Providenciales, Turks and Caicos Islands — As if any one needed further convincing about the importance of tourism to the region, an unprecedented eight tourism ministers participated in last week's second annual Caribbean Showcase of the 18,000-strong American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA) in the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI).
The travel advisors, previously known as travel agents, were also able to make the acquaintance of the entire cabinet of the TCI, led by Premier Charles Misick, at the farewell reception and dinner that brought the curtains down on the four-day convocation at Beaches Turks and Caicos resort in Providenciales.
Jamaica's Edmund Bartlett was unable to be physically present but participated by means of a videotaped message that left no doubt he was on cloud nine where the island's tourism recovery after COVID-19 is concerned.
The ministers, who were hosted by the TCI's Josephine Connolly, minister of tourism, environment, heritage & culture, were: Chester Cooper, deputy prime minister and minister of tourism, investment and aviation, The Bahamas; Dr Ernest Hillaire, deputy prime minister and minister of tourism, investment, culture, creative industry and information, St Lucia; Ian Gooding-Edghill, minister of tourism and transportation, Barbados; Ruisandro Cijntje, minister of economics and tourism, Curacao; Henry Charles Fernandez, minister of tourism, foreign affairs, Antigua & Barbuda; and Lennox John Andrews, minister of economic development, planning, tourism, ICT, creative economy, agriculture, lands, fisheries and cooperatives, Grenada.
From August 28 to 31, 2023 just shy of 300 US-based travel advisors immersed themselves in an educational experience regarding what the TCI and the Caribbean as a whole have to offer to visitors.
Premier Misick told the gathering that most of the Caribbean islands have now exceeded pre-COVID-19 arrival numbers. His TCI had "just about booked out every room for the winter of 2024". He promised infrastructure development to enhance the visitor experience, including a US$400 spend to improve the international airport in terms of longer runways, better terminal facilities, and the addition of jet bridges.
Misick, thanking Gary Sadler (Jamaican-born executive vice-president of sales for Unique Vacations — affiliate of the worldwide representatives of Sandals and Beaches) for bringing the tourism ministers to the showcase, jokingly designated him "tourism minister of the Caribbean".
Chief executive officer of ASTA, Zane Kerby said the Caribbean was now the second most important outbound market for the US, after Europe. "So this is an irresistible product for an irresistible and aspirational place that Americans want to travel to, and their [Caribbean] economy is relying on it."
Kerby said ASTA is fighting strenuously for fairer and more beneficial rules for its members and is prepared to take the fight to the US Department of Transport, the Department of Justice and, if necessary, the halls of Congress.
Jeff Clarke, Unique Vacations CEO, speaking on Sandals and Beaches, said the resorts "stand number one in that we are a Caribbean company born in the Caribbean. We remain in the Caribbean. We are the only fully dedicated Caribbean company and we're expanding dramatically into the Caribbean. It's our backyard."