The 40th edition of the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association’s (CHTA) Caribbean Travel Marketplace kicked off in Puerto Rico’s happening Distrito T-Mobile with an evening of live music, dancing, cocktails, food and at times emotional re-connections with colleagues—some who hadn’t seen each other literally in years due to the pandemic. In short, it was the sort of celebration that brought together the best traits of the Caribbean islands.

Earlier that day, CHTA president Nicola Madden-Greig offered a State of the Caribbean Hospitality Industry Address, where she shared the CHTA will launch a “Certified Caribbean Travel Advisor Program” next year as part of a strategy to position the Caribbean as a multi-destination experience that goes beyond sun, sea and sand.

CHTA president Nicola Madden-Greig addresses attendees.
CHTA president Nicola Madden-Greig addresses attendees.

“We have travel advisors that have been selling some destinations in the Caribbean but don’t know the other destinations,” said Madden-Greig during the presentation. “They are not aware of the diversity and differences between each island.” She stressed that while the Caribbean is known for its romance and all-inclusive products, the region has a lot of opportunities to do more in terms of nature, culture and gastronomy. The idea behind the Certified Caribbean Travel Advisor Program, then, is to counteract the “lack of knowledge of what a Caribbean product is.”

“The consumer is way beyond that,” she added. “They want to hike, they want cycling tours.… We have to understand that the market is changing.” The program will take specialist courses offered by tourism boards and hotel brands and bump them up to the next level, she said, as they’re working with ministers of tourism and tourism boards as well as the hotel associations.

CHTA Looks to Broaden the Reach of Caribbean Destination Getaways

Madden-Greig wants travel advisors to promote the Caribbean as a multi-destination experience rather than individual islands. “If we’re going to Europe, do we go to one country? No. We tend to visit two or three. The Caribbean has to be seen in the same light,” she said. Currently, though, the slow restoration of inter-regional air connectivity in the Caribbean is hampering that effort.

She also shared several insights useful for travel advisors looking to continue to increase or add in bookings to the Caribbean. “We are no longer in recovery. We are in growth mode,” said Madden-Greig. And the region is still very much in demand, averaging approximately three passengers per booking, with an average annual stay of 10 days and an average lead time of 77 days.

By the numbers, overseas arrivals boomed for Q3 of this year, led by the U.S. Virgin Islands with an extraordinary 44 percent jump in arrivals versus 2019 levels. In fact, the Caribbean is leading the way worldwide in recovery by this measure, and the outlook for Q4 is even stronger.

Driving these numbers is the increase in affluent travelers visiting the region, which is good news for luxury bookings. The top five islands welcoming premium travelers? Curaçao, with an astounding 120 percent jump in arrivals, followed by Bonaire (+110 percent), Guadeloupe (+92 percent), Martinique (+84 percent), and the Dominican Republic (+83 percent).

International air connectivity is key to this growth: direct connections have increased. The Bahamas, for example, has seen an increase of 15 percent in direct connections to 11, and the Dominican Republic has upped its direct connections to 38, a 40 percent increase.

Regarding COVID restrictions—and this panorama is still shifting—there are only four Caribbean destinations with restrictions: Anguilla (test required for unvaccinated), Bermuda (only vaccinated), Guyana (only vaccinated), and Turks & Caicos (only vaccinated).

Awards

In keeping with its commitment to advancing the quality, sustainability and profitability of the tourism industry in the Caribbean, CHTA announced the winners of its 2022 Destination Resilience and Caribbean Hotel Industry Exchange Forum (CHIEF) awards.

In the larger tourism destination category, Aruba received the award for Destination Resilience, being recognized for its “heart, soul and diligence to restore the lifeblood of the island.” The One Happy Island was commended for its destination management and recovery programs as Aruba implemented several critical tactics rooted in safety, sanctuary and savings to safely welcome travelers back.

The first-place CHIEF award in the Business Operations category went to The Landings Resort & Spa in Saint Lucia in recognition of its successful commitment to halting all capital expenditures while keeping 80 employees on staff to maintain the resort, re-engineer menus and ensure that the right leaders were in place to pivot for the challenging times.

Stay tuned to the November/December issue for details and news from Caribbean island destinations.