participant at the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Investment
Conference takes an interest in a project being offered
for investment in Tobago on the final day of the conference
at the Hyatt Regency Trinidad Hotel, 1 Dock Road, Port-of-Spain.
The regions tourism industry is being challenged.
And its not simply a matter of competition.
n A slowdown, prompted by recessionary trends in the US,
threatens the global economy. The Caribbeans travel
market is mainly in North America and Europe and a recession
has implications for visitor arrivals to the region.
n Oil prices continue to rise. It peaked at $125 last Friday.
The Caribbean, with the exception of T&T and Barbados,
have signed the Chavez-initiated PetroCaribe agreement which
allows them to have oil at a low interest rate. High oil
prices affect the costs of transport, electricity, hot water
in hotels and airlift.
n Food prices have increased throughout the Caribbean and
most governments are now looking at incentives to woo people
back to agriculture.
n Then theres climate change. The Caribbean will experience
the effects of climate change even if it stops all carbon
emissions from countries in the region.
Tourism is the lifeblood of the Caribbean. It represents
more than 30 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP)
of the region and provides nearly three million jobs.
John Bell, consultant at the Ministry of Tourism, said the
regional tourism product is being challenged as opposed
to being threatened.
amazing how resilient tourism is, he told the Business
Guardian on the floor of the 12th annual Caribbean Hotel
and Tourism Investment Conference at the Hyatt last week.
Bell was sceptical of the conferences emphasis on
Going Green, although he believes that is important
in the long term.
bigger issue is the economy, the impact that that is having
on air travel, the availability of airlift to market centres.
That, to me, is a much more dominant issue on tourism development.
The green theme will still be important in the long term:the
need for us to preserve what weve got, to maximise
its benefits within the framework of an environment thats
very sensitive. Thats what were selling.
Glen Beach, Minister of Tourism, Youth and Sports of St
Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG), believes the Caribbean
is being both challenged and threatened.
of the things people tend to forget is that you are up against
everyone in the world for that tourism dollar. Early last
year, I saw the Federal Government of the US advertised
as a tourism destination. I saw it for the first time last
competition out there is fierce. Youre talking about
countries whos tourism budget is bigger than our national
budget. You have to be creative about how you market your
destination, he said.
Beach thinks that the Caribbean has wasted time but is optimistic
about One Caribbean, a marketing tool by the Caribbean Tourism
Caribbean: a step in the right direction. Its about
time that we have a marketing fund for the Caribbean. And
it cannot be small, he said.
The view was reiterated by Manning who said the Caribbean
must strengthen its regional brand.
are now developing an increasingly multifaceted product
and are adding to the traditional sun, sea and sand formula.
concept of the One Caribbean must prevail if we are to capitalise
on our common heritage in this part of the world. We have
a common history and sustained cultural links and whilst
there is peculiarity in each Caribbean nation, the story
is deeper and more instructive and the creativity more phenomenal
and impactful when the larger regional picture is embraced
in all other areas, the Caribbean is stronger when it comes
together, said Manning during his opening address
to the conference.
The common issues are: air travel, intraregional tourism,
multidestination marketing, the linkages of tourism to the
local and regional economies, the benefits and impact of
cruise tourism on the industry as a whole, safety and security,
cultural issues and environmental matters including the
impact of global warming on the developing island nations.
Bells view is that a recession in the US does offer
US recession is in some ways good because what it does is
it holds the Americans on this side of the Atlantic. Plus,
the weakening of the dollar makes us very, very competitive
for Europeans buying their vacation in euros or in pound
sterling, he said.
Is the Caribbean then the obvious middle ground for the
US and Europe?
Yes, if its well-marketed.
are accustomed to taking vacation. I think what will happen
is that they will take a cheaper vacation which will be
the Caribbean. It is closer to get to and therefore less
expensive in air travel, he said.
Bell pointed out that the two emerging markets for tourism
are Latin America and Asia but Asia is the other side
of the world for the most part.
Is the Caribbean properly preparing itself for a US recession?
I dont they are really taking very much of an active
position in it at all. Having said that, this is not a homogenous
industry. There are those who know and understand it and
those that know and understand how to meet the consumers
through the market structures and they are always consistently
successful. For the most part, these tend to be Caribbean-bred
brands as opposed to international brands, he explained.
But Bells belief is that more attention needs to be
paid to the establishment of a regional airline.
market access, you better fold up your tent and go home.
Realistic picture? he asked.
He said, If you have a carrier you can control what
the prices are going to be. If you dont have a carrier,
the other airlines control what the prices will be. That
includes freight and all the things that make up a tourism
potential. What I believe is that we ought to be happy that
we have a national carrier and we ought not to try to make
it necessarily a profit centre.
While Bell believes a regional carrier is essential to sustainable
regional tourism, the idea is not new. He said about ten
years ago, regional stakeholders concluded that if they
worked together, they could save $60 million. It never happened.
one of these people are going to go home and meet their
political reality and the political reality will kill it.
And it did, he said.
Hes opposed to functional co-operation. Instead, Bell
believes that there is need to consolidate.
should be bought over by Caribbean Airlines except Caribbean
Airways wont want it in its current form. To have
a real Caribbean carrier allows you to get that functional
co-operation and to save a lot of money in the process.
