Caribbean can weather tourism storm


CASTRIES, St. Lucia – While the price of oil sky-rockets and airlines reduce services and increase fares to some Caribbean destinations, one of the region’s most experienced tourism officials wants the Caribbean to embark on innovative strategies to mitigate any negative fallout in Caribbean travel.

Senator Allen Chastanet, St. Lucia’s Minister of Tourism and Civil Aviation, suggests there is a silver lining in the midst of today’s economic crisis and the Caribbean must be aggressive in the short and medium terms in order to be competitive in the long term.

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“With the cutback in long-haul travel between the United States and Europe and Asia, for example, there is an opportunity for our region if we aggressively market the Caribbean to the segment of the American market that’s unlikely to be affected by the economic downturn,” he said, explaining that during crises, Americans still travel, but want to stay closer to home.

Suggesting there was an opportunity in focusing on the upper end of the market, he feared that “bargain destinations” like Cuba and the Dominican Republic, would have a harder time surviving in the prevailing economic environment, but encouraged the entire Caribbean to pool their marketing resources and to find the opportunity in today’s crisis. Upcoming regional meetings in Washington DC and Antigua should help chart the way forward, he predicted.

Senator Chastanet, who also is chairman of the Caribbean Tourism Organization, said St. Lucia was interested in pursuing the faith tourism market, highlighting the successful social and humanitarian mission of the California-based Miles Ahead organization which recently brought 300 volunteers, including 80 medical professionals, and some US $5 million in free medical equipment, pharmaceuticals and health care to Jamaica. The volunteers, which included specialist doctors, pediatricians, surgeons, dentists and nurses, held free clinics and served local communities.

“We have preliminarily explored this market in St. Lucia in the past, but clearly we need to give this renewed priority,” he said, citing volunteerism, faith tourism and the girlfriend getaway market as exciting trends that are unlikely to be seriously affected by the prevailing economic conditions.

He also suggested tapping into multicultural communities in North America such as the Asian American market. “We are spending a lot of time talking about bringing Chinese and Russians to the Caribbean, but without the direct airlift, wouldn’t it be logical to target their sizable and upwardly mobile expatriate communities in North America and Europe?” the Senator asked.

The tourism minister suggested an immediate channeling of existing marketing energies into the challenging fall season – between September and November – rather than injecting precious marketing resources for Summer travel. “It’s already too late for the summer months, we need to start planning for the Fall when business will be very difficult,” he suggested.