The 41st edition of the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association’s (CHTA) Caribbean Travel Marketplace began in grand fashion Tuesday night with a fireworks display to close out the opening ceremony.
But it was all business on Wednesday, as many island representatives in attendance kicked off a two-day marathon of press conferences, the first of which was conducted by the CHTA.
“The Caribbean is by a long margin the fastest recovering region in the world, literally in the world,” Karen Whitt, the regional vice president of the CHTA, told Travel Market Report (TMR) in an exclusive interview.
“The recovery has just been phenomenal,” she said of the region's bounce back in tourism numbers since COVID first began. “We are almost back to pre-pandemic levels, but we are just barely shy of 2019, and that’s collectively.”
As far as buyers go, 101 companies are in attendance. There are 187 delegates represented by 24 participating countries. There was a new record set in participation from the United Kingdom with 27 companies coming from the U.K., 12 of which are new to Marketplace.
The number of companies represented on the supplier side is 178. There are 452 supplier delegates represented with 28 countries participating.
The event runs through Thursday.
Jamaica to Host Caribbean Travel Marketplace 2024
Although an exact date has not been set, Whitt said Caribbean Travel Marketplace 2024 will be in Montego Bay, Jamaica at the Montego Bay Convention Centre sometime in the spring.
The Biggest Challenge for the Caribbean in 2023
Perhaps the biggest challenge the Caribbean is facing heading into the second half of the year and into 2024 will be meeting supply and demand, as many Caribbean tourism representatives attending Caribbean Travel Marketplace have reported that demand to travel has never been so high.
But can that pose a problem for the Caribbean going forward?
“As it’s been explained to us by the airlines industry, there’s an issue because of the overwhelming demand for travel worldwide,” said Whitt. “So, these planes get diverted, so there’s a compression, you have less availability for the aircraft to come in, and that drives the prices through the roof because the demand surpasses the supply.”
So, how does the Caribbean feel about that?
“We are stressed out about it,” said Whitt. “We don’t know what the solution is. Obviously, the airlines are the ones who are going to have to figure this out, but this is just as stressful for us as it is for the consumer because a consumer might want to visit your destination, but the prices are too exorbitant and they can’t justify it.”
Barbados Continues to Rebound
The performance of the 2022/2023 tourism winter season made a significant contribution to Barbados' economic rebound. Between the period of November to April, Barbados had 313,820 arrivals by air. This is an increase from 211,228 in the 2021/2022 season.
By the end of the summer period, Barbados will recover 90 percent of the seats it had in 2019.
From August 15 to September 5, American Airlines will have three daily flights from Miami, and from December 21 to April 3, daily flights from Charlotte will be available (excluding Tuesdays and Wednesdays from January 8 to March 4).
JetBlue will land an additional 12,500 seats in Barbados as they will double their daily service from New York during the summer.
The winter 2022/2023 cruise season saw a recovery of 86 percent when compared to pre-pandemic levels. During the winter season (September - April), Barbados saw 360 calls and a total of 615,445 passengers.
Four vessels are expected to visit Barbados in the summer, three arriving in May and one in September. This should bring an estimated 8,896 guests to the island. Cruise lines scheduled to call in the summer include Ponant Cruises, Disney Cruises, MSC Cruises, and Vantage Cruise Line.
The Hottest Caribbean Trends
Whitt said she is seeing two main trends since people began traveling to the Caribbean again after COVID.
“What is important, in terms of trends, I see two things really happening,” she said. “One is experiential travel. More than ever, we are seeing that the experience matters to people.
“They are more interested in sharing time with their families,” she continued, “actually exploring the destination in different ways, more organic, as far as culture, food wise and so forth in different ways.”
And the other trend?
“Another trend is the multigenerational travel,” said Whitt. “We are seeing larger groups, larger family groups coming all year long. Typically, we would see that during spring break, holiday break, sometimes in the summer, but now it’s year-round.”
More Caribbean Travelers Are Using Advisors Since COVID
So, did the chaos that traveling during COVID caused prompt many people who once never used an advisor to start using one?
“I would say, 'yes,'” said Whitt. “It started from not understanding [the different COVID protocols] from destination to destination, region to region, it was changing so fast you could never keep up with it and the travel partners were the ones who could.
“And then perhaps, and this is my own opinion," she continued, "once they used an advisor, they realized the benefits of using someone to help you crack this experience, this vacation, so they continued [using advisors].”
Jamaica Hits One Million Visitors in 2023
With more than half of the year remaining, Jamaica has already hit the one million mark in stop-over arrivals, Edmund Bartlett, Jamaica’s tourism minister, told TMR shortly after receiving the call reporting the impressive feat.
“This is very big news for Jamaica,” said Bartlett.
From January 2022 to December 2022, Jamaica welcomed 2,478,386 stopovers, a 69.2 percent increase from 2021, which nearly represent a full recovery from 2019. In January 2023, Jamaica has seen a rise of 74.2 percent over 2022.
Dominica to Improve Runway Before New Airport
While Dominica will be welcoming a new international airport in the next few years, work will be starting very soon on the expansion of the destination’s current runway, something Denise Charles, Dominica’s minister of tourism, is hoping will attract new carriers to the island.
“What we are currently doing right now is embarking on a project to expand our runway, so we will be able to attract many other airline partners to the destination like Delta, and JetBlue,” said Charles, noting that the success of the destination's current direct service from Miami by American Airlines could also inspire more carriers to expand to the destination.
“We are having advanced conversations with many other airlines," she said, "so hopefully in the near future we will be having more nonstop service to the destination.”
So, why the need for a new airport, and why is this a big deal for a small destination like Dominica?
“The wind,” said Colin Piper, CEO of Discover Dominica Authority. “For years, landing in Dominica has been a challenge for a lot of aircraft because the wind poses challenges for landing on our current runway. The improvements to the runway and the new airport are both efforts to enable people to land here, enjoy their time here, and not have to be diverted to one of our neighboring islands.”
USVI on a Roll
The United States Virgin Islands (USVI) reported that it has recorded an impressive increase of more than 22 percent in ticket booking data for arrivals through the end of March compared to the same period in 2019, leading the region, according to USVI tourism representatives.
Cruise passenger numbers to the USVI are anticipated to return to 2019 levels by the end of 2023.
As far as new hotels go, there is the Pink Palm Hotel and Lovango Resort & Bach Club with The Westin Beach Resort & Spa at Frenchman's Reef and Morningstar Buoy Haus Beach Resort, Autograph Collection “opening soon,” according to USVI reps.