Published on Thursday, February 15, 2018

Almost a third of hotel beds in Caribbean remain empty

Arrivals to the Caribbean hit a new record in 2017, despite many of the islands being hit by two devastating hurricanes last autumn, which caused extensive damage to Anguilla, Barbuda, Dominica, Puerto Rico, St Lucia, the Virgin Islands and others.

In total last year, there were 30.1 million overnight visitors, who spent a total of US$37 billion, which was also a record.

However, the Caribbean Tourism Organisation said it was still concerned that more than 30 in every 100 hotel rooms in the region were empty.

Secretary general Hugh Riley said: "Our first order of business as a region is to stop treating tourism as some sort of casual pursuit.

"Tourism is a serious business. It employs, directly and indirectly, 13.7% of the people in the Caribbean, and it contributes, in total, from 7% to over 80% to Gross Domestic Product across the region.

"Tourism is the business that delivers foreign exchange every time a plane lands and a cruise ship docks. It reduces unemployment and delivers massive amounts of tax dollars to our national treasuries.

"Therefore, we should worry when we're not using this job-creating, tax-generating, foreign exchange earning machine to its full potential.

"We should worry when the rate of occupancy across the region is still below 70%.

" This tells us that we have an opportunity - indeed a responsibility - to market ourselves more effectively, to improve the quality of our service substantially, to enhance the value of our product significantly, and to fill those empty rooms."

Speaking at today's Tourism Industry Performance Review, Riley said there was a need to promote the countries to avoid losing more market share to other regions.

He said funding for a short-term Caribbean regional marketing campaign is starting to come in. "The arrangements are in place to tell the world we are serious about using our God-given assets to put our region's economy in the position of strength where it belongs," he added.

"In this highly competitive business we have to keep fighting, and we have to win."

Riley acknowledged that rebuilding, developing and sustaining the infrastructure and the image of the Caribbean was 'an immense task'.

"Resources will need to be developed, and realistic attention will need to be paid to the length of time it takes to rebuild an economy and repair a brand seriously affected by natural disasters.

"Reinforcing the value and the attributes of the Caribbean brand, educating the public and the travel industry on the geography of the Caribbean, and generating demand for the region's tourism product will take time, careful strategy, and money," he added.

" In other words, establishing leadership of the Caribbean Brand requires more than just sparsely funded, ad hoc efforts."

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