markets as diverse as senior citizens and millennials, conference attendees, sports enthusiasts and yacht owners – all who have found the Caribbean the answer to their multiple wants and needs.

In 2014, 26.3m visitors selected the Caribbean for a land-based holiday reflecting a 5.2 percent increase from 2013. Most travelers selected the Dominican Republic (9.6 percent increase with 5.1 million visitors – 2014), Aruba (up by 9.5 percent with 1m arrivals), and Cuba (an increase of 5.4 percent accounting for 3m travelers). Unfortunately these statistics do not provide a back-story as the research does not provide information on why these countries are more popular than others, the parts of the industry that are prospering and who are the beneficiaries of the increasing visitor numbers.

According to Jacqueline A. Morris, in her work, Challenges for the Caribbean (, the Caribbean region is at a disadvantage when viewed from a competitive global economic perspective. Its comparative advantages in cheap labor and/or natural resources has lost its luster in a knowledge-based economy.
Morris has found that regional characteristics include:

1. Low-living standards (i.e., low real income per capita), poor health conditions, high unemployment

2. Low-levels of productivity linked with unskilled labor and fragile management /leadership

3. High unemployment and under-employment linked with limited career growth opportunities

4. Small industrial sector, outdated technology, no or limited opportunities for employment opportunities for large numbers of poorly educated workers

5. Large but neglected agricultural sectors

6. Inadequate markets

7. Limited technology, infrastructure and social/political institutions

In addition, many countries face high debt-to-GDP ratios which stifles their economies – a large portion of GDP is consumed by debt payment leaving little on the table for direct investment in the economy.

In an attempt to address these issues as they impact on the hotel, travel and tourism industry, leaders from some Caribbean nations shared the accomplishments and new initiatives from their respective countries.

Country Reports Presented at CTO SOTIC

• British Virgin Islands

2.At the CTO SOTIC Barbados-based conference, Sharon Flax Brutus, Director of Tourism, representing the British Virgin Islands, shared her tourism information documenting an increase in cruise ship passengers and greater frequency of airlift from Miami. In 2015, 920,000 visitors experienced the BVIs which has been known as a high-end destination. To further increase tourism, a new BVI airline will provide non-stop service from Miami. The country continues to provide training to travel agents and tour operators and luxury agents have been added to the BVI Travel Advisory Board. According to the BVI government Central Statistics Office, an estimated expenditure of $484.29 million was spent by all visitors to the BVI in 2015. Most of the expenditures were on hotels and charter boats.

A large percentage of USA tourists visiting the BVI arrive via cruise ships. Aligned with water-generated tourism is the yacht chartering industry which generates a significant amount of the tourism income. The BVI enjoys a stable and prosperous economy that is dependent on tourism – which generates over 40 percent of the national income ( The success of the BVI is based on the “twin pillars” of financial services (60 percent) and tourism (almost 40+ percent).

• Grenada

3. Grenada Minister of Tourism, Civil Aviation, Culture and the Performing Arts, Clarice Modeste Curwen and CEO Rudy Grant discussed this popular dive destination at the CTO SOTIC conference. Grenada welcomed 443,368 visitors in 2015, representing a 12.7 percent increase over 2014. Most of the visitors were cruise ship passengers (63 percent) followed by stayover visitors (32 percent) and yacht charters (5 percent). The cruise and stayover visitors generated US$134 million dollars to the economy in 2015 People are attracted to Grenada for leisure activities, business and study purposes.

US News identified the best resorts to include (alphabetical order): Calabash Luxury Boutique, Coyaba Beach Resort, Mount Cinnamon, Sandals LaSource Grenada, and Spice Island Beach Resort.

• Nevis

4. Devon Liburd, the Director of Sales and Marketing for Nevis Department of Tourism discussed the Citizen by Investment Program and indicated that the country is looking for new foreign investment in order to bring the geothermal energy project online. The Citizenship by Investment program is available to wealthy or high- net worth individuals who are able to invest a minimum of $250,000 – $400,000 (depending on the program selected). For additional information:

As of 2014, Nevis offered guests 8 hotels (386 rooms). In 2014 guest arrivals totaled 7781 visitors with the largest numbers arriving in December (862) and January (802). USA arrivals accounted for 536 visitors (2014).

