The American Society for Travel Advisors (ASTA) hosted more than 250 advisors at its 2nd Annual Caribbean Showcase at Beaches Turks & Caicos, part of Sandals Resorts International, this week.
Tourism ministers from seven different countries – Turks & Caicos, Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Grenada, Curacao, and St. Lucia – attended the trade event, and Jamaica’s tourism minister gave remarks via a pre-recorded video.
Each leader spoke to a full conference room about their home destination and why both travel advisors and Sandals play such a large role in their tourism-driven economies. Perhaps the most enthusiastic of them all was Ruisandro Cijntje, the minister of economics and tourism for Curacao, and for good reason – he announced that next year’s ASTA Caribbean Convention will take place at Sandals Royal Curacao from Aug. 24-27, 2024. Registration is now open for travel advisors to attend.
“In recent years, Curacao has seen extensive renovation, rebranding, and reopening of hotels and resorts backed by the world’s most respected names in hospitality,” Cijntje said. “We are excited that the ASTA Caribbean Showcase gives us the opportunity to show all that Curacao has to offer.”
It was a packed day of presentations, and on day three, advisors will get tours of the resort and embark on an Island Routes catamaran cruise to immerse themselves in the products they plan to sell. Here are some other highlights of the 2023 ASTA Caribbean Showcase.
Keynote speaker Jeff Barnes, author of “The Wisdom of Walt: Leadership Lessons from the Happiest Place on Earth,” posited that we all love a good story, and good stories always have conflict. He told the advisors they must embrace conflict to be successful.
“We’re three years post-Covid, and this is the greatest opportunity that you as advisors ever had in front of you because it’s on the other side of conflict,” he said.
ASTA CEO Zane Kerby similarly paraphrased Bob Woodward as once saying at an ASTA event, “If you walk past a problem two or three times, it’s not a problem anymore, it’s just part of life and the normal landscape.”
“A lot of the work that ASTA does is to try and address those problems that are landscape problems that can only be fixed together when we link arms with one voice, to address rules and industry problems that are not advantageous to our members,” he said.
Kerby outlined ways that ASTA has defended travel advisors against potential legislation in Congress that would have cost travel advisors in time and payment for refunds, as well as against the recent move by American Airlines to implement its NDC in an “irresponsible way.” ASTA is also showing public support for suppliers who pay commissions to advisors within 30 days after a client takes their trip.
“We recognize these suppliers for timeliness of commission payments within 30 days of receipt of full or partial payment for the travel,” ASTA said in a statement. “We encourage all suppliers to adopt this practice.”
Another glaring challenge to the tourism industry was the pandemic, though Kerby showed numbers demonstrating that many Caribbean countries are at least beginning to rebound. According to slides shown at the presentation, in 2022, the Caribbean as a whole regained 81.2% of airline passenger travelers that it had in 2019.
Kerby also added that the organization has been boosting its efforts to reach consumers, including by adding members to its communications team and by improving the travel advisor finder software on its website, which is still in progress.
Selling the Caribbean
Though each Caribbean country has its own unique personality, tourism officials seemed certain that the way to win back tourists post-Covid is to sell the Caribbean as an entire region, not as separate islands.
“We as different islands should see each other as partners and not as competitors. We must try to work together to enhance the overall success of the tourism sector in the Caribbean as a group,” Cijntje said. “Although each island has its own distinctive vantage points, we should consider marketing our region as a unified whole. Visitors can then explore various islands within the Caribbean and together, we can all benefit while each of us provides a unique experience to the tourist.”
Both Cijntje and St. Lucia’s tourism minister, Dr. Ernest Hillaire, noted that flights between the Caribbean islands are few and far between. While U.S.-based airlines are adding more flights to the region, the interconnectivity among the islands is an area that could use improvement to boost tourism.
Other big topics covered were responsible tourism, new hotel developments, and more strategies for supporting tourism to the Caribbean, which relies heavily on tourism for its overall economy. Many officials agreed that the Sandals Resorts plays an important role in that as the only resort brand that focuses solely on the Caribbean and has properties across the islands.
“The vast majority of the GDPs in the Caribbean rely on tourism more than any other place – it’s important,” said Jeff Clarke, CEO of Unique Vacations, the sales and marketing arm of Sandals. “What we do and what you do is much more than just providing a holiday vacation when we send our guests to the Caribbean. You’re not just providing a vacation; you’re providing a living.”