One-on-One: New Martinique Tourism Authority Leaders Not Worried About Cuba

From left to right, Travel Agent's Joe Pike; Karine Mousseau, the new commissioner of the Martinique Tourism Authority; and Joelle Desir, the new general director of the Martinique Tourism Authority 

Unlike most Caribbean islands, Martinique is not worried about the threat that Cuba poses to the island’s tourism product.

The reason is simple. 

Cuba is selling culture. And while some Caribbean islands may feel a bit inadequate in that department, culture is Martinique’s number one asset. 

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Travel Agent recently sat down with the two new leaders of the Martinique Tourism Authority, Karine Mousseau, the new commissioner, and Joelle Desir, the new general director, and chatted about everything from Cuba’s potential impact on the rest of the Caribbean to Martinique’s plans to add new flights and hotels.

Here’s what we learned:

Bring on Cuba!

Ever since the U.S. and Cuba began relaxing travel restrictions between the two countries, Travel Agent has wondered why most Caribbean islands felt threatened by the once-forbidden island. 

After all, Cuba is behind the rest of the Caribbean as far as infrastructure and hotel product that Americans have come to expect when they travel. However, Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA) members we spoke to earlier this summer told Travel Agent that it is the vast amount of cultural offerings that Cuba has that is making the other islands feel pressure to showcase their own cultures.

Martinique, however, is not one of those islands. 

“Martinique didn’t wait until the opening of the border of Cuba to start promoting the authenticity of the island,” Mousseau told Travel Agent. “That was our main asset before and we are still promoting it now. Every island has beach and sand and water, but we have authenticity and we are proud of that and want to continue to celebrate that and share that with foreign visitors.”

Possible Flights From Chicago?

Martinique has made major strides in the last three years in securing direct flights, and now the island is looking to target direct flights from Chicago.

Although we were not told any other details, Muriel Wiltord, director for the Americas at the Martinique Promotion Bureau, confirmed that Martinique is in discussions for direct flights to Chicago. We were not told what airline was being considered, but Travel Agent does know that both American Airlines and Norwegian Airlines are arguably Martinique’s two strongest partners as far as major carriers go.

In fact, in 2003, American Airlines was the first airline to launch direct service from the U.S. to Martinique in the form of Miami flights. 

In December of last year, Norwegian launched three seasonal flights per week from New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport to Martinique, and twice weekly service from Baltimore/Washington D.C. and Boston.

“We want to increase our flights and we would like to have flights on Norwegian all year round,” says Mousseau.

New Hotel Development

A new boutique hotel, French Coco, opened in Martinique in early July. The new hotel, which is a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World, is in the beach town of Tartane and has 17 suites, 16 of which have private pools. For dining, the hotel has a restaurant led by Chef Nathanael Ducteil, who once worked under Alain Ducasse. Rates start from $330 per night based on double occupancy through November 30. 

“We would like to focus on small hotels and not big, huge all-inclusives,” says Mousseau. “When you have a smaller hotel, the warmth is there with the visitor and the way the people welcome you. It’s really something special that you can only have with a small infrastructure.”

About the New Tourism Members

After major elections in December 2015, the administrative status of Martinique has been changed, from a Regional and a General Council chaired respectively by Serge Letchimy and Josette Manin, to a new political system, a Territorial Authority led by Executive President Alfred Marie-Jeane. As a result, Mousseau, eminent member of the new assembly, has been named to head the Martinique Tourism Authority. She succeeds Karine Roy-Camille, who held the position for five years.

Passionate about economics, Mousseau is a staunch advocate of sustainable development, as well as the sustainable restructuring of the hospitality industry in Martinique. Her objective is to develop various sectors of tourism, in particular the cruise and the leisure industry.

Mousseau told Travel Agent she would like to see Martinique’s annual tourism numbers hit the one million mark during her tenure. She also stressed the importance of expanding the U.S. market that visits Martinique. As it stands now, France makes up about 80 percent of Martinque’s tourists with the U.S. and other destinations making up the remaining 20 percent. She told Travel Agent that she would like to see that number climb to 50 percent. 

“We really want to diversify more,” says Mousseau. “We need more marketing to get the word out, to improve our products, to improve our services.”

Also, Desir has been named as the new general director of the Martinique Tourism Authority, succeeding Patrice Bensalem at this function. This new nomination marks the first time that a woman holds this position in Martinique. Desir has managed for five years her family hotel restaurant, La Riviera, in Le Francois, a lovely town on the Atlantic side of the island. Thanks to this opportunity, Desir has experience dealing with the operation, marketing, and development of a tourist facility, giving her a strong and direct experience in the sector. 

“We need to work together and improve our performance and increase the amount of tourists we get without losing our authenticity,” says Desir.

Visit www.us.martinique.org and keep visiting www.travelagentcentral.com for all your latest Caribbean news. Be sure to follow Travel Agent’s Joe Pike on twitter @TravelPike

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