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Caribbean Tourism Forecast Gloomy

June 18, 1999

NASSAU, Bahamas (AP) _ The forecast for the usually sunny Caribbean is gloomy, at least for the vital tourism industry that most islands depend on.

With new competition turning up every year, tourism industry leaders at this week’s Caribbean Hotel Association’s conference in the Bahamas say their best-case projections show no growth, with declines possible in many areas, unless some action is taken.

``The brand called the Caribbean will continue to see a loss of market share from North America, unless something else is done to market this brand,″ said Robert Lawrence, vice president of Go-Go Worldwide Vacations. ``There are just too many destinations and distribution systems to compete with today.″

Longtime hotelier Royston Hopkins of Grenada told more than 1,000 people at the convention that 20 percent fewer guests have come to the region from Europe, compared with last year.

The Caribbean, he said, is ``in deep crisis, of catastrophic proportions.″

The World Travel and Tourism Council estimates that Caribbean tourism _ with projected revenues of $16.5 billion this year _ accounts for 21 percent of the region’s gross domestic produce, 16 percent of employment and 26 percent of capital investment.

One solution would be to have regular sales to attract tourists, Hopkins said. ``There has been no time in the history of the Caribbean that you have had continuous sales put on by the airlines and the hotels.″

Martin Elder, Caribbean editor of Travel Agent Magazine, agreed that high air fares were part of the problem. That is despite the fact that regional airlines including Trinidad-based BWIA International and Kingston’s Air Jamaica have expanded routes to loosen a decade-long stranglehold by American Airlines, the region’s dominant carrier.

``People are finding air fares to other countries are much cheaper,″ Elder said.

But the airlines said they were not profiting either. Tom Hill, director of sales and marketing for Air Jamaica said their revenue was flat.

``We don’t see it turning unless we do something dramatic in the next few months,″ Hill said.

Even American Airlines had lower-than-usual profits for the first quarter of this year and projects declining profits in the second quarter, said Horace Hord, the company’s regional marketing director.

Cruise lines, which include airfare in their prices, said their business was equally flat.

Michael Laverty, marketing and communications manager for Carnival Cruise Lines, said his company would reduce its capacity in the Caribbean, or at least maintain the same level.

``Overall, the total Caribbean market share of the cruise business, including Bermuda, will be about 50 percent, which is a 15 percent drop in the last 10 years,″ Laverty said.

The Caribbean Hotel Association says it’s working on a collective marketing strategy for the region.

But Bahamas tourism director Vincent Vanderpool Wallace said the individual islands’ private sectors have to stop looking for government handouts if they want to save their market share.

``Anybody who believes that you’re going to have a Caribbean campaign that has less money to spend than the largest individual country in the Caribbean, in terms of supporting a brand, is dreaming,″ Wallace said.