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Reopen But Reposition

“In a crisis you must never expect to start from where you left off”

With the 2020/21 Winter Tourist Season fast approaching, Caribbean Tourism leaders are grappling with what they believe is the most important tourism question, How does the Caribbean safely reopen their economies?

The answer to that is simple and not much debate is needed on that question. The Caribbean with all of its vulnerabilities and lack of experience, is not in control of the result of re-opening borders. There are two factors which will make this so-called 'safe reopening' a real challenge.

  1. The COVID global situation map is changing everyday. Countries like the UK and France which had made progress are now back on lock-down due to a resurgence of the virus. Therefore, plans to use the UK market as a launch pad to restart the Regional tourism economies may have to be re-drawn

  2. The idea that tourists once they come to the region, will socially distance and wear masks is also difficult to imagine. People, by nature of choosing to travel for vacation to escape their reality, see the Caribbean as a low risk “safe” place. The last thing they will want to do is behave in a regulated or confined manner.

Therefore, the fight for a safe reopening has to be led by science. The Caribbean must be on the cutting edge of the latest advancements in science. One of the big advancements recently launched is the new saliva test. This makes testing far less intrusive and provides results much quicker. They must be able to make use of the most advanced methods of screening; safety protocols, early detection and therapeutic treatments. If the virus is picked up at an early stage it is far less deadly and the cost of treatment is much less expensive and far less complicated. Airports, quarantine facilities and monitoring have to be on point. This is the real test for the Caribbean now. The lock down gave us a chance to opt out of the raging COVID war, with the reopening of the borders we joined the fight.

Much greater than the reopening of borders is the continued viability of Caribbean tourism. Tourism leaders have long said that the industry is the life blood of the region but now, more than ever, that life blood will be needed to propel and restart our regional economies. This reopening of the borders and restart of Caribbean tourism presents tremendous opportunities and challenges for the region.

Here are the most important issues and opportunities we now face:

Cost Of Energy

Of all the issues before the Caribbean tourism industry, the cost of energy is the most fundamental. The high cost of energy in the region has made the Caribbean tourism industry too inflexible in price. It has also led to the demise of many small and unique hotels, which oftentimes can not afford the necessary equipment upgrades for energy efficient systems. Post COVID, the tourism industry will become more globally competitive, as hotels and destinations compete for fewer tourists with less spending power. Therefore price elasticity will become more crucial. Hotels and destinations will need to be more flexible with pricing.

Governments need to work with the hotel sector and power companies to provide cheaper electricity to our productive sectors, especially tourism and manufacturing. Consider this! An Eastern Caribbean hotel could be paying as much as 30 percent of their room rate into electricity. Competing hotels in Mexico pay somewhere between 7 and 15 percent. In the long run, Caribbean tourism industry players need to be on the path of implementing Green Energy sources and infrastructure. But for now, Caribbean Governments need to assist with subsidies which can eventually be paid back over time.

Focus On All Inclusive

Post COVID one of the strategies should also be a heavy focus on the all inclusive model. With fewer travelers and less spending power, something BIG is about to happen. It’s called “THE BIG HOLIDAY SALE.” Price and value for money will be the number one order of the day. Look out for upgrades; free nights; future stay rewards; add-ons; penalty waivers and most of all big discounts. The region will be competing with many established markets in this respect, and will need to be more flexible with pricing and value offers. In this regard, where there is a certain inflexibility because of energy costs, adding value will be vital.

All inclusive properties will be the big beneficiaries of this. They will be able to add loads of value by their very nature and certainly size. Destinations should do all in their power to promote this concept, as this may make the difference between choosing one destination over another. We are about to step into a true buyers market!

Those destinations and properties without all inclusive hotels should consider what I call, the Destination Buffet! Boutique hotels, restaurants and other attractions need to find ways of jointly venturing to package holidays. A tourist staying in one resort can visit another boutique resort and a set number of restaurants for a set price per night. This mimics the all inclusive concept but is not contained within one property.

Add Value Through The Caribbean Bubble

Adding more value to this is the opportunity for a true Caribbean bubble. Caribbean Governments announced this recently, but their announcement does not go far enough. Destinations with similar COVID 19 risks should twin themselves and look to create a true travel bubble. This would not only include an exception of quarantine, but should also be geared towards exempting travelers from clearing immigration. Once you land in the bubble you don’t have to clear immigration again. This takes away one of the big hassles of travel, adds value and encourages longer vacations in the Caribbean.

Take It Away From The Beach

This by its very nature sounds contrary to any kind of Caribbean tourism. After all, the Caribbean is all about the beach. However, the region may be in a new position. The problem that we face, especially in the case of the Eastern Caribbean, is most of the traditional and main market tourists may not be able to, or want to travel. Eastern Caribbean tourism is skewed in the direction of the older traveler. In some cases over 75 percent of tourists who travel to our destinations are over 55 years of age. The problem here is then apparent. These are the people who COVID affects worse and who may have less and less confidence in flying.

We therefore need to think of new ways to attract the younger audience. Excitement, pre - packaged deals and “instagrammable “ Experiences will be the order of the day. Why is everyone flocking to Tulum now? Tulum is everything the Caribbean needs to be. In spite of rising cases in Mexico, Tulum tourism is back up and running. Young tourists are going to Tulum because there is much more to do and plenty of great photo opportunities. It has preserved its authenticity in spite of rapid development. These younger tourists are not like their parents. They will not travel to the same destination every year; stay in the same room and want their eggs done the same way each year. They want new experiences, adventure, bragging rights, pictures for social media and WiFi everywhere they go. Hence the experiences we create and how we position ourselves will be more important than the traditional and family friendly feel craved by the older generation.

Relaunch For Summer & Make It Special

The time is now for the region to relaunch for summer 2021 and to make the 2021/22 winter season one of the best ever!

The Caribbean now has a unique opportunity to position itself as the ultimate post COVID “safe haven” COVID 19 has not only wreaked the world with a medical disaster but has created unprecedented and unexpected levels of stress and frustration. The region now has the chance to take itself away from the dark reality of the rest of the developed world and to offer a stress free respite. The Caribbean also has the chance to grow its global market-share as some traditional travelers to China and other parts of Asia will be looking for new destinations. That part of the world is still not deemed as safe by many.

This means that “COVID Free” islands like Barbados, St Lucia, Grenada, Dominica and others should start to build those campaigns now and be ready to launch them before the end of the year. In addition building on the vision of Prime Minister Mia Mottley of Barbados, the region should definitely make itself a hub for long stays. If the experts are right about people looking to escape COVID and have long stays, then the long stay visitor stamp is perfect. The idea needs to be developed even further now and could mimic the USA E2 visa for business people and investors which would tie it to residency and eventual citizenship.

In all reality the region may be about to face its most bleak winter season ever but if positioned right it could be a hot hot summer and a possibly hotter winter!

Reopening is important and needed; but today repositioning is even more important and we better start the process or there won’t be tomorrow.

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