HAVING SPENT AN ENTIRE WEEK IN THE CARIBBEAN IN LATE OCTOBER, I AM MOVED TO SHARE SOME OBSERVATIONS ABOUT A FASCINATING DYNAMIC THAT IS TAKING PLACE THERE. The Caribbean Tourism Organization, under the inspired leadership of Vincent Vanderpool-Wallace, held its 30th annual Caribbean Tourism Conference at the fabulous new convention center in Puerto Rico. I was fortunate to be elected to the CTO Board of Directors last year, so I had the opportunity to participate in its annual board meeting.
Since he's assumed the helm as the CTO's secretary general, Mr. Vanderpool-Wallace's mission has been to take a productive but relatively bureaucratic collection of independent island nations and forge a strong marketing juggernaut he refers to as "The United States of the Caribbean." In what once could best be described as an exercise in herding cats, he and the chairman of the CTO, Minister of Tourism for St. Lucia the Honorable Allen Chastanet, have begun amalgamating 32 member countries into a unified and cohesive voice. While each nation has unique qualities, the CTO's leadership has proven that the whole really is greater than the sum of the parts. By speaking, acting, marketing and negotiating as a regional collective, the voice of each member is amplified many times over.
All for One and One for All
It was clear from what I saw and heard in that board meeting that the world could learn a great deal from the tourism leaders of the Caribbean. While each country's leaders must, by voter mandate, pursue a course of action that is in their own self-interest, these leaders understand that the individual success of each one is in many ways dependent on the success of the region as a whole. The Caribbean is a single airspace. The Caribbean is one large ecosystem. The Caribbean shares a common heritage. And the trauma brought on by hurricanes, passport issues and sheer competition from other destinations has an impact on them all. That is why it's imperative that all member nations band together as one voice to make themselves heard around the world.
I, for one, believe the Caribbean has more to offer now than ever before. Existing hoteliers are raising the bar on what they've offered in the past. Just look at what Sandals is doing with suites throughout its system, and what it's done with the Mediterranean Village in Antigua—now that's luxury. Some islands are raising themselves up to become world-class destinations, such as Turks and Caicos, whose luxury hotels and nonstop flights from the East Coast have made it a no-brainer when it comes to selecting a vacation destination.
The leadership of the Caribbean region has really recognized that when your clients have an amazing experience on one island, they will return to visit others. And conversely, if a traveler leaves having had a less-than-wonderful experience, the other nations will suffer because that person will never return. That interdependence is healthy, and I applaud Mr. Vanderpool-Wallace and his colleagues at the CTO's partner organization, the Caribbean Hotel Association, for recognizing it and harnessing its power.