by Marlon Madden
A top executive of leading destination management firm SunTours Caribbean is suggesting that tourism industry players across the region implement special rates and tour packages specifically designed for regional travellers.
Jesse Lee Lum, Regional Manager at SunTours Caribbean, recommend the advice recently as she joined other panelists on day two of a Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA) discussion in examining ways of encouraging more intra-regional travel.
The discussions were held under the theme Rebuilding Intra-Caribbean Travel: Removing Barriers and Constructing Bridges to Recapture over US$1 billion in Lost Annual Revenues and Beyond.
Over the 2 days, tourism officials identified quite a few obstacles to intra-regional travel including high taxes and costs, entry requirements, lack of selling support, limited collaboration between destinations and the COVID-19 impact on festivals and entertainment activities.
Nonetheless, in addition they identified some opportunities for exciting intra-regional travel recovery including raising awareness amongst Caribbean nationals, diversification of the tourism product, promoting intra-regional travel amongst extra regional tourists who visit the Caribbean and promotion of culture and heritage tourism to woo more regional travellers.
During her presentation, Lee Lum identified that like other tourism related firms SunTours Caribbean was not spared the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Nonetheless, she said it was the “stringent protocols and testing requirements” in some
destinations that were continuing to have a negative impact on business.
“An example for us particularly in Barbados, we had guests that might come to the island, test positive after which should stay on at their very own expense. That was an enormous, big challenge and truly to today, continues to be a challenge, particularly in Barbados,” she said.
“The following obstacle which we have now been speaking about is that this air lift challenge between islands. It’s a key consider stimulating intra-Caribbean travel. The plain obstacle to that’s the high pricing and this lack of direct routes between islands. Pricing doesn’t just fall into the airlines and the governments’ hands. I believe that it does kind of go across the board, particularly businesses on the bottom – destination management corporations, suppliers, travel agents and accommodation. We’d like to actually concentrate on what our CARICOM rates are,”
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Noting that having an area rate across some accommodation and tour facilities in Barbados made a major difference for those businesses, Lee Lum said offering a CARICOM rate could also help to stimulate more business from the region.
She also highlighted the necessity for Caribbean destinations to supply “higher” packages to woo regional travellers. She explained that while CARICOM nationals tended to be more independent when planning their trips there was still room for destination management firms to do more in becoming the “go-to person”, but they would want to do more targeted marketing.
“Immediate effect could be discounted rates that we’d have for the regional passengers. I believe our challenge is marketing that through the suitable channels to ensure that everybody understands and knows what we’re offering,” she said.
The tourism executive also stressed the necessity for improved relationships between industry players, adding that communication shall be a critical a part of the method in order that regional travellers were more aware of what was on offer in each destination.
She suggested that an element of the long-term plan ought to be to introduce tailored tour packages for regional travellers based on their needs.
“Creating those tour packages specifically for the regional traveller I believe could bring numerous new life into the market.”
Local tourism officials have recently expressed concern a few decline in visitors from the region, with Chief Executive Officer of the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association (BHTA) Rudy Grant indicating that visitor arrivals have fallen from around 15 per cent prior
to the pandemic, to roughly 11 per cent.
Grant attributed this to challenges related to regional airlines, and the collapse and subsequent restructuring of the Antiguan-based Caribbean airline LIAT.
“The regional airlift is difficult. It’s nowhere near the airlift you’d have had in 2019. A number of that’s due mainly to the indisputable fact that LIAT, as you realize, has passed through some serious restructuring, and the extra airlines which have are available in and the seat capacities that they carry haven’t been able to interchange the LIAT seats. So, we do have a challenge there,” said Grant.