A quick look at any travel section in newspapers in North America, Europe or those in emerging economies like Brazil, and it is clear that almost every country or major destination in the world is now vying to promote their uniqueness to visitors.
Most Caribbean nations and hotels have recognised the importance of meeting this challenge and either individually, or in co-operation with others like the airlines and tour operators, have with various levels of financial commitment developed advertising, marketing, public relations and other campaigns using new media. However, what remains missing is anything much beyond lip service on the part of Caribbean Governments and the industry, that there ought to be a parallel regional marketing campaign.
While there may be reasons for this no longer being considered – weakened budgets, austerity, the failures of a regional integration process that is unable to deliver – it is still surprising, as there is previous evidence that suitably tailored campaigns work.
Looking back, Caribbean Heads of Government approved in 1992 the first ever co-operative regional marketing campaign. Funded with both public and private sector support and led by the Caribbean Tourism Organisation (CTO) and the Caribbean Hotel Association (now CHTA), a television commercial aired a year later largely in North America. Its focus was on images from around the Caribbean with a sound track featuring the Beach Boys singing their hit song, Kokomo. The campaign raised consumer awareness of the Caribbean as a vacation destination and thousands responded to the promotions, reversing a then downward trend in visitor arrivals from North America.
Since then, the concept of a regional marketing campaign has remained alive sporadically and the issue has been raised and discussed at some Caribbean Heads of Government meetings, although in the last two years tourism has entirely fallen off their agenda.
Enquiring about this recently it seems that the same issues remain. Perhaps unsurprisingly while everyone thinks it a good idea, the concerns revolve around how this should be funded, who should co-ordinate such a campaign and how it should be run. There was also a sense that because most Caribbean destinations are seeing increases in visitor arrivals and yield, that it is less necessary than in the years following the global economic crisis.
Despite this, selling the concept of the Caribbean region as a holiday destination, particularly using much cheaper new media to a new generation, remains important. It ensures that the Caribbean and what it has to offer remain at the forefront of the minds of both stay over and cruise visitor alike, and is a vital adjunct to country specific national campaigns.
The issue is now of particular importance as warm water destinations from the Indian Ocean, through nations on both coasts of Central America to the islands of the Pacific are promoting themselves to the same stop over and cruise passengers from North America and Europe, through pictures of clear tropical waters, white sand beaches and ever more special or luxurious hotels.
What this points to is the need for a regional campaign that sets out to portray the Caribbean’s diversity, its people and its environment making use of new media otherwise it will as a region come to be seen as a tired and old destination.
In many respects this may be seen in Jamaica or a few other successful regional destinations which have successfully branded themselves, created a global image, encouraged new airlift and are seeing visitor numbers increase, as being no longer an issue.
However, it would be short sighted for any nation to rest on its laurels and not recognise the way the visitor market is changing particularly among those with the most disposable income such as global young professionals who see anywhere in the world as their vacation destination.
The world has moved on and the Caribbean as a region has to find new ways to connect with a new generation who, in addition to beaches, want high quality cuisine, heritage, spas and a chance to meet local people to understand what a country is really like. That is to say they are seeking ‘multiple experiences’ in one vacation and need to know the Caribbean as a region can be visited and revisited.