Luxury hotels include (alphabetical order): Four Seasons, Hamilton Beach Villas and Spa, Nisbet Plantation Beach Club, Montpelier Plantation Inn, and Mount Nevis Hotel.

• Anguilla

5. Cardigan Connor is the Parliamentary Secretary with responsibilities for Tourism, Sports, Youth Development and Culture in Anguilla.

In 2014 Anguilla welcomed 13,590 visitors with the purpose of vacationing (97.7 percent) and business (2.3 percent). Anguilla is flat – there are no mountains – resulting in days with few clouds, very little rain and a plentiful amount of sunshine. Most visitors to Anguilla are from the USA and the average length of visit is 6.7 days. This destination prides itself on white sandy beaches, no large-scale shopping malls, and not one restaurant chain. Accommodations range from $99 per night to $20,000+ per night. Anguilla offers visitors moorings for 300’ yachts, as well as 33 beaches, a mix of beach bars and fine dining, with a special destination beach hang-out, The Dune, owned by Bankie Banx.

• Bahamas

6. Cruise ship passengers accounted for 78.7 percent, or 4.977 million visitors of the Bahamas’ total 6.32 million tourists in 2014.

Joy Jibrilu, Director General of the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism discussed new developments in this country including The Island House on Mahogany Hill, Nassau, Grand Bahama; Bimini Hilton at Resorts World; San Salvador Club Med Columbus Isles; Courtyard Nassau Downtown/Junkanoo Beach on West Bay Street, and Warwick Hotel, the newest 4-star all inclusive “Adult Only” resort on Paradise Island. The Baha Ma project is likely to restart within the next few weeks and the middle tower may be rebranded during the winter season.

Jibrilu also mentioned The Thomas Robinson Stadium – a new multi-purpose facility developed by the Chinese that is currently used for football matches. The stadium has a capacity for 15,000 people but can be expanded to accommodate 30,000 visitors. The stadium is named after Thomas A. Robinson, a former track and field star who represented The Bahamas at several Olympic Games.

Legislation for barrier-free travel throughout the country is currently pending.

• Dominica

7.Robert Tonge is the Minister of Tourism and Urban Renewal for Dominica.

Arrivals in Dominica for 2015 totaled 74,474. Tropical Storm Erika in August impacted on tourism and created a loss of hotel rooms, including 35 rooms at Jungle Bay Resort and Spa and the cancellation of the 19th World Creole Music Festival.

The Citizen by Investment Program has established a loan program with $15 million at an interest rate of 7 percent to assist in the development of hotels in Dominica. The program includes opportunities to work with consultants who will assist owners to enrich their properties to meet demands of the 21st cent. This program has enabled the development of a new Kempinski Hotel that is scheduled to open with 160 rooms in 2017. Another new property is the Hilton Curio brand.

8.Acknowledging and Addressing Barriers

The Caribbean region is facing increasing stiff competition for the tourist dollar. Finding new and creative ways to reach travelers and to motivate them to make the decision to visit this part of the planet appears to be a daunting task. It is difficult to determine which Caribbean countries will be willing to shed the old and outdated approach to tourism and which ones will have the leadership bold enough to embrace the new tourist with variable and ever-changing demands.

Morris, in her Challenges of the Caribbean report suggests that in order to develop a “vibrant Caribbean information society,” the region will have to consider:

1. Promotion of sharing experiences and cross-border implementation

2. Strengthening of information and negotiations mechanisms

3. Promotion of a multi-stakeholder approach

4. Affordable and universal Internet access

5. Ensure that all stakeholders participate in decision-making opportunities

6. Enhanced infrastructure and Internet access available in languages for all people and the disabled (i.e., sight-impaired)

7. Development of local content on the Internet to encourage local business and entrepreneurship

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