Time to work together: tourism and rum

Not that long ago Prensa Latina reported that the Director General of Havana Club International had said that its best selling Cuban rum, Havana Club, and the culture of the country were coincident.

Quoting Jérome Cottin-Bizonne, the Frenchman who runs the joint venture between Cuba Ron and the French spirits conglomerate Pernod Ricard, the Cuban news agency said that that he believed that the product ‘distils the richness and variety of Cuban culture’, and ‘provides above all a contemporary, transcendent element in the promotion of the product’.  Since the company sells over four million cases rum of branded a year internationally, despite the US market being closed to it, his comments, while perhaps given to hyperbole, have a broader significance.

Mr Cottin-Bizonne’s words contain an important message for the whole tourism and rum industry in the rest of the Caribbean.

One of the odder aspects in CARICOM is the parochialism that exists when it comes to promoting the Caribbean and defending its interests is the failure in many countries to bring together all that enables a nation able to cross sell and sell up a destination, so that its image, offering and revenue raising possibilities are enhanced.

This is particularly odd when it comes to rum as most Caribbean citizens are willing, almost without prompting, to defend their national rum as being the best; while each nation’s distillers and brand owners go to great lengths to promote their product to visitors, not least in the hope they will continue to seek out ‘a taste of’ Jamaica, Antigua or wherever that have travelled to, when they return home.

The rum producers who have got this to an art are those in the Caribbean French départements d’outre-mer of Martinique and Guadeloupe, where those who produce rhum traditionnel has fully embraced tourism and vice−versa; offer distillery tours at historic distillery sites; have museum like facilities about the tradition of rum; maintain beautiful estate houses where one can dine and sample the product; and are well organised in ensuring that as many visitors as possible take back with them the product itself. Their objective, together with their tourist board, is to not only have the visitor buy the product in mainland France but also, as it were, to remind them to return.

For this reason one would have thought that identifying ways to jointly promote tourism and rum both in CARICOM nations and externally would have been little more than common sense. One might have thought too that all Caribbean governments would move heaven and earth to protect smaller distillers in particular when it came to trade disputes, as in doing so they would be defending an important element of their national culture, economy, and patrimony for the long term.

Instead tourism and regional branding and logo marketing each travel in their own directions with different regional branding.

While there are some sound marketing reasons for this, a moment should come soon when at least, for some events like the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association’s (CHTA) Taste of the Caribbean culinary competition, or at one of the international rum festivals, the two should come together either nationally with tourist boards or regionally with the Caribbean Tourism Organisation (CTO), and CHTA to cross promote.

As Havana Club has demonstrated there is much else that can be done too.

The reason that Mr Cottin-Bizonne was speaking to Prensa Latina was because Havana Club was sponsoring the Havana Art Biennale, a cultural event that he considered vital for his company, and for Cuba, and for the image of both in the world among those who set trends.

Surely the time has come for rum and tourism and governments to work more closely to jointly promote and market what is both a part of regional culture and image though a product that should in everyone’s minds be inextricably linked to the Caribbean.