After last week’s 2nd Annual ASTA Caribbean Showcase, selling the Caribbean is now top of mind for hundreds of travel professionals who left the conference with a new breadth of knowledge about the region.
Tourism ministers from several Caribbean countries highlighted both the recent successes and challenges in the industry during the event. Overall, the officials agreed that tourism is vital to their economies and must be sustained and grown further.
Many new hotels and resorts are being built, renovated, and reopened throughout the islands. There are also several flights being added to certain destinations from the U.S., Canada, and Europe. Tourism ministers stressed the importance of selling the Caribbean as a single destination and working in collaboration – not in competition – with one another, although air connectivity among the islands remains a challenge.
Another point of agreement is that the Caribbean offers more than just a beach vacation, but rather it is bursting with exciting adventures and opportunities for travelers. Here is what’s new in the Caribbean travel market according to tourism ministers.
Turks & Caicos Islands
In the Turks & Caicos Islands, the government recently approved a transition from a tourism board system, which has been operating for about 53 years, to a destination management organization (DMO) called Experience Turks & Caicos.
Josephine Connolly, the minister of tourism for the Turks & Caicos Islands, said this change will help unify all sectors of business related to tourism on the islands. She also emphasized that Turks & Caicos is a “multi-island destination” and would like to promote that to travelers through the new DMO concept.
“Every island is unique, and it has something for everybody,” Connolly told reporters on Aug. 29. “What we are seeing now is that only Providenciales was being promoted. We have to promote all of our islands.”
Providenciales is home to one of the Caribbean’s most popular resorts, Beaches Turks & Caicos, where last week’s conference was held. However, there is also Grand Turk, which Connolly called the cruise capital and a popular spot for diving and exploration of local history, as well as the Caicos Islands.
Looking to the future, Connolly said that Turks & Caicos is “a high-end destination and that’s the way we want to keep it” in order to sustain its natural beauty. A Ritz-Carlton resort opened about a year ago there, and Hyatt Hotels recently broke ground on the Andaz Turks & Caicos Residences at Grace Bay.
Turks & Caicos will host the Caribbean Tourism Organization’s State of the Industry Conference from Oct. 8 to 13.
Dr. Ernest Hillaire, the minister of tourism for St. Lucia, reported that AMResorts is building a Dreams resort and converting an existing hotel into a Secrets hotel on the island, which will open by summer 2024. St. Lucia also recently welcomed Hyatt Hotel’s Zoëtry Marigot Bay, and a Marriott hotel is in development as well. The minister estimates that St. Lucia will add 1,000 new rooms by the start of 2025, although weather and supply chain issues could push that date back.
“We have a few more hotels [in the works] and will wait for the hotel chiefs to make those announcements, but there is significant interest from hotels in St. Lucia,” Hillaire told reporters.
He added that St. Lucia has 2,500 rooms as part of its community tourism program that allows visitors to stay in home accommodations, similar to Airbnb rentals, which gives travelers “community experiences where we place a focus on visitors enjoying authentic experiences in community settings.”
Hillaire says that St. Lucia is close to fully rebounding its tourism market from the pandemic, but limited air travel among Caribbean nations is holding up that progress. On the cruise front, he says that St. Lucia is on track to break its record of 650,000 annual cruise ship passengers this year.
In his speech to travel advisors, Ian Gooding-Edghill, Barbados’ minister of tourism and transportation, also said he expects the upcoming season to be “the best cruise season in the history of Barbados” with about 730,000 cruise passengers visiting the island.
Gooding-Edghill also echoed Hillaire’s comments about needing improvements in air travel, although he mentioned that most major airlines are increasing service to Barbados from the United States. On the hotel front, he expressed excitement about the new Wyndham Grand Barbados Sam Lord´s Castle Resort & Spa, set to open at the end of September, as well as two new hotels on the west coast that he could not yet announce.
“Our economy primarily depends on tourism. We want visitors to come to Barbados and experience what our island has to offer,” Gooding-Edghill said. “We market ourselves as being the culinary capital of the Caribbean because we have more than 400 dining opportunities in Barbados from street food to world-class restaurants. We have great adventures, we have lots of attractions, and great accommodations.”
The minister pointed to the Barbados Food and Rum Festival 2023, taking place Oct. 19 to 22, as a prime opportunity for visitors to experience the island’s rich culture.
A comparative newcomer to the North American travel market, Curacao’s tourism industry is growing quickly, according to Ruisandro Cijntje, the minister of economics and tourism for Curacao.
This is in large part due to “the Sandals effect,” Cijntje said, referring to the opening of the Sandals Royal Curacao last year and the marketing campaign backed by Sandals Resorts International, the only Fortune 500 company born in the Caribbean.
Curacao’s accommodations are expected to grow by 2,000 rooms in the next one to two years, Cijntje noted. This will include Hilton and Marriott brand hotels, along with a few others. And while this is exciting news, the minister adds that the country wants to grow its tourism business responsibly, especially in interest in preserving its nature.
“Our reefs are still growing, so that’s amazing. While in other parts of the world, they see reefs dying, in Curacao they are growing,” he said. “We have a very virgin tourist product, and we want to develop it, but we want to develop it in the right way – to gather balance between nature and people visiting the island to make everything grow.”
To help boost this growth, the 2024 ASTA Caribbean Conference will take place Aug. 24-27, 2024 at the Sandals property in Curacao.
Antigua and Barbuda
Henry Charles Fernandez, the minister of tourism and foreign Affairs for Antigua and Barbuda, also credited Sandals for much of the countries' tourism growth over the years.
“An island that has a Sandals or Beaches automatically gets recognized as a destination of choice,” Fernandez said. “They have become such a trusted name in the industry. If you are able to put one of those names in your destination, you have arrived, so to speak.”
To that end, the minister noted that Sandals is investing $200 million in refurbishing its two properties in Antigua. He also mentioned some new properties coming to the islands, including the Peace Love and Happiness (PLH) property, which will have 60 cottages and more than 100 rooms, which is set to open next year.
He also noted that Nobu Barbuda, the Caribbean’s only Nobu restaurant, has opened with dining, immersive food experiences, and beach club amenities.