GEORGE TOWN, Cayman Islands– Cayman Islands Minister of Tourism Kenneth Bryan has been elected as the new chairman of the Barbados-based Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO), and his first order of business is likely to be a response for the region to market itself as a single destination.
Bryan replaces Barbados Tourism Minister Lisa Cummins in the position for the next two years, acknowledging “that there needs to be some reform and restructuring, particularly concerning air travel and marketing.
“So I’m ready to take on the challenge, in collaboration with my regional colleagues, of finding a new way forward, as well as addressing any issues we have within the organization to improve efficiency and focus,” he told the CTO’s general meeting.
Bryan and his newly appointed chairman of the CTO board of directors, Rosa Harris, the Cayman Islands Director of Tourism, would have been present on Wednesday when the International Air Transport Association (IATA) Vice President for the Americas, Peter Cerdá, said that travel and tourism in the sector need “more than just good sounding words and declarations.
“We need action,” Cerdá told the Caribbean Aviation Day conference as he presented a case for marketing the region as a single destination.
“Selling and marketing the Caribbean as a multi-destination is becoming increasingly crucial as inflationary pressures will hurt disposable incomes in vital source markets like Canada, Europe, and the USA.
“When holidaymakers will be deciding where they will spend their valuable vacation days and budgets, being able to offer a variety of experiences will be key. And when they fly, today’s travelers are also looking for a seamless/simplified experience.”
Cerdá said that while physical infrastructure does not appear to be a limiting factor for connectivity in the region, “creating the right conditions to generate the demand that will support a sustainable increase in air connectivity in the region is still a challenge.”
He said outdated, redundant, and paper-based administrative and regulatory processes continue negatively impacting airline operations.
“Together with those in charge at the government level, we need to urgently move into the digital age to provide a better customer experience and more efficient and secure airline operations.”
The IATA president said the “good news” is that many governments went down that path when it came to providing travel authorizations during the height of the pandemic.
“So we need to build on these experiences moving forward, rather than return to the old and inefficient ways,” he said, noting that the region had “the perfect opportunity to revolutionize back in 2007” when it hosted the Cricket World Cup and created a single domestic space arrangement for the free movement of visitors.
“What will it take to stop the chatter and, like the Nike slogan states, ‘just do it?” Cerdá added that as more regions across the globe work on attracting tourists, “those in power across the Caribbean must take a more holistic approach to this subject, rather than an individual one.
“Offering the Caribbean as a multi-destination region with good, efficient, and affordable global and regional connectivity will create a unique selling proposition,” he said, saying it will allow aviation to contribute to the region’s socio-economic development and its people.
“From an industry perspective, we stand ready to play our role, and we hope the discussions and presentations of today’s event will encourage governments to implement the necessary framework for us to move forward jointly,” Cerdá said.
The IATA vice president said that the post-pandemic recovery in the Caribbean is even faster as the region reached 81 percent of pre-crisis levels in June.
Some markets, such as the Dominican Republic, have already surpassed 2019 levels, Cerdá said, adding that while international connectivity between the Caribbean, the Americas, and Europe has largely been restored, traveling within the region remains a challenge.
“We have only reached 60% of intra-Caribbean passenger levels compared to 2019, and in many cases, the only way to reach other islands is via Miami or Panama.”
Cerdá said that while the intra-Caribbean market is not the size of regional markets in many parts of the world, it is a market that needs to be served not only for the good of residents and businesses but also to facilitate multi-destination tourism.”
He noted the interdependences between aviation and tourism, saying that the industry contributed 13.9 percent to gross domestic product (GDP) and 15.2 percent of all jobs in the Caribbean pre-pandemic in 2019, with the WTTC saying that eight out of the ten most tourism-dependent countries globally in 2019 were in the Caribbean region.
Cerdá said that while countries like Antigua and Barbuda and St. Lucia were among the first to start accepting tourists for the 2020 winter season, “the diverging and fast-changing travel restrictions placed a largely administrative and operational burden on airlines, curtailing demand.”
He said that one of the lessons learned from the past two years is that governments and the aviation value chain must find better ways to cooperate and communicate on a holistic level, aiming to jointly ensure this region’s socio-economic well-being.
“What we saw during the pandemic was that the decision making shifted to the ministries of health, who previously had not been part of the traditional aviation value chain,” Cerdá said, adding that at times, “the lack of knowledge and understanding of the intricacies of our business led to the creation of unrealistic protocols.”