Attracting visitors from the Chinese market and getting more out of the cruise sector should be among the Caribbean’s top priorities as regional countries seek to diversify their tourism product.
This recommendation was put forward on Wednesday during the Caribbean Tourism Organisation’s Diversifying Tourism online discussion.
Economic Affairs Officer at the UN Economic Commission for Latin American and the Caribbean (ECLAC), Michael Hendrickson, said he saw no reason why the Caribbean should not tap into the growing Chinese travel market.
He said while it would require some research on the part of the region, officials could piggyback off Cuba since that was an increasingly popular destination for East Asian travellers.
“We need to look at new market segments . . . . Many times we will say China is very far away, it is a very long-haul destination, but I think the Caribbean can tap more into the Chinese market,” he said.
He said product differentiation among destinations was also critical going forward, and countries should link more of their local industries.
Hendrickson also noted that pundits have estimated that the youth, adventure seekers and luxury travellers would be among the first to travel in droves following the COVID-19 pandemic, and he advised the region to reposition itself to take full advantage.
Stating that new data showed that travellers were currently more interested in safety and hygiene measures than value for money, Hendrickson it was time to use health and safety as a selling point in the short-term.
“In the longer term, our vision must be focused strongly on value addition. I think for too long we have been focusing on maximising the numbers of tourists to the region without doing the analysis of what is the average spend of those visitors. More attention should be paid to value addition to maximise the return we are getting through the sector,” said Hendrickson.
This, he said, would require major upgrading of all segments of the industry, capacity building and greater linkages.
Adding that travellers were more interested in good environmental practices than they were several years ago, the tourism diversification specialist urged countries to “diversify in the green tourism with high value but low carbon impact”.
He also pointed to the need for rapid expansion in the areas of heritage, and community and farm tourism.
Moreover, Hendrickson said he believed the Caribbean was losing out on earnings from the cruise sector, adding that one way to maximise returns was to have the local agriculture sector supplying more food to cruise lines.
“In the region, governments have been spending millions of dollars on cruise ship ports, but I am not sure the cost benefit analysis is proving that we are getting the rate of returns from most ports in a reasonable time,” he said.
“I know cruise is going to continue to be an important part of the sector, but I would prefer some diversion of resources to the stay over [tourism market] because of the significant gap in the spending between the two segments. But we need to do more to maximise value from the cruise sector by getting our services on board, negotiating better terms with the cruise industry in terms of purchases.”
Hendrickson said in the process of diversification, financing would play a critical role, as well as the training and upskilling of industry workers and service providers.
During the discussion, officials also agreed that entrepreneurs would need to play a greater role in the transformation of the tourism industry in the region, adding that they would need to become formalised and undergo necessary training to benefit.
Echoing similar sentiments, Chief Economist with the US-based financial credit grading firm Smith’s Research and Grading, Scott MacDonald said environmental protection and local culture will play a major role in attracting tourists to the region after the pandemic.
“You are in the right position for post-COVID-19 . . . . I think the good news for the Caribbean is that, at least from the North American markets, there is going to be a huge amount of pent up demand and people wanting to get out travelling again. I think the new normal for the Caribbean will be merging health with the idea of travel,” said MacDonald.
Describing Caribbean cuisine as “intriguing”, he insisted that it should also be promoted more across source markets so it could be a major draw for people to the region.
He also agreed that the Chinese market was one the region should look to for future tourists.
“India and China have probably the largest growing middle classes still on the planet. Before COVID they were travelling more than ever before. There is a post-COVID-19 world and they are going to be going to places,” MacDonald said. (MM)