By Vickie Sam Paget, on location in the Caribbean
It’s been a busy couple of days at Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association’s (CHTO) Caribbean Travel Marketplace in San Juan, as the cream of the Caribbean tourism industry’s movers and shakers meet to boost business in one of the most desired vacation regions for Canadian travellers.
With 1,100 delegates from 29 different countries, the floor at the Puerto Rico Convention Center is a veritable hive of business activity.
‘Disruption’ Promised at Opening Ceremony
At last night’s opening ceremony, CHTA president Emil Lee celebrated the rich diversity of the Caribbean region. “But,” he added, “This diversity presents both an opportunity and a challenge. An opportunity because the variety that the Caribbean has to offer can entice visitors to return year after year. However, this is also a challenge because sometimes we are so different, with different political systems, different priorities and different cultures—making co-operation complicated and cumbersome.
“As leaders in the region, we have a tremendous responsibility to be visionary, provocative and even disruptive. Change is never easy. Even when change is good, it is often scary or uncomfortable.
“The CHTA must be bold and unafraid to challenge the status quo. There are regional issues that we all share, such as the need for improved political transparency and integrity, airlift development strategies, reducing our dependence on fossil fuels, strategies to mitigate the impacts of climate change and addressing the ever increasing costs of doing business.”
In this process of becoming “more disruptive” Lee highlighted three major organizational initiatives.
Firstly, the executive team at CHTA has seen a number of changes. Frank Comito (who most recently served as executive vice president of the Bahamas Hotel and Tourism Association) has been appointed chief executive Officer (CEO), Matt Cooper (executive director of travel for Z-Media, Inc) has been appointed new chief marketing officer (CMO) and Vanessa Ledesma (CHTA’s long-time director of operations and events) has been appointed new chief operating officer (COO).
Secondly, Lee announced that Caribbean Marketplace is evolving into an event that is primarily focused upon increasing revenue, so in addition to the traditional conference events, as series of seminars have been added to help hotels to supplement revenues. Themes include strategies to increase European business, online booking solutions, managing online reputations and how to optimize revenue from weddings and honeymoons.
And finally, in October of this year, the CHTA will host the first Caribbean Hospitality Industry Education Forum (CHIEF) conference in Puerto Rico. The conference will feature educational seminars where allied members teach hotel owners practical revenue-generating strategies, such as social channel management, energy-saving and how to prepare for the effects of climate change.
A Business Breakfast with Bite
At an exclusive media breakfast this morning, Lee highlighted the evolution of the CHTA and once again extolled the virtues of taking risks: “Marketplace should be all about making more money,” he enthused, “We have to be willing to change the status quo; to take risks.”
He also revealed that next year’s Marketplace will take place at Atlantis Paradise Island in the Bahamas from January 24 5o 26.
The breakfast then took a predominantly ‘green’ turn, as attendees witnessed the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Fountation for Environmental Education (FEE) in recognition of FEE’s Green Key and Blue Flag programs in the Caribbean.
The agreement aims to synergize sustainable tourism projects and raise environmental awareness across the Caribbean.
“By signing this co-operative agreement with FEE, CHTA reaffirms its commitment to sustainable development,” said Lee. “Certainly protecting our environment and being a responsible industry are important reasons to support sustainable development. However, there are even more profound reasons to integrate green policies into everything we do. The Caribbean is our home. We want to live in beautiful places with clean water and healthy environment. We want our children to be able to swim in our oceans, eat the fish from the sea and fruits from our trees without fear.
“Additionally, being efficient is good for our environment—but being efficient is also good for profitability which translates into stronger economies, better infrastructure and more jobs. And the partnership gives CHTA members an excellent road map for our members to follow.”