Nassau, The Bahamas — Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA) boss, Jamaica's Nicola Madden-Greig, lit up a packed room of travel advisors here, painting a picture for them of a 'hot Caribbean'. But it wasn't about the weather.
Madden-Greig's presentation Monday commanded the rapt attention of the North American and Latin American travel advisors, brought together for the first time at Caribbean Showcase 2022 being staged by the influential American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA) at the Sandals Royal Bahamian.
Speaking on the importance of tourism to the Caribbean on day two of the four-day travel forum — which included a trade show linking suppliers and buyers — the CHTA president contended that the region is the best destination for visitors hungry for travel after the lockdowns of the pandemic, and that the industry was on track to exceed the record growth of 2019.
"The Caribbean is hot and you can't lose," she suggested to the travel advisors, adding: "Right now, we are moving back to 2019 figures and we can blow past that, with your help."
She said the speed of growth in travel is such that the coming fall (season) is projected to be significant, and the massive growth trend is expected to hold.
"…Over the next decade, the baseline scenario forecasts an average annual rate of GDP [gross domestic product] growth of 5.5 per cent, more than double the overall growth of the region's economy of 2.4 per cent," she said, citing the World Travel and Tourism (WTTC) 2022 Caribbean Tourism Economic Impact Report.
"The Caribbean's travel and tourism sector could outpace the current growth trajectory and achieve an average annual rate of 6.7 per cent to reach US$ 96.6 billion in 2032, up from US$50.5 billion in 2022.
"Meanwhile, travel and tourism jobs in the region could grow by an average rate of 4.5 per cent annually, creating 1.34 million new jobs by 2032," said Madden-Greig, noting that the Caribbean's 14.8 million people were depending on tourism.
The removal of COVID-19 restrictions in the majority of the islands had been the main driver behind the current tourism growth, she noted, inviting the travel advisors to explore the multifaceted Caribbean which is made up of more than 700 islands, reef and cays, 13 sovereign island nations and 12 dependent territories.
She declared that to ensure that all its projections are realised, there would be need to enhance air connectivity; invest in digital and physical infrastructure; develop human capital and skills;
diversify product offerings and source markets, while increasing preparedness for future crises, among other suggestions.
"[In the meantime,] we have proven that the Caribbean is safe, can handle the current demand and can provide the most wonderful vacation experience," Madden-Greig insisted, thanking the travel advisors for helping the region's tourism to grow at the fastest rate of any in the world.
"Today, I put out a challenge for you to become Caribbean travel experts, getting to know our 26 distinct territories personally, so you will be able to sell all the dynamic culture, natural elements, cuisine, music, adventure and endless experiences that is the Caribbean.
"Just like selling your clients a European holiday, you never sell just one country, similarly we want you to start to view the Caribbean as a multi-destination experience, booking not one but many destinations and itineraries, for example, Bahamas, Cayman and Jamaica."
The CHTA head said: "As consumers'changing desires move from experiences beyond sun, sand and sea, to history, culture, culinary and nature, we need to use new technologies to allow for new business approaches, opportunities to build better and retro better.
"Growth segments where people travel for passion points include community tourism where travellers want to have a more immersive local experience, for example, health and wellness — hiking, yoga retreats, sports — marathons, cycling, like in Jamaica where we recently launched 'Discover Jamaica by Bike', gastronomy — putting emphasis on local ingredients and cuisine and creating unique farm to table and other experiences within and outside the resorts, as well the luxury bespoke segment."
She said the Caribbean also offered experiences from bird watching, to visiting a dog sanctuary to cave or river tubing, exploring shipwrecks, visiting a flamingo reserve in Bonaire to jeep tours.
But Madden-Greig urged her listeners to jointly pay attention to the impacts of climate change, waste, and poor sustainability practices; seek to reduce the high cost of using renewables; foster new business models and opportunities to appeal to changes.
It was her view that the new traveller is looking to not just enjoy where they visit, but want to contribute to local life and are more concerned with their own footprint and making the world a better place.
"We continue to create the activities regionally, that answer that call," Madden-Greig assured, leading her enthusiastic audience in singing, clapping and rocking to the sounds of the soca music "Wi ready for di road".