Tourism driver shifts from West to BRIC

Published on : Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The United States, the United Kingdom and Canada remain the primary source markets for Caribbean tourism — but with the global tourism market getting more and more competitive, that will likely start to shift in the years to come.
As more Caribbean countries, out of necessity, look to diversify their origin markets, Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa “continue to show great potential as new tourism source markets for the Caribbean,” Caribbean Tourism Organization Board of Directors Chairman Chantal Figueroa wrote in a message last week to begin Caribbean Tourism Month.
Last month, British Virgin Islands Premier Dr Orlando Smith led a high-profile tourism delegation to Brazil. It was the latest in a series of early-stage efforts in the Caribbean to begin to capitalize on what has become the economic engine of Latin America.
Brazil has perhaps the most potential of any of the BRICS for Caribbean tourism, in large part due to its relative proximity to the region, Nurse said.
“Brazil is closer, and the Brazilian middle class is venturing out into the Caribbean,” Nurse told Caribbean Journal. “So it’s doable from that framework.”
On that front, Barbados in particular been pushing ties with COPA, and a flight from Panama City to Bridgetown could soon be a reality, Tourism Minister Richard Sealy said last year, with the goal, undoubtedly, of harnessing Brazilian tourists just a pair of flights away. And COPA doubled its flights to Jamaica for the winter season.
Russia’s travel to the Caribbean has been steadily growing. Earlier this year, the Dominican Republic’s tourism ministry said it was seeing a “massive arrival” of Russian tourists, with around 164,000 in 2012. That was the fifth-largest amount of visitors from any country to the Dominican Republic, and the trend has actually strengthened thus far in 2013, according to the government.
This represents a departure for Russian tourists, who had largely limited their Caribbean travel to Cuba in recent years. It’s not just the Dominican Republic, though — Jamaica has been slowly attracting more Russians, most recently with the arrival of a new nonstop flight from Moscow via Transaero during this past weekend.
As for India, the most natural fit is Trinidad and Tobago, with which it has deep cultural and historical ties. In April, Trinidad-based Caribbean Airlines said it would be strengthening its relationship with Air India, with plans for a code-sharing agreement.
When the airline tapped cricket legend Brian Lara as its global ambassador, it was as much for his fame in the region as it was for the extreme popularity of cricket in the Subcontinent. “Air connection is the biggest challenge,” Nurse said.
China represents the holy grail of the BRICS — or so it would seem, with the growth of a middle class unparalleled in history.
But for China, which has been increasingly deepening its ties with the Caribbean in recent years, Nurse said the challenge was twofold: airlift and the manner in which Chinese tourists tend to visit a given destination.
Nurse said, Chinese firms frequently “mop up” the tourism value chain — with a tendency to control everything from owning the airline coming into the destination to making sure the tour guide is Chinese.
Chinese tourists also more often make choices collectively — with trips not purchased by individual consumers, but as part of larger tour groups. That means a different kind of tourist than the traditional stayover visitor coming to the Caribbean from New York, Nurse said.
South Africa might pose the biggest challenge for the region; while Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller during a visit to Johannesburg last year noted a “commonality of our shared African history and legacy,” there are no direct flights between South Africa and the Caribbean.
At last month’s State of the Industry Conference in Martinique, travel marketing guru Paul Cohen said the Caribbean’s challenge would be “sensitizing” these countries about the region’s tourism product.

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