Any doubt that the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) found a fresh, new face to host the State of the Industry Conference in October was squashed when Richard Doumeng, president of the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA), commented Friday on the choice of host Martinique by admitting he had never been there before.
"Believe it or not, there are still some countries in this region that I have yet to visit," says Doumeng during the closing press conference to wrap up Caribbean Week in New York last week, "and I'm proud to say that as of October I can check Martinique off that list."
The State of the Industry Conference (SOTIC) will be held in Martinique from October 15-18. The theme will be “Perfecting The Experience. Delivering Authenticity."
Martinique isn't your typical Caribbean conference host since events of this magnitude are usually reserved for more popular, well-known Caribbean islands. But with the Caribbean Tourism Organization's longstanding pledge for regional marketing, it makes sense that a more off-the-beaten-path destination gets to stand in the regional spotlight for a few days.
Having said that, showcasing a smaller Caribbean destination isn't as easy as it sounds when you're relying on adequate airlift to accommodate delegates attending from all over the world. And airlift wasn't exactly a strong suit for the French-Caribbean island of Martinique until recently.
Travel Agent was on hand in April at the Miami International Airport for the official ceremony to ring in the first direct flights to Fort-de-France, Martinique from the mainland U.S.
The flights between Miami and Martinique’s Aime Cesare International Airport are operated on Saturdays. Previously, U.S. clients had to connect to Martinique through San Juan, Puerto Rico. Not only is the news big on the surface, but we also expect this to be the tip of the iceberg and possibly lead to direct flights from New York in the near future.
Also, in late May, Seaborne Airlines announced new weekly service to the island from San Juan. That service officially launched this month. The new flights depart San Juan on Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays at 7 p.m. and arrive in Martinique at 9:15 p.m. Flights depart Martinique on Mondays, Thursday, Saturdays and Sundays at 8:30 a.m. and arrive in San Juan at 10:45 a.m.
Additional lift to the island of flowers is timed for connections to and from the United States and Canada, with interline connections available via American Airlines.
As for the conference, Beverly Nicholson-Doty, chairperson for the CTO, explained that the theme allows delegates to explore a range of elements that are critical to the development and success of the sector in the region. These include training and education, service quality, standards, visitor satisfaction and community involvement.
“We also expect to deal with matters such as customs and immigration, airport and seaport facilities, taxis, attractions and more, in the understanding that the vacation experience doesn’t begin and end at accommodations,” says Nicholson-Doty.
The "authenticity" part of the theme, she explained, is a natural fit because of the unique experience that the Caribbean offers.
“Visitors come to this region for a uniquely Caribbean experience; one which is desirable enough to lead to referrals and repeat visits and we have to deliver on this promise of the authentic Caribbean, ‘the real thing,’ which is a unique blend of vacation elements not obtainable elsewhere," she says.
SOTIC will be the first major CTO event being hosted by Martinique and Karine Roy-Camille, Martinique’s commissioner of tourism, said the French-speaking island will be a proud host.
“We consider hosting the State of the Industry Conference a great honor and we are extremely proud of it," she says. "We look forward to welcoming the press and delegates to the Isle of Flowers in October for a taste of our special brand of French-Creole warmth and hospitality.”