Caribbean Encounters

One of the major assets we have here at Travel Agent is having an office in the heart of Manhattan. And there is no better example than the recent Caribbean Week held in New York. We were making the trip to the event's venue, the Marriott Marquis, just as much as Caribbean tourism officials were making the trip to us. Joe pike

You don't have to be a reporter to understand the advantage of having just about every notable source from one of your beats in your own backyard.

Plus, I wasn't as overwhelmed attending this year's Caribbean Media Marketplace, where about 50 exhibitors representing properties and destinations throughout the region pack into a small room and make their best efforts to grab the attention of just about every passerby.

During this busy week I attended media lunches, held private interviews in the conference room of our

Third Avenue
office and was able to pick the brains of some notable Caribbean figures away from the chaos, making Caribbean Week a smooth success.

Sen. Allen Chastanet, CTO chairman and prime minister of tourism for St. Lucia

Here are some highlights:

A One-on-One With the New Chairman of the CTO

A little face time with the new chairman of the Caribbean Tourism Organization is never a bad way to start the week, so I arranged to meet Sen. Allen Chastanet privately before a media lunch he hosted at The Modern restaurant.

This was my fifth time speaking with Allen Chastanet (also the prime minister of tourism for St. Lucia) since I first met him at the Caribbean Marketplace in Aruba, and I've learned that he's an easy interview.

Trinidad's Maracas Beach

By that I mean: Ask one question and he'll come back with three good answers, the kind that don't sound rehearsed or overly positive. In fact, he's real and rather blunt, whether it was his remarks about how the Caribbean "should be worried when everyone has their passports in three to four years, because the world will be their oyster, they can go anywhere," or how the Cricket World Cup was "a disappointment."

But although we in the media love to dwell on the negative from time to time, I figured I'd give Chastanet his moment to bask in the news that American Airlines will add nonstop service from JohnF.KennedyInternationalAirport to St. Lucia beginning November 15.

American will fly into HewanorraInternationalAirport with Boeing 757 aircraft configured with 22 seats in first class and 166 seats in the main cabin. The flight will operate three times a week.

Chastanet says he expects volume to St. Lucia to "grow significantly" on account of this new airlift, a welcome addition leading into peak winter season.

Hon. Neil E. Wilson, secretary, Tobago's Division of Tourism and Transportation

More St. Maarten Bookings

St. Maarten tourism officials shared some thoughts with me over lunch about how they planned on increasing bookings to the island made by agents. Theo Hey-liger, St. Maarten's commissioner of tourism, and Regina M. LaBega, director of tourism for St. Maarten, told me that at the end of the fourth quarter of this year, the tourism board plans on launching a loyalty program for travel agents, an attempt to boost the number of bookings made by agents.

Heyliger and LaBega told me travel agents make up only 45 percent of all bookings to St. Maarten/St. Martin, a number that dropped significantly several years ago and never fully recovered.

"We think if we create some kind of loyalty program, we can increase business for agents; it's just one idea we have to try to get this number to go up, because we haven't seen an increase in agents' bookings in a long time," says LaBega.

Regina M. LaBega, director of tourism for St. Maarten

Heyliger and LaBega noted that a culinary campaign, "Bring Their Appetite for Life," was introduced in January to tout the island's Dutch-and French-inspired cuisine and promote both sides of the island as a single destination.

Differentiating Trinidad and Tobago

The Hon. Neil E. Wilson, secretary for Tobago's Division of Tourism and Transportation, came in to speak with me, expressing frustration with the notion that Trinidad and Tobago are the same location.

"I see this a lot, whether it's people thinking St. Kitts and Nevis are the same, or that Antigua and Barbuda are the same, or that St. Vincent and the Grenadines are two different locations, when in fact it is the name of a single country.

"You'd be surprised how many times I've had to tell people, 'It's not St. Vincent and it's not the Grenadines, it's St. Vincent and the Grenadines," says the Hon. Glen Beache, minister of tourism, youth and sports, for St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

Wilson says that even many agents think of Trinidad and Tobago as one location. The fact that they are complete opposites is exactly what he wanted us to get across to agents. "You want to know one thing agents need to know to sell Tobago? That would be it," Wilson said.

He went on to explain that even though Trinidad and Tobago are so different, they complement each other quite nicely, since together they make the perfect vacation. Trinidad is more cultural, more architectural and more business-oriented.

Tobago, on the other hand, is more laid-back, less known and less developed, according to Wilson. Two days in Trinidad, a faster, more vibrant destination, and another five in Tobago are recommended, Wilson says.