Small Islands Need Big Help

REGIONAL MARKETING IN THE CARIBBEAN is comparable to Major League Baseball: many good teams that could be stronger if they had the same bankrolls as larger-market teams.

In baseball, a team can attract more fans when it has the marketing budget to promote its players and its stadium. Almost everybody knows the New York Yankees, but far fewer can name even three players on the Colorado Rockies. The Rockies have a lot to brag about—a league championship, for starters—but people may not even know about them to tune in. If they did, it would benefit Major League Baseball as a whole.

The same goes for the Caribbean: Smaller islands have smaller marketing budgets yet plenty of great attractions. But they're competing for fans—visitors, that is—with larger, popular islands. For every Bahamas or Aruba, there's a Dominica and Nevis. The need to boost these smaller players' profile is a primary reason regional marketing was the main focus of discussion at this year's Caribbean Tourism Conference (CTC) in San Juan.


Sharing the Wealth

Noel Lynch, minister of tourism and international transport for Barbados, may have been the most vocal about his frustration, declaring that the "region has done a piss-poor job" on regional marketing. But Allen Chastanet, CTO's chairman, assured me that the "ball is rolling" in efforts to promote the Caribbean as a whole. The 2007 Cricket World Cup, where matches were held on practically every island, was a major attempt at regional marketing. "We proved it could be done," Chastanet says. Grenada and other smaller Caribbean islands stand to benefit from regional marketing

When the entire Caribbean is advertised, more people learn about the smaller islands, which may appeal to consumers who haven't yet visited the region. It raises both awareness and the potential for tourist dollars.

"When you ask someone what they think of when they think of the Caribbean, they will tell you Puerto Rico, Bahamas, Jamaica and Aruba, but they won't mention the smaller islands," Glen Beache, minister of tourism for St. Vincent and the Grenadines, tells Travel Agent. "We need to publicize the fact that these smaller, beautiful islands exist as well. Perhaps the people who want to visit the smaller islands are different than those who want to travel to the well-known, bigger islands. There are so many smaller islands that people need to learn about. Then perhaps travel agents will be able to book more destinations in the Caribbean.

"The CTO is all about sharing the wealth throughout the Caribbean," Beache continues. "If you are not for promoting the smaller islands, the ones that need help, the ones that people don't know too much about, then you are not meant to be a part of the CTO."