Monday, December 12, 2011

Sara Macefield's Impressions of World Travel Market 2011

Times may be tough but, as always, the Caribbean Village shrugged off the industry’s woes with its irrepressible partying spirit that injected colour and glamour into this year’s World Travel Market. However, there was no disguising the signs of the global economic squeeze – and resentment among some exhibitors at the high cost of exhibiting at ExCeL. St Lucia had opted for a smaller stand than previously while, for the first time I can remember, Sandals didn’t take a stand at all, preferring to base itself with various tourist boards.

But, despite this, the village not only retained its optimism in the face of the increasing APD burden, but came out fighting with news of continuing investment and new developments determined to keep the Caribbean at the forefront of travellers’ minds. Work has already started to expand Antigua’s VC Bird International Airport, one of the region’s main hubs, while St Kitts is forging ahead with some major tourism and residential developments.

It was encouraging to see new badly-needed life being injected into Tobago’s hotel scene with the former Tobago Hilton becoming the Magdalena Grand and government initiatives to encourage further hotel developments on the island. But, to my mind, it was left to Sandals – one of the region’s most innovative companies – to come up with the most exciting news; that work will finally start next April on the Caribbean’s first over-water villas. This is a development bound to prompt much interest and promotion which should hopefully help to draw attention to the region as a whole.

Having visited the Caribbean on cruise ships this year, stopping in the Bahamas, Grand Cayman and Jamaica and, more recently, staying on Barbados and going off-the-beaten track in the Dominican Republic, the beauty and culture of the Caribbean continually leaves me entranced. And it’s this that makes me optimistic for the future.

The Caribbean has much that rival destinations can only dream of and with new developments and extra products coming on-stream, it has plenty to shout about. As a Caribbean specialist writer, there are plenty of stories I am hoping to tell through Definitive Caribbean. With its unparalleled breadth and depth of knowledge, the relaunch of this website promises to strengthen Definitive Caribbean’s position as an informed and independent authority – and most importantly, one that users can trust.

Emily Ashwell's Impressions of World Travel Market 2011

This year the Caribbean Village at World Travel Market again brought a taste of tropical fun to the expo. But behind the glamour of the carnival queens and rum punch cocktail hours, there was serious business to be done.

There are massive tourism opportunities in the Caribbean at the moment. At WTM I was able to get updates on developments, such as Cristophe Harbour and Kittitian Hill on St Kitts and Canouan Island in the Grenadines, to name a few. As well as new tourism developments some well-established favourites, such as Blue Waters and Carlisle Bay on Antigua, have had facelifts.

However, the Caribbean certainly faces challenges in 2012, particularly in the face of the Treasury’s announcement of the double inflation rate rise in Air Passenger Duty (APD) next April. The Caribbean Tourism Organisation has vowed to continue lobbying against the tax, which unfairly hits the region.

It was particularly interesting to talk to representatives from Trinidad’s hotel sector on how the State of Emergency has affected tourism. The good news is that it looks like the new 21st Century Policing Project is set to make a positive impact on Tobago.

I was delighted to return to travel journalism earlier in the summer after maternity leave. One of my first jobs was editing some of the content on Definitive Caribbean’s website, as well as freelancing for my old employer, Travel Weekly, to contribute to its Caribbean features. The depth and breadth of the knowledge on Definitive Caribbean is, I believe, unparalleled. As the internet opens up a world of user reviews that sometimes present vastly differing opinions, it is essential that travellers have access to a comprehensive and trustworthy resource such as Definitive Caribbean.

Jane Anderson's Impressions of World Travel Market 2011

There was a generally upbeat mood in the Caribbean Village despite the harsh realities of the worldwide recession and I felt there was an emphasis on returning to an authentic Caribbean, where the islands play to their strengths and unique cultures.

I liked the fact there were many small, family-owned properties as well as large groups, and it was interesting to see the Turks & Caicos promoting the lesser-developed islands as some of the last of the true exotics in the Caribbean, with Salt Cay and the caves and mangrove swamps of Middle Caicos. I loved the emergence of activities like the proposed cycle/swim/run/swim/run across North Caicos, Parrot Cay, Dellas Cay, Pine Cay, Water Cay and Provo.

Russ and Magdalena from True Blue Bay on Grenada were full of news about how they promote local arts and crafts, while Rebecca Thompson at Maca Bana described how guests get taken into the countryside for art lessons and to the hotel’s small-holding to pick fresh produce to cook with the chef. I think artisanal activities such as these are set to become more valuable to tourism in the Caribbean.

This year has seen me travel to St Barths and Barbados to see what these upscale islands can offer travellers on a budget, while on a visit to Antigua I took my children to sample the Puffin Books-inspired kids programme at St James’s Beach Club. In 2012 I’m looking forward to returning to the Caribbean, potentially to the Turks & Caicos for Definitive Caribbean and possibly Bermuda.

In my travels across this region, I will bring back whatever I find to the Definitive Caribbean website, keeping it innovative and up-to-date. I’m keen to seek out relatively unexplored areas like the Caribbean art scene, while at the same time spreading the exciting news of the relaunch of Definitive Caribbean.

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