But it also gives you control over market access.
photos courtesy TDC by Jim Stephens
you leave that to American Airlines or British Airways,
they are going to do whats right for them. Theyve
got stockholders that demand that they do whats right
for them. They are not going to do whats right for
T&T, or whats right for Jamaica or any of the
Bell is critical of Trinidads tourism. He said Trinidad
desperately needs a strategic plan for tourism.
product do we have? There are four basic areas of development
opportunity: Tobago, Chaguaramas, Port-of-Spain and the
North Coast. There is no plan for the North Coast and there
is no way to get there other than through Port-of-Spain
which makes it inaccessible in terms of development opportunity.
Chaguaramas is constricted by the fact that there is no
Western Main Road.
Bell pointed out that the Chaguaramas Development
Authority reports to Ministry of Planning, Hyatt owned by
Udecott, Hilton is owned by eTeck which gives credence that
there is no centralised plan for the development of T&T.
is a policy in the Ministry of Tourism. That policy is a
blank canvas. There is no picture painted on it. The picture
will be in the form of a strategic action plan, a land usage
plan, rooms to be built, said Bell.
Beach is more vocal about the airlift situation, as hes
has taken a lot of blows from a lot of people throughout
the region. Some of them are rightfully deserved. Some are
not rightfully deserved. I can criticise Liat. I am a shareholder.
We know the importance of Liat to intraregional travel.
Without Liat, there is no regional tourism, he said.
As far as Beach is concerned, the Caribbean has to stop
playing the fool.
is beyond me how one Caribbean airline hasnt been
formed yet. I know we like to take pride especially that
we have our own airlines, he said.
The oil factor
Manning noted that continuing high energy costs will have
negative consequences for world wide tourism and affect
all countries with serious implications for those who depend
heavily on the industry for economic and social development.
The president of the Caribbean Hotel Association (CHA),
Peter Odle, said that high oil prices are forcing businesses
to be more proactive. He said business was strong and people
will continue to travel even if oil gets to US$150.
just a question of adapting, he said.
Beach observed that a gallon of gas was now EC$13 which
is being subsidised by the Government.
has helped us a great deal but I think there is a misunderstanding
about what PetroCaribe is about. PetroCaribe is not a discount
but a credit. The interest rate is very low. We are not
getting oil very cheaply, he stated.
In SVG, Beach explained that, people have been very
understanding because they realise its not something
that the government can control. When you look around, people
understand that this is international. Once you are aware
of what is going on in the world and every day you look
at the international news, barrels of oil continue to go
up. I doubt oil is going to go back down anytime soon,
Beach said that to fight the rising oil price and its implications,
consumption practices throughout the region have to change.
think we have to become more aware of what we are doing
because as much as these prices have gone up and affected
us, the consumption really hasnt changed, which is
an amazing thing, he said.
And the Caribbean remains vulnerable. Beach said that with
the exception of St Lucia and Jamaica, the islands are suffering
SVG, overall our figures are up. The problem is that its
not up in the stayovers which is where we would like to
see it up. Where the money really comes in is in the stayovers.
Once the gas prices go up, its a trickle down effect.
put that in context of a recession thats taking place.
It doesnt help that this recession is taking place
in an election year.
you, there are countries like Canada where the dollar is
strong and they will tend to travel a bit more right now
but they are still going to be cautious because no matter
what everything still revolves around the US economy,
something that were going to have to look at and its
not easily fixed. The people are not coming because they
are being careful about their economics and their financial
situation and waiting to see exactly whats going to
happen, he believed.
As for climate change and its implications: Beach insists
that more needs to be done.
lot of times, we in the Caribbean take a long time to get
whats going on in the world. Going green has been
spoken about for a long time now. If you go back and see
whether they are practising it the answer is no. What I
think happens with the smaller, boutique hotels, they are
not willing to put in that cash right now to go green even
if its going to benefit them in the long run, he said.
As to how climate change will impact on Caribbean tourism,
Beach said the major impact has been in the length of the
regions dry and wet seasons.
think what you are going to see happen is more natural disasters.
Hurricanes are going to start to come further south. As
you can see with US, New Orleans is a perfect example. Climate
change is going to affect tourism in the Caribbean, without
a doubt and especially in the hurricane season, he
T&T in need of rooms
Increased high-end rooms are whats needed in T&T.
Manning noted that T&T was upgrading its room stock
to international standards and was in the process of establishing
a critical mass of new rooms led by the luxury five-star
end of the market.
will see an addition of at least 796 new hotel rooms in
our country by the end of 2008 almost doubling the existing
inventory of first-class hotel rooms in Trinidad alone,
He noted that the Holiday Inn had added 83 rooms and the
Hyatt Regency another 428 rooms.
The Carlton Savannah should add 165 rooms and the Star Hotel
another 120 rooms when it is completed by the end of the
year, according to Manning.
Chief secretary of the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) Orville
London also said the THAs major challenge was the
availability of high-end rooms.
that of course is going to relate to airlift. It goes together.
If the airlift comes and doesnt find the rooms, well
he trailed off.
we came into power in 2001, the occupancy rate was 17 per
cent. We now have had a situation where it is average 70
to 80 per cent, he said.
He noted that 400 rooms have been added to the islands
stock but it is based on local investment.
do not have enough high-end rooms on the island. One of
our major challenges is trying to find investors who want
to build high-end rooms. There are two large projects: one
of which has started and one which will start at the end
of next year. Those will give us close to 1,000 rooms,