The Caribbean: More than just sea, sun and sand
Travel brochures advertising Caribbean vacations usually include pictures of beautiful blue waters, sunny skies and white sand. Not often seen in these brochures are some of the distinct characteristics that make each country unique.
In an effort to position the Caribbean as the most desirable, year round, warm weather destination by 2017, member countries of the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) are being urged to market beyond sea, sun and sand in order to make that vision a reality.
“Caribbean destinations must ‘operate like businesses’ and focus on their inherent and individual strengths to surmount significant regional challenges and remain competitive with global vacation destinations,” said Alex Zozaya, chief executive officer of Apple Leisure Group, a top U.S.-based hospitality company.
Zozaya, who estimates that Apple’s retail travel agency, resort and destination management businesses generates one of every ten annual visitors to the Caribbean, said that many tourists have a “blurry” image of Caribbean destinations, believing each is identical to all of the others.
“Tourists traveling to the Caribbean do not remember the differences between different islands,” he said.
As the keynote speaker at this year’s CTO “State of the Industry” conference in St. Thomas, Zozaya advised Caribbean destinations to focus on individual characteristics that distinguish each island.
Some Caribbean destinations are already doing that with recent campaigns.
Dominica, which is pronounced Dom-in-EEK-a, (not to be confused with the Dominican Republic) is known as the “nature island.” It has a wealth of natural wonders, including tropical rainforests that cover two thirds of the island, rivers, waterfalls and mountains.
Dominica’s Director of Tourism, Dr. Colin Piper, said the island saw a 30 percent increase in US arrivals this year as the island continued to push their “Nature, Culture, Adventure” campaign. With this campaign, the island promotes vacations for adventure travelers who want to do things like hike and dive but also want to enjoy music festivals and authentic Caribbean cuisine.
Between 4,000 and 7,000 people were expected at the 18th annual World Creole Festival, which features top music acts in genres including Reggae, Zouk, Soca and Kompa music. This year’s festival took place from October 24th-October 26th. It’s never to early to start planning for next year.
British Virgin Islands
BVI’s Director of Tourism, Sharon Flax-Mars, announced details of the annual culinary extravaganza, BVI Food Fete. This month-long celebration offers a variety of food tasting events and local food events throughout November.
“The BVI Food Fete is a wonderful opportunity for the territory to showcase the finest Caribbean cuisine, and we’re excited to invite travelers to taste the best of the BVI,” said Flax-Mars. Included in this celebration are the BVI Restaurant Week, The Anegada Lobster Festival, On The Rocks Bar Crawl and more. The BVI Food Fete started on November 1st.
The British Virgin Islands are known for sailing, diving and snorkeling. Visitors can also enjoy hiking and other outdoor adventures. Some the most famous attractions across this archipelago include The Baths on the island of Virgin Gorda, the Wreck of the Rhone off the coast of Salt Island, The Caves off the coast of Norman Island, the flamingos on the island of Anegada, and Sage Mountain on the island of Tortola.
A personal concierge service for BVI travelers coming from the St. Thomas airport or seaport begins on November 15th of this year.
“Pure Grenada: The Spice of the Caribbean,” is the new destination brand the country’s ministry of tourism unveiled earlier this year. Rudy Grant, CEO of the Grenada Tourism, sat down with theGrio in July to talk about how the campaign would make Grenada stand out as a top-of-mind destination through niche marketing. These niche markets include diving, yachting, romance and adventure. The brand also promotes Grenadian culture through traditional dance, steel pan music and the chance to experience why Grenada are known as the Spice Isle.
At the “State of the Industry” conference, Grant talked about those niche markets and announced that Grenada would re-introduce it’s homestay program by the end of this year. This program allows visitors to experience Grenada while staying with local families.
Students at St. George’s University, many of whom are from the U.S., will also have a chance to give tourists a more personalized experience on the island as Grenada Brand Ambassadors. Brand ambassadors take a course on the islands’ history and culture as well as the variety of activities available and go to attractions.
“Caymankind” is the phrase used to describe the experience of a trip to the Cayman Islands. “We like to call ourselves the culinary capital of the Caribbean,” said Director of Cayman Islands Tourism Rosa Harris as she talked about the more than 150 restaurants visitors to the Cayman Islands can enjoy. The island’s restaurant month takes place annually in October. Harris also invited delegates to come and experience Cayman Cookout, which takes place each year in January and features celebrity chefs and traditional Caymanian recipes.
However, its not just food that’s a cause for celebration on the Cayman Islands; there are many annual events that draw tourists there. Pirates Week Festival takes place every November and features a parade, cardboard boat race, sea swims, 5K walks/runs, turtle releases and more. For sports fans, The Cayman Islands Marathon takes place on the first Sunday in December every year. It attracts runners from all over the world and includes a full marathon, a half marathon and a Kids’ Fun Run.
The Caribbean region is working to make more advances in medical or wellness tourism. Health City Cayman Islands is a state-of-the art healthcare facility located on Grand Cayman, attracting patients from around the world. At Health City, patients can often receive medical care at price points they may not have been able to get in their home country. Health City offers services to international, regional and local patients. These include adult and pediatric cardiology, cardiac surgery, medical oncology and orthopedics, among other things.
Other islands have long been known for their distinct offerings, like Barbados for its annual Crop Over festival, St. Vincent and the Grenadines for their mountainous terrain and volcanoes, and Trinidad and Tobago, the birthplace of Soca music and the steel pan. The Twin Island Republic is also famous for its carnival, an annual event that attracts thousands of people from all over the world.
“We know we live in the most beautiful region of the world. Let’s implement what we learn and continue to improve our product and service so that we can position the Caribbean as the most desirable, year round, warm weather destination by 2017,” said outgoing Caribbean Tourism Organization chairman, the Hon. Beverly Nicholson- Doty.
Melissa Noel is a freelance multimedia journalist based in the New York area. Follow Melissa on Twitter @noelknowswell.