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July 1, 2008
  • Caribbean Tourism Development Company update
  • Tourism ministers meet at Capitol Hill
  • Pre-clearance tops on agenda for Caribbean
  • Southwest could fly to the DR
  • German market update
Caribbean Tourism Development Company update
Tourism ministers and representatives of hotel associations attending the First Annual Caribbean Tourism Summit announced that major advances were made on the structural changes that will convert the new Caribbean Tourism Development Company, that merges the Caribbean Tourism Organization (representing Caribbean government tourism departments) and the Caribbean Hotel Association (representing the private tourism sector), into an agile and more efficient organization. Enrique de Marchena, co-chairman for the hotel sector, announced at the closing press conference: "We are creating a new era for the Caribbean, of integration, of unity and the public and private sector working together. It is one Caribbean and one direction. We have challenges ahead, we are working together. If we stick together, we will overcome the challenges."
Allen Chastanet of St. Lucia, co-chairman for the public sector in CDTC, highlighted that the structural changes included a caucus of ministers that will deal with policy and approving budgets, leaving brand management to professional organization. "We need to agree on policy, but to leave how these decisions will be carried out to each territory". He forecast that things were now going to happen "at an easier and at a faster pace".
The key issues tackled at the meeting were destination branding, aviation and other transportation issues, taxes and tourism, the need for a regional marketing campaign, and the satellite accounting system for keeping statistics on tourism activities.
Vincent Vanderpool-Wallace, secretary general of CDTC, explained that the new organization will tackle areas of human resources, sustainable development, marketing, information management and research, real estate and tourism development, with separate smaller meetings held with members gathering in different member countries. The recommendations from these meetings would then be brought forward at the annual summit. Vanderpool-Wallace said they would come up with a program to show the meetings for the next two years, so that everyone can plan their participation two years in advance. A second ACTS summit is likely to be held in Washington, D.C. in 2009.
"Furthermore, there would be sub-committees gathering the Dutch, French, English and Spanish Caribbean to make sure each has its own groups coming together with their own needs to have a more structured program to come up with a definitive consensus into the future," said Vanderpool-Wallace.
He commented that during the summit there was a lateral integration of government ministers from other sectors for the first time. Attending the meetings were several central bank governors from the Caribbean, as well as finance and tourism ministers. Vanderpool stressed the importance of opening up, and that the idea was to preach to the different government sectors, instead of "preaching to ourselves", as has been the case in the past. He suggested holding these summits in each country, covering education, health, agriculture, security and finance.
Tourism ministers meet at Capitol Hill
During the First Annual Caribbean Tourism Summit, Caribbean Tourism Development Company secretary general Vincent Vanderpool-Wallace announced that the CDTC had engaged the services of a lobbying firm to put forward the Caribbean's special interests that require the support of the US Congress. Among the issues discussed was how the Western Hemisphere Initiative, which requires US citizens to use passports when visiting the Caribbean, had hurt the region, especially because citizens were allowed to cross to Mexico and Canada by land without a passport. The measure affected 75% of the people who had traveled to the Caribbean and did not have passports. Talks would continue to this end. The CDTC has proposed three twists to the requirement that would help:
1) The Caribbean to be regarded as domestic space and travelers to be exempt from paying US$40 for traveling internationally.
2) That duty free allowances would be raised.
3) More pre-clearance facilities opening in the Caribbean.
Pre-clearance tops on agenda for Caribbean
The Caribbean Tourism Development Company considers that obtaining the pre-clearance facility is the top priority and of top strategic importance for the Caribbean. Pre-clearance is a facility that enables travelers to clear US Customs abroad and enter the US as domestic travelers. Vincent Vanderpool-Wallace, secretary general of the Caribbean Tourism Development Company explained that the new development of open skies facilities between the Americas and Europe will encourage increased interest in flying to the region. The reasoning is that major international airports are congested and the pre-clearance facility would enable flights to arrive from domestic US airports that offer less costly services and faster turnarounds for airlines.
Allen Chastanet, co-chairman for the public sector in CDTC, said that the ministers argued with the US Congress representatives that the US maintains a trade surplus with the Caribbean, and that in absolute terms there is no business in the Caribbean that could take business from any company in the US.
At the meeting, aviation consultant Darryl Jenkins announced that Southwest, which currently only flies into domestic airports, could be looking into coming to the Caribbean.
"Pre-clearance is critical for taking advantage of the void left from legacy carriers", he said, commenting that the low-cost carriers need to be able to fly into the airports they are presently operating in the mainland. "They cannot make it in Miami, while Fort Lauderdale is successful".
Southwest could fly to the DR
In an address to the press during the closing of the 2008 Annual Caribbean Tourism Summit, Alec Sanguinetti, CEO of the Caribbean Hotel Association speculated that Southwest airlines could be interested in flying to the Caribbean. He said that nations that adopt pre-clearance would be in a position to receive Southwest jets. Pre-clearance is a facility that allows passengers to clear US Customs at airports outside of the United States. The speculation came after conference speaker Darryl Jenkins commented that Southwest had appointed a vice president of international routes.
"That is significant. I think it is fair to say Southwest does not take action without knowing where they are going and that they will be able to make money out of it," said Sanguinetti. He pointed out that in these difficult days, Southwest will only fly where it is sure it can turn a profit. "They are hedged at US$50 a barrel through 2010," he explained. "They have cash to do it [open routes to the Caribbean]".
He explained that it is the only airline that has a 10-year labor contract with its crew, and that they have a very efficient fleet. Nevertheless, he cautioned that these low-cost carriers only fly from airports where operating costs meet their model and allow them to fly in and out quickly and turn flights around in 30 minutes. "If instead of half an hour, it were to take a 737 an hour, on their current schedule they would need more airplanes", he explained. He was making the point that only efficient airports would be able to attract low-cost carriers such as Southwest.
Punta Cana International Airport (PUJ) is the local airport that has made progress in preparing for the possible granting of pre-clearance for the next winter season, and could be the first in the DR to offer the facility.
German market update
James Kennedy of Brainjuicer, Inc., speaking at the ACTS Summit in Washington, D.C. alerted that safety is a deciding factor for German travelers.
His recommendation is that destinations promote local culture and diversity to convert potential visitors into real visitors. "It is important to help the independent traveler to be independent," he concluded at the presentation.
According to Kennedy, Germans also are attracted by beach and pristine natural environment.
He explained that the DR has been the Caribbean market to most successfully capture the interest of the German tourist. He explained that the growing number of German independent travelers are relying more on family and friends, the Internet and guidebooks to decide where to travel, but there is still a reliance on travel agent brochures.
He forecast that Germans are more likely to travel more, while contrasting it to the UK market where hard economic times ahead are forecast to have an impact on British holiday plans.
On the contrary, he explained that Germans are optimistic that their financials will improve over the next two years, not so the British that believe their financials will worsen.
Statistics show that as of 2007-2008, the DR is the main market for the German tourist. The relative strength of the German economy and of the Euro suggests that the markets for long haul travel should be showing strength over the next two years.

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