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Report From Caribbean MarketplaceFebruary 1, 2010 By: Joe Pike Travel Agent
A Royal Caribbean ship sails past El Morro Fort in Puerto Rico; the island could soon be the region’s cruise ship hub
On the last day of the 2010 Caribbean Marketplace—one of the region’s best trade shows in a long time—attendees felt tremors at the Sheraton Puerto Rico Hotel & Casino in San Juan. We soon realized what we had felt was the impact of the 7.0 earthquake that had rocked Haiti, leaving thousands dead, and crushing the country’s plans for reviving tourism.
While the tragedy, arguably the biggest ever to hit the Caribbean, will no doubt cast a shadow over the positives to emerge from the show, we still think those developments shouldn’t go ignored.
Here is some of the most significant industry news that came out of last month’s Caribbean Marketplace, which had 1,311 delegates in attendance, just 210 less than last year’s event.
Airline Tax to the Caribbean?
Now this can hardly be classified as positive news, especially to your frequent clients to the Caribbean. However, it is the first time in years that the Caribbean is taking action on supporting the islands as a region.
We had been hearing of plans for regional marketing, but no move was made to that end until now. The Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association has proposed to the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) to implement a $10 tax on all airline passengers to the region.
While this may put a small dent in your client’s wallet, it could lead to greater support for the region. Here’s why. The $10 tax could further be split into $5 for individual governments to use for their own destination marketing, while the other $5 could be used for creating a sustainable marketing fund for the region.
Puerto Rico: The Ship Hub
Jaime A. Lopez Diaz, executive director of the Puerto Rico Tourism Company, announced that the CTO members had reached an agreement in principle to sign a historic Memorandum of Understanding that would make Puerto Rico the cruise ship hub of the region.
The memorandum will be signed by the members of the CTO to develop a “concerted effort aimed at developing the tourism industries link between the islands,” said a written release. It aims to establish a working relationship between the CTO members and Puerto Rico to develop strategies and activities to promote and improve air access, cruise market and relationship with the U.S., and to create multi-destination packages and share tourism-related data.
Major Luxury Additions
While attending a media luncheon hosted by representatives of the Starwood Caribbean Collection at the 2010 Caribbean Marketplace, we learned of the company’s plans to open both the first W Retreat & Spa and the first St. Regis resort in the Caribbean.
The 157-room W Retreat & Spa, Vieques Island, is slated to open in May. This will be only the second W Retreat & Spa in the world after the one in the Maldives. The 139-room St. Regis Bahia Beach, Puerto Rico, will open in October.
Scrub Island Finally Opens
Scott Ward of Scrub Island Resort, the British Virgin Islands, told Travel Agent that the 52-room property will be giving agents a 15 percent commission to celebrate its long-awaited opening on February 10.
The bonus commission runs through June 1 for travel through December 17. The resort’s launch had been delayed since the last four years due to several setbacks that included dredging and financial worries, Ward says.
This will be the first new resort in the British Virgin Islands in 15 years. It aims to attract affluent couples and families, mostly from the northeast U.S. Ward says a whopping 70 percent of the resort’s booking is done through travel agents.
Aruban Culture Promotion
Otmar E. Oduber, sworn in as minister of tourism, transportation and labor affairs in October, already has a big plan to promote the culture of Aruba—a $20 million project to beef up the downtown Aruba area.
We met with Oduber and learned of the island’s three-year plan to renovate, refurbish and build new cafés, shops and restaurants in its downtown area. “A lot of people say Aruba is very American, but we have a lot of authentic culture [that] travelers don’t really know much about, and we are looking to change all of that,” he says.
Over the next four years, Oduber plans to invigorate demand of stay-over tourists from select markets, including new ones such as Chicago and Los Angeles. The Midwest continues to be an area of potential growth, especially with new flights from those areas. Aruba is targeting possible American Airlines flights from those destinations and more, although no specifics have been laid out.
Bonaire to Court U.S. Travelers
Ronella Tjin Asjoe-Croes, director, Tourism Corporation Bonaire, revealed plans to open the island’s first U.S.-brand hotel by 2012 and possibly add new, direct air service from Miami by the year-end.
The hotel, a 120-room Hilton, will be part of a major, multiple-phase condominium project. Agents may not think highly of a big hotel in a diver’s paradise but everyone agrees the direct air link is a must. The service would be a huge boost for Bonaire, especially after it lost three American Eagle connections from San Juan in 2008. Because of that, arrivals from two of its major markets, Florida and California, took a major hit.
“Florida and California have been in our top five markets for the last 10 years, but we didn’t see that last year,” Asjoe-Croes says. In fact, like the majority of islands, Bonaire took a hit across the board with a 10-12 percent drop in 2009, she adds.
Aruba plans to spend $20 million to beef up tourism infrastructure in its downtown area