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Caribbean’s Top Tourism Conference Held in the Bahamas

Attendees gathered in one of the most beautiful places on Earth. (Photo credit: Jose Espinal)

NASSAU — Hundreds of tourism officials recently headed to the Atlantis Resort on the Bahamas Paradise Island for the annual State of Tourism Industry Conference 2018.

The theme of “Rejuvenate, Recreate, Reconnect” set for this event brought together tourism professionals, practitioners, policymakers and partners with international speakers to address the topics that are key to the continued growth of the industry.

Following from previous events, tourism suppliers had the opportunity to meet with wholesalers in one-on-one appointment slots, which in 2015, totaled 11,888 meetings over the two-day period between 272 suppliers from 29 Caribbean countries and 102 buyers. Organized by the Barbados-based Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO), the event opened with Bahamas Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis, who told the attendees during the opening ceremony that “in so many ways, the potential of our region is untapped.”

Time to Expand

The Prime Minister issued a call to action, imploring the tourism industry to “broaden our Caribbean brand in tourism. Our region must be known for extraordinary visitor experiences and services. We must also be known as a “global center of excellence” when it comes to tourism development, especially in the areas of exceptional guest experiences and services.

He noted that the Atlantis and the recently constructed Baha Mar resort were both excellent examples of Caribbean hospitality as they draw heavily on the visual, musical and culinary arts of the Bahamas to provide a first-class experience of Caribbean culture. The Baha Mar has a dedicated gallery space known as The Current to display Bahamian artwork and the Fairwind Exhibition, which shows the progression of Bahamian art from the late 1800s to the contemporary practices of today.

The Marina Village at Atlantis also incorporates a range of Bahamian art and culture, making it a culturally enriching experience for visitors. Had the attendees decided against staying at the Atlantis, they would have enjoyed many choices for places to stay as the island has a plethora of other beautiful hotels to choose from, most of which also display Bahamian culture.

Delegates discussed the recent trends in tourism.

In the Face of the Storm

Despite the hurricanes the Caribbean experienced in recent years, tourism figures are still increasing in many parts of the region. Reports showed that 13 of the 22 destinations registered increases in tourist arrivals for the beginning of 2018 while the Bahamas, specifically, saw a 6.5 percent increase in U.S. arrivals and 28 percent increase in Canadian arrivals.

Puerto Rico confirmed that 1.2 million visitors arrived since Hurricane Maria in 2017, and flights returned from 20 to 110 per day. Antigua also reported that more than 1 million visitors arrived since 2017, predominantly by cruise ship.

Boosting Small Business

A key message from the conference was that the tourism industry needs to sustain its resiliency and become increasingly adaptable and able to meet changing trends, especially in light of the growing millennial trend for experiential holidays. One way of achieving this is by creating increased economic benefits and incentives for micro-, small- and medium-sized businesses.

The Prime Minister told the ceremony, “This means greater diversification across various tourism platforms as well as greater linkages with other economic sectors.” He also added that the continued development of tourism infrastructure and facilities is essential in providing an unbeatable customer experience. There are plans underway to improve and renovate museums and heritage sites, which draw so many visitors to the region so that they are better positioned to showcase the traditions and culture of the Caribbean. Furthermore, he stressed that it was crucial to maintain the marine life and biodiversity that make this area so unique in an ecologically sustainable way.

With smaller businesses to build the infrastructure needed to provide these experiences, the industry will continue to support itself and build a sustainable future as one of the most desirable tourist destinations in the world, despite the potential for destructive storms.

Panelists, including Hugh Riley, secretary general of the Caribbean Tourism Organization, and moderator Dionisio D’Aguillar, the minister of tourism for the Bahamas and CTO chairman, called for increased government spending on infrastructure improvements. These improvements would ensure that hotels and tourist destinations stand up to extreme weather, and the industry will not be affected as a result.

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