By: Sarah Greaves Gabon
Source: Travel Pulse
The Caribbean Travel Marketplace—the largest exclusively Caribbean annual travel trade-show—was held for the 36th time earlier this year, in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The location, one of the country’s hardest hit by last summer’s hurricanes, was particularly fitting—given the region’s mission to promote its continuing recovery.
As more than 900 delegates from 26 countries converged on the city, we spoke with Karolin Troubetzkoy, president of the Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Association (CHTA), which organizes the conference. Now in the final quarter of her two-year term, the owner and executive director of St. Lucia’s Jade Mountain and Anse Chastanet resorts will be remembered for serving as president through two of the region’s biggest challenges: the emergence of the Zika virus and the effects wrought by hurricanes and Irma and Maria.
Can you give agents an update on Caribbean hotel inventory following the hurricanes?
First, let’s remember that the Caribbean spans more than 1 million square miles and comprises more than 32 different countries. So right after the hurricane, the first thing we at the CHTA wanted to stress was that more than 70 percent of the region’s room inventory was unaffected by the storms. Then we created a website at caribbeantravelupdate.com, where we continue to collate all the latest information from affected countries in one place, so agents can get an accurate overview of where the individual countries are in their recovery process.
Roughly 85 percent of the accommodations in the Caribbean are open. In Puerto Rico, for example, the recovery has been much faster than anticipated, and officials have shared that more than 80 percent of their inventory is open. In Anguilla, 50 percent of its room stock is back; 600 rooms were available for the holiday season and the island is expecting 540 more rooms to come on-line by April 2018. So we’ll see a lot of hotels reopening between summer and fall 2018.
With all the changes in the tourism landscape, how are Caribbean stakeholders adapting?
We’ve seen a new spirit of togetherness coming out of the hurricanes. We in the region have always felt that we are ‘one Caribbean,’ but now, after the hurricanes, seeing that the world has in fact declared that they consider us to be ‘one Caribbean,’ we have come together much more closely. We’re addressing how we can promote the brand and how we can educate consumers and travel agents about how diverse the region is—and how many opportunities there are to sell Caribbean travel. The mood is uplifted, even in the affected areas. In Puerto Rico, now that the recovery has passed a certain stage, everybody is truly excited—and everyone wants to embrace tourism and to encourage visitors to come back.
Can visitors still expect to have a good vacation in affected countries?
In affected destinations such as San Juan, it’s just amazing to feel the spirit of hope and happiness as the destination comes back together. It will be very interesting to see how affected resorts and destinations not only come back, but also come back better and stronger and more resilient. I think that both visitors and travel advisors will be very impressed at what 2018 holds for the Caribbean—because these renovated properties will emerge as our new stars in terms of excellence in accommodation and customer service.
Even in affected destinations where bigger hotels haven’t yet reopened, there’s now an opportunity for visitors to change their usual travel pattern by staying at smaller guesthouses and villas they may not have tried before. From all the updates we’ve received, it appears that destinations are using this downtime not just to rebuild but also to redevelop and expand their hotel product—which means that come the fall there’ll be a lot of fantastic new places for visitors to stay.
What should agents be telling their clients about travel to the Caribbean?
Tell them that the Caribbean is still standing and we always were! So there’s really no reason not to come here. By looking at caribbeantravelupdate.com, travel advisors will be able to see the status of most destinations and to discern the best places to send their clients. We hope that the travelers who come here will return again and again, because the Caribbean has so much to offer.
Are there other online resources that agents can access for the latest regional updates and also to help sell Caribbean vacations?
In collaboration with our public-sector partners, the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO), we built caribbeantravel.com. It’s not a replacement for individual destination websites, but it speaks to the diversity of our many destinations with specific sections on most Caribbean countries.
Given the unpredictability of the weather, it is possible that the Caribbean may find itself in a similar predicament next hurricane season. What is the CHTA doing to prepare in terms of public education?
The CHTA and CTO have some interesting plans to show the world at large what a vibrant and diverse region this is. Provided we get buy-in from our public- and private-sector partners, we’re hoping to launch a major digital marketing and social media campaign in April. That’s when we anticipate that all the weather channels will start reminding viewers of the approaching hurricane season and of its effects on the Caribbean last year. We want to reassure potential visitors that although we ‘won’ the ‘hurricane lottery’ last year, it is very, very unlikely to happen again in 2018.