A plethora of trade conferences take place at this time of year with all aspects of the Caribbean tourism industry represented. Chief amongst them is the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Investment Conference, held this year at the Sheraton conference centre in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
The event is now in its 16th year and is a joint presentation by the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association and the Caribbean Tourism Organization.
The investment conference is the only event of its kind that is staged by the region’s not-for-profit organisations, with all funds being reinvested in the region for the benefit of the Caribbean tourism industry. And because of its relatively small size - around 400 delegates - it offers networking opportunities and direct contact with key players in the hotel and tourism industries.
As a rule of thumb, 23 Caribbean countries are generally represented alongside delegates from the United States and the United Kingdom. These are architects, designers, developers, financial advisors, hotel chain executives, hotel owners, lawyers, lenders, mortgage brokers, real estate agents, timeshare developers and tourism/government officials.
The main exhibition hall is where companies, sponsors and governments exhibit and take meetings directly related to the business of tourism, but it is in the day and a half of sessions and seminars that the concepts of tourism are explored.
Day One, Wednesday, 25 April, kicked off with a general session titled Challenges, Potential and Opportunities - The Caribbean on the World Tourism Stage.
Speakers including Ricky Skerritt - here in his capacity of Minister of Tourism at the Government of St. Kitts and Nevis rather than chairman of the CTO - discussed how Caribbean economies were significantly driven by tourism with seven of the world’s 10 most tourism-dependent countries located in the region.
The session was set up to provide the tools and vital data to guide the discussions throughout the conference and identify opportunities for tourism development in the Caribbean. A strong base from the outset was therefore set up which contexted and informed future seminars.
Opportunities in the Caribbean Tourism Industry - Public and Private Sector Partnerships involved Vincent Vanderpool-Wallace of the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism. Avinash Persaud from the Four Seasons Barbados and others as they spoke of the need for integrated innovative solutions, which brought together all major components of the tourism industry.
“Some of the best success stories in recent years involve partnerships between the public and private sector,” said the panel, which was drawn from private and public sector entities.
Later still on Day One were a set of breakout sessions regarding Shared Ownership, seen as a growing market across the region; Real Estate and Hospitality, which delved into the global decline in real estate and the short to long term future of the industry in the Caribbean; and Strategies and Options to Deal With Troubled Assets. This latter discussion noted that whilst there was potential everywhere, a number of stalled projects needed reviving.
Thursday, 26 April, began with a general session, From An Investor’s Perspective. Danny Hughes of Hilton Hotels joined Phil Keb from Christophe Harbour and Marta Molina-Seal of SVP to discuss what possibilities there were for investment and expansion in the Caribbean. The panel, in fact, represented a group of leading hoteliers and developers who oversee an extensive portfolio of hospitality product. The questions on the table ranged from what drove investment to what motivated companies to make significant financial commitments and recommendations for future investment and development in the region.
The fourth general session was titled The Managing Directors Check In and gave insight into the operation and management of business interests for resort developers. This can often entail oversight of multiple businesses ranging from hotels and real estate to spa and casino operations. The session was set up to address today’s challenges and opportunities as well as highlight how panellists have been able to position their resorts for long term success, plus the strategies that have been proven successful as well as how these resorts are positioning themselves to ensure the highest returns.
Opportunities and capital
The breakout sessions on Day Two were again threefold.
Target Markets and Tapping Into New Opportunities took at its premise that traditionally the Caribbean looked to North America as its target market in general. However, the Eastern Caribbean also attracted visitors from Europe and particularly the UK. But with changing inward investment, downturns in target market economies and increased taxes, there was a need to rethink and be proactive to minimise these changes, through in part tapping non-traditional markets.
The Power of Branding talked about how international hospitality companies contributed to the success of the Caribbean’s tourism product; how this could increase revenues and what opportunities existed.
Finally, and bringing things neatly in a circle, the third breakout session asked simply Where Will the Capital Come From? Plans, projections and opportunities were out there but where to source the funds has remained absolute key in the success or otherwise in a project. Therefore, a panel of lenders from IDB, Royal Bank of Canada and others sat down to discuss the fact that the future of development lay pretty much on the shoulders of the banks.
The Caribbean Tourism Organisation’s next get together is in Barbados from 23 to 25 May at the Human Resources Conference.