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Caribbean Gearing Up For A Difficult Season

While counting on their traditional lure, destinations are also increasing their advertising as they hope for the best


November 29, 2001
Copyright © 2001 CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. All Rights Reserved.

As the Caribbean prepares for the forthcoming season, there is considerable anxiety and nervousness in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the U.S. and then the Nov. 12 crash of American Airlines flight 587 bound from New York to the Dominican Republic (D.R.).

There is widespread apprehension that a significant percentage of the U.S. traveling public is spooked and more fearful than ever about flying, notwithstanding admonitions that it is the safest mode of travel. The airlines, hoteliers, and government tourism officials throughout the region are burning the midnight oil coming up with all kinds of ideas to get people back in the air and headed for the sun, sand, and sea of the Caribbean. Of course, as in the past, they have often gotten a boost when the weather turns cold up north and people aim for warmer climes.

"The prognosis for the future seems more uncertain," said John Bell, Caribbean Hotel Association (CHA) Director General. "Bookings for the winter season are almost non-existent out of the U.S., while there have been only trickles from Europe and the United Kingdom."

Caribbean government leaders are holding a tourism summit in the Bahamas Dec. 8 and Dec. 9 to look at the critical situation.

"Now, more than ever, we need to demonstrateion unity and leadership, so as to restore public confidence in what is essentially the bread and butter industry of the region," said CHA President Ralph Taylor. Referring to the forthcoming Bahamas summit, Taylor said "we must come away with clear decisions and strategies to make our industry stronger and more competitive."

In the meantime various sectors of the industry and destinations throughout the region are taking steps to hopefully rescue a portion of their business in the forthcoming season by trying to control the damage and fallout from the unprecedented assaults facing them.

What do visitors like, dislike?

There are a number of factors that make various Caribbean destinations especially attractive. One of them, the all-inclusive phenomenon, has caught on like wide fire mainly in places like Jamaica, the D.R., and Mexico. Conversations with their visitors tell you why. They mainly boil down to everything’s included and they’re safe and economically priced. Popular now with young adults, operators like Sandals, Super Clubs, Melia, and others, are already courting families and singles following the example of Club Med, the original trendsetter.

Destinations catering mainly to Americans have become accustomed to giving them what that want. But, others, like the D.R., México, and Barbados, receive a significant percentage of visitors from Europe and have managed quite well in satisfying the requirements of different clientele.

Any one who has visited resorts in the D.R. marvels at the multilingual dexterity of personnel who have become proficient in these languages because of intensive exposure to different nationalities. Many persons at a Juan Dolio resort, can give instructions in five languages—English, Spanish, French, German, and Italian—and carry on conversations with their guests as well.

Surveys conducted by agencies in various destinations clearly reflect what visitors like about them. First and foremost, friendly people, especially those that smile and are engaging and outgoing; safe and crime-free; the cleanliness of the destination, especially those that display a respect for the environment; a variety of restaurants with good food that is reasonably priced; and the availability of reasonable and convenient public transportation. While many visitors rebel against two much history, destinations that tastefully present it in small doses, like Barbados, the D.R., and Mexico, for example, get high marks.

Leading the list of factors that turn people off, after crime and price gouging, is congestion on some islands and the difficulties in reaching some destinations. The congestion associated with the cruise industry is increasingly felt in the more popular cruise destinations where shopping areas tend to be avoided on days with numerous vessels. In addition, San Juan in season can be a veritable bottleneck in season as thousands of cruise passengers arrive and depart mainly on Saturdays and Sundays This also translates into difficulties for hotels and resorts to get guests in and out also on the weekends.

As expected, there are complaints from land-based hotels and resorts throughout the region about the aggressive discounting of the cruise industry, which has also been hit hard by the decline in travel. The cruise industry is widely perceived by many in land-based tourism as unfair competition because of charges tax avoidance.

This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.
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