Caribbean urged to differentiate tourism product - experts
Tourism stakeholders and professionals have underscored the need for the Caribbean to take a keener look at innovation; and differentiate its tourism offerings, to broaden its share of the global tourism market.
The Caribbean currently enjoys only five per cent of the world market, the stakeholders said; although countries in the region are dependent on tourism as a major source of income, with the sector accounting for 15 per cent of the region’s gross domestic product and 13 per cent of their employment.
The stakeholders and professionals were participating in a panel discussion about the Future of Tourism, at the Global Conference on Jobs and Inclusive Growth: Partnerships for Sustainable Development, at the Montego Bay Convention Centre, St James, on Monday, November 27.
The conference is being hosted by the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), Government of Jamaica World Bank Group, Inter-American Development Bank Global Conference on Jobs and Inclusive Growth: Partnerships for Sustainable Tourism, with major sponsorship from Airbnb, AM Resorts, Chukka Cove, The Jamaica National Group and Sandals, through to November 29.
Pointing to the rise of Airbnb in the Caribbean, which offers tourists the opportunity to experience their stay in an authentic community setting in a destination, Emmy Award-winning investigative journalist and travel editor, Peter Greenberg posited that the rise of the company was a result of an unfilled gap by brand name large hotel chains.
“You can’t depend on branding to solve your problem. You can’t depend on messaging to solve your problem. The new travellers are demanding something else. They are demanding an authentic, genuine experience; and they are demanding differentiation,” he emphasised.
Greenberg said players need to look beyond infrastructure and marketing programmes; and focus on “emotional assets,” to create new experiences for visitors.
“How many of you get emotionally excited about staying in a big brand?” he asked the approximately 1,300 registered conference attendants. “How many of you can’t wait to get there, other than the fact that you’re a member of their loyalty programme, or you’re going to a convention and that hotel is located next to the convention centre? Those days are coming to an end; and if you don’t differentiate… you will not be prepared,” he said.
However, Executive Director of the UNWTO, Carlos Vogeler says although digital platforms have made it easier for people to identify community-based experiences in tourism, it raises visitor-resident relationships issues, which needs to be managed.
“I believe that is one of the challenges that we will face in the very near future,” he pointed out.
Responding to a question from the audience about making the Caribbean more accessible to travellers on a budget, Karolin Troubetzkoy, President of the Caribbean Hotel and Tourist Association, said that states in the region also need to foster entrepreneurism in the tourism sector, to encourage the development of more small enterprises to diversify the visitor experience.
“I hope that in opening up to more types of travellers, we will see the emergence of more accommodation choices as part of the diversification of the product itself,” she said.
Beyond expanding the types of accommodations available, however, Mr Vogeler, the UNWTO Executive Director, also said that Caribbean states need to embrace innovation to gain a competitive edge.
“We need to compete in different ways. We need to respond to the tourist of the future, not the tourist of the present or the past,” he said, noting that multi-destination tourism has to become part of the consideration by Caribbean countries.
He noted that the modern tourist is informed and demanding; and, therefore, the sector needs to be prepared for them. However, he advocated that the need for growth must be balanced, to ensure that the region achieves sustainability.
“We cannot allow that growth to happen at any price. We have to grow; but, we have to grow in a responsible, conscious and a sustainable manner. So the big question is: Are we prepared for that?” Vogeler asked.
Troubetzkoy said there was no lack of innovation in the Caribbean, pointing to the existence of strong expertise in tourism throughout the region. However, she noted that there was a lack of capacity that Caribbean countries struggle with, in terms of academic research.
“We have a lack of 'buy in,' because we don’t have enough research to showcase to our stakeholders the important role tourism could play to drive all economies forward,” she affirmed.