Having just participated in CHTA’s Caribbean Travel Marketplace there are several trends that emerged from both the supplier and buyer sides, but there’s one in particular that we feel needs addressed immediately.
To begin with, it’s important to remember that the Caribbean is no longer competing with itself for North American travelers, it’s competing with the entire world. As international carries drop fares and increase lift to Asia, Europe, and South America, those looking for a getaway no longer see the Caribbean as the only option. In fact, in many cases (just look at what WOW Airlines and Norwegian Air has accomplished) the Caribbean is the more expensive, less easy option, despite being a very short flight away and with Southwest Airline’s plans to service Oahu, you can bet that competition for market share is only going to get fiercer.
Just as you would with any hotel, a destination needs to look at its competitive set and figure out its unique selling points. In the case of the Caribbean, the region can’t compete on the price of anything from airfare to rooms, food, and activities, and the Caribbean really can’t even compete on convince anymore since so many direct routes have been cut. The answer to which USP to utilize is a simple one though: the Caribbean needs to differentiate itself by ‘being Caribbean.’
BUT the opposite is the exact thing we observed at CHTA’s Caribbean Travel Marketplace. We noticed that many of the new hotels coming online or in pre-opening stages, are stripping away what makes them a Caribbean destination. The art on the walls is non-descript: it could be placed on a hotel wall in any nation and not be amiss. The menus are not looking locally and are instead offering the same things you can purchase anywhere in suburban America. The general vibe of the architecture is ‘chain store-esque’ meaning that the structure could be placed almost anywhere and not be unsuitable.
Blandness is not what draws visitors to the Caribbean. No one is going to want to pay the sort of airfare rates that are being asked for a hotel or resort experience they could have had in Florida. It’s a truly alarming trend, and one that we don’t condone.
Differentiation based on a unique selling point is what is going to give you a market share that no one else can take away. If you build your resort to resemble the same chain resorts you find across America, what’s going to stop someone else from doing the same thing next year?
However, if your hotel goes back to its roots, looks at what makes the Caribbean uniquely Caribbean and incorporates those touches into its design and guest experience, no one can ever take that away from you because it’s authentic.