CORAL GABLES, Florida — The Caribbean region has emerged from the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic as a top tourism destination and trends point to continued growth in revenue and job creation.
A recent Caribbean impact report by the World Travel and Tourism Council forecasts potential revenue of $96.6 billion and the creation of 1.34 million new jobs by 2032, said Nicola Madden-Greig, president of the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association and group director of marketing and sales at the Courtleigh Hospitality Group.
“This is major in terms of the potential for Caribbean tourism,” she said during the first day of the 14th annual Caribbean Hotel & Resort Investment Summit.
However, the region must overcome headwinds to get to that point. Challenges include the need for better air connectivity, investment in technology and relationships with the government, Madden-Greig said.
“The Caribbean was noted as the most tourism-dependent region in the world,” she added. “Probably it was thought that we would be the last one to rebound [from the COVID-19 pandemic]. Ladies and gentlemen, these are the figures … some of our destinations are in double-digit growth. For example, we have the U.S. Virgin Islands, St. Martin, Guadalupe [and] Martinique.”
Remington Hotels CEO Sloan Dean said consumers are not pulling back from spending more of their discretionary income on travel and experiences.
He said the Caribbean specifically is set up nicely to capture demand from travelers who want to blend business and leisure.
“Even myself, personally, I have worked from the Caribbean in the last 12 months for a week or two,” he said. “I think this dynamic of [remote work], blending business travel with personal … all those trends are here to stay.”
Not only is tourism on the rise in the region, interest both from investors and consumers is growing for resorts within the all-inclusive segment, speakers said.
During the “Views From the Boardroom — Round One” session, Playa Hotels & Resorts President and CEO Bruce Wardinksi said the appetite for all-inclusive resorts has been driving change in the hospitality industry for the past 10 years.
“I remember going to the NYU hotel conference probably about 10 years ago and sat on the very first all-inclusive panel. Before that, no one really talked about it. From our standpoint, there’s been a real shift in the types of properties, certainly with the brands coming into all-inclusive. That’s been the biggest change today,” he said.
Despite increasing competition in the all-inclusive space, Rob Smith, divisional vice president of full-service hotels at Aimbridge Hospitality, said finding partners on projects in the Caribbean has not been difficult.
“When you’re running a hotel, and that’s a big part of the economy on the island, local partners want to get involved because you’re bringing customers into the island. You seek those opportunities because the more you bring the local community into the operations of the hotel, the more successful you’re going to be, the more integrated you’re going to be with the island,” he said.
Carolyne Doyon, president and CEO in North America and the Caribbean at Club Med, echoed the importance of local partnerships.
“When we talk about local communities, local partners, we are also becoming an economic driver for the community. So not only for partnership and what they can bring for us, it’s also our responsibility of what we can bring to them. When they believe in the brand, when you’ve been there for a while and they trust you, they grow with you. You allow them to become more profitable and they can expand even more,” she said.
Local partners can also be integral in tackling some of the challenges facing tourism in the region.
Doyon said one issue she’s particularly worried about this season is the widespread presence of sargassum. Sargassum is a genus of large brown seaweed that floats in oceans without ever attaching to its floors, and it often has a strong, unpleasant odor.
Caribbean officials have warned that this year’s presence of sargassum will be historically strong, she said.
“I will tell you, we see it [near] our properties in the Dominican Republic and also in Mexico. It’s a true threat. Today, there is a barrier of 5,000 miles of seaweed moving in the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico. If you look at weight, it’s 13 million tons of seaweed,” she said. “There’s a cost of operation to remove the sargassum.”
“Panama is also becoming one of the big hubs for the Caribbean [in terms of air travel], not so much Miami. We’re seeing that Miami is down by 50%, while Panama City is up 240%,” said Nicola Madden-Greig, president of the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association and group director of marketing and sales at The Courtleigh Hospitality Group.
“Tourism is the most important economic driver of the Caribbean economies. I think that we have such ample opportunity to make the Caribbean a more prosperous place. It’s engagement, it’s also responsibility .. and I think the time has come [for tourism operators] to ensure that we build resilience, that we work with our communities.”
—Karolin Troubetzkoy, executive director of marketing and operations at Anse Chastanet and Jade Mountain Resorts
Read more news on Hotel News Now.