"A growing number of travelers are understanding that the Caribbean is a vast region comprising many diverse destinations all rich in natural beauty but each distinct in its history, music, culture, food and welcoming hospitality," said Frank Comito, CEO and Director General of the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA). "Just like a winter blizzard may affect the northeastern United States while people are sunbathing on Miami Beach, a weather incident in one part of the Caribbean does not affect the overwhelming majority of the Caribbean."
Thanks to the robust upturn in the tourism sector, many parts of the region are seeing corresponding growth in employment, visitor spending, government revenue, and public and private sector investments to upgrade and expand the tourism product. "Capitalizing on these trends and getting the region to work together on marketing and addressing other matters which can cause tourism to be an even greater economic engine for the region is a challenge which the region's public and private sector leaders must embrace," states Comito.
Comito echoed a challenge by Frank Rainieri, the noted developer of the Punta Cana region in the Dominican Republic, to attendees at the Caribbean Hotel and Resort Investment Summit (CHRIS) in Miami last month to work together on common matters which impact the entire Caribbean region, in particular aviation, marketing and sustainability. Rainieri, chairman and founder of Grupo Puntacana, received CHRIS' Lifetime Achievement Award at the event.
A CHTA study earlier this year revealed that 58 percent of hoteliers have a positive or extremely positive outlook for the industry's future. This was reinforced by the record level of attendees at CHRIS as investor interest in the Caribbean has strengthened since the two Category 5 hurricanes of 2017. According to data recently collected by the World Travel and Tourism Council, hurricane-affected destinations themselves anticipate annual tourism spending growth of 8.7 percent in 2019 through 2021.
"In all of our discussions with industry stakeholders from destinations such as Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the British Virgin Islands, St. Maarten, Dominica and Anguilla, we fully expect them to be showcasing to the traveler a completely revamped, fresh new product. We're already beginning to see that in several of the destinations and, later this year, expect it to accelerate as more refurbished and rebuilt hotels come on stream," Comito stated.
Attendees at the CHRIS conference were pleasantly surprised by data from a just released KPMG study which shows the boost in lender confidence: "We felt post-hurricanes that there might be a diminishing of confidence, but it's stronger than it's been since post the recession, with a significant shift by commercial lenders," the CHTA CEO noted.
Bolstering the healthy growth and rapid recovery from the storms is the increased airlift coming into the region from North America and Europe, which Comito asserted is at a record pace. "An increase in arrivals and activity, as well as the amount of hotel investments points very positively to where the region is headed."
Over the past several months all the major carriers serving the region have announced plans for new and expanded service into the Caribbean. However, it was among regional carriers where Comito saw a significant rise. He pointed to InterCaribbean Airways as an example, which four years ago served a dozen locations in five destinations and currently covers 22 airports in 13 countries.
The CHTA chief reported on the completion of several airport expansions in recent years and cited more than a dozen other airports which are under construction or are in the planning stage.
CHTA also reported on a major expansion thrust by leading hotel brands and chains and the debut in the region of new independent boutique and luxury hotels as well as the growth of the sharing economy.
Hurricanes Irma and Maria, despite the devastation they wreaked, Comito contended, also delivered critical messages for the future of the region - more than 70 percent of which was unaffected by the storms: "The hurricanes taught us that the Caribbean is viewed as one brand in the minds of the public and the consumer. The lesson learned is that we've got to work more closely together as a region, public and private sectors, to let the world know about the lifetime of experiences and destinations which our vast region offers."
But Comito, whose association comprises private sector hospitality and tourism stakeholders, cautioned against complacency: "While we've been on a good growth curve in both the hotel and arrivals side of it in terms of the data, it doesn't take much to swing positive numbers to negatives. We are working with our industry and public sector partners to build a new spirit of collaboration. The need for this became even more apparent in recent years as we've worked to counter the negative impacts, largely due to mistaken public perceptions of storms and other natural occurrences. We need to be diligent, to be ready to bounce back and respond as effectively as possible."
These and other Caribbean travel and tourism issues will take center stage at CHTA's fourth Caribbean Hospitality Industry Exchange Forum (CHIEF), taking place at the Hyatt Regency Miami from June 22 to 24.
For further information, visit www.chtachief.com.