We have talked recently about how to market the Caribbean as a region, not just its separate parts, and this was a major theme of this year’s Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association Marketplace. We recommended that each nation find its unique positioning and messaging in order to differentiate, and that differentiation allows security in getting behind marketing the Caribbean as an entirety.
A good example to look at that demonstrates how to market a region successfully, distributing tourists and the economic returns amongst the entire area, is France. France has been leading the world in tourism for as long as tourism has been considered an industry which is quite a feat for a country smaller than the state of Texas. According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization in 2015 France welcomed 83 million foreign tourists, 10 million more than the #2 spot the United States and those tourists to France are spending around 50 billion a year to ‘be French’ for a week. While the Caribbean can’t position itself as a top skiing destination like France can, our region can learn from how France positioned itself as a cultural destination.
France has successfully figured out that tourists are drawn to a country (or region), not a particular resort, and that the more France remains French, the better it is for tourism, so France fiercely, and rightly, guards its culture.
France successfully markets its various regions as part of the entirety in the same ways we recommended previously: by differentiation. Paris is known for its café culture and museums, Bordeaux for wine, Cannes for film, the Alps for outdoor adventure, Aix-en-Provence for music, Alsace-Lorraine and the Rhone Valley for cuisine, etc.
The Caribbean should do this as well.When a #tourism strategy protects and benefits the culture and natural beauty of the place instead of exploiting it for more tourists, paradoxically it creates more tourism.Click To Tweet
For example, a marine protected area will bring in more than allowing a mega resort to be built on the same beach. Improving roads throughout an entire island will spread the wealth of visitors instead of the monies being exported via foreign owned hotels. Promoting time-honored local festivals will bring more people than creating a superficial festival by importing talent and rejuvenating a town will not only benefit everyone there, but it was draw visitors to it.
An example that the Caribbean can look to is the French town of Bordeaux. Known for its wine, the few tourists that did venture to the region used to skip the tired town and head straight to the vineyards, however, in 2002 a public works project took place and the buildings were cleaned of their centuries of grime and a waterfront area with abandoned, dilapidated buildings was renovated into a promenade. With the cleanup, the beauty of the city emerged and tourists began to show up, chefs opened restaurants, and families spent money along the waterfront, not just in the vineyards. By 2008, just five years after the renovation started, Bordeaux was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and now tourism is its second-biggest earner.
By preserving the culture and uniqueness of its regions, France knows that tourism cannot be outsourced
In an age of globalization, where a shopping mall looks the same in Dubai as it does in Shanghai, protecting what cannot be duplicated is essential.
Reports in France continually show that protecting heritage is a source of both jobs and revenue, providing such a good ROI that when the global recession hit in 2008 and budgets were cut across the board by governments around the world, France cut the Culture Ministry’s budget the least and by 2010 had actually increased it by 2.7% This is further proof that preserving and protecting what makes you special is a good investment.
The Caribbean is uniquely positioned to do the same and by investing in the things that are already there, the things that make the Caribbean the Caribbean, that make Trinidad Trinidadian or that make Jamaica Jamaican etc, the hospitality and tourism industry will grow in a sustainable way. By doing so, by allowing tourism policies to stem from community needs and ecological conservation, the region can fortify itself against becoming an ‘anywhere,’ protect both natural beauty and culture, and increase revenue at the same time.
Facts and figures for French tourism via Overbooked: The Exploding Business of Travel and Tourism by Elizabeth Becker and UNWTO. Illustrated map of Saba and St. Maarten via Jasmijn Evans